Cosby's message stings, as it should

Posted: Jul 13, 2004 12:00 AM

To the obvious dismay of the black political establishment, Bill Cosby still is not behaving.

His latest verbal assault on the status quo of black America ripped forth at Jesse Jackson's recent annual Rainbow/PUSH meeting. Reactions from establishment leadership were uniform and predictable. According to their spin, Cosby said nothing new and nothing that wasn't already widely being discussed in the community. Their only problem was Cosby airing his complaints for all America to hear.

Here is an example of what Cosby had to say that for the black establishment is not news:

"For me there is a time ... when we have to turn the mirror around ... Because for me it is almost analgesic to talk about what the white man is doing against us. And it keeps a person frozen in their seat, it keeps you frozen in your hole you're sitting in."

Jesse Jackson called this a "common message" that can be heard in any black church.

If Cosby's appeal for personal responsibility among African Americans is not news for black leadership, then one must ask why this leadership has opposed and does oppose every reform that attempts to recognize these points, turn back government and return choice and responsibility to black citizens.

An important example was the sweeping welfare reform legislation of 1996. Signed into law by Bill Clinton, these fundamental changes in our welfare system placed major new responsibilities on welfare recipients to find work. Welfare rolls have subsequently been cut in half and this legislation is widely regarded as a success and a model for future reforms. Yet black leadership and the congressional black caucus uniformly opposed this legislation and will deny today that it has been a plus in a community deeply damaged by addiction to government and welfare.

Cosby specifically addressed problems in education and talked about 50 percent school dropout rates of black children. Now if any fundamental reform has deep support in the black community it is school choice. For a laundry list of solid reasons, parents should be empowered to choose how and where to educate their children and black parents, particularly low income black parents, know this. Yet, black leadership continues to support the government school monopoly.

Polling on education shows what is going on. A 2001 study done by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies reported that 60 percent of African Americans support education vouchers. This seems to support Jesse Jackson's contention that the message about personal responsibility started making its way into the black community long before Bill Cosby's pronouncements. However, the same study also reported that 69 percent of black elected officials oppose vouchers.

It may not be news that blacks echo Bill Cosby's sentiments and do want to take control of their lives. However, it certainly is news that black leadership widely opposes this.

Any black conservative could have written the script on how the black establishment is dealing with Bill Cosby. They have been marginalizing us for years. A small community of black conservatives has been arguing for years about the need to restore personal dignity and responsibility in our communities. Black conservatives have been arguing for years that government programs and the politics of victimization have been destroying our people. The reception we have gotten from mainstream black leaders has been character assassination and dismissal of our arguments without consideration.

It has got to be galling to black establishment leaders that Bill Cosby is sounding like a conservative. However, they can't do the usual routine they do with us to him. It is hard to dismiss Bill Cosby as not really being black or being a sellout. It is hard to do to Bill Cosby what they did to Clarence Thomas.

Bill Cosby should receive nothing but respect for his integrity and honesty. However, let's hope this is only the beginning. There is larger story that needs to be told. I believe there was justification for the indignity felt by many poor black parents who felt that Cosby was attacking them personally. He unfortunately did not point out that seven out of 10 of the homes that he says are irresponsible are also broken homes run by a single parent. This was not the case 40 years ago before Jesse Jackson and company started their campaign to sell political power and government programs as the answer for African Americans.

Maybe this is why the existing black political power structure is uneasy. They might be concerned who we will see if we do turn the mirror around as Cosby suggests. Cosby has got to be under a lot of pressure to back off. Let's hope he doesn't.


Star Parker is president of CURE, Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education ( ) and author of the newly released book "Uncle Sam's Plantation."