1/13/2005

'Cos He Said So

Bill Cosby has taken a lot of flak for his stiff criticisms of the black community. His op-ed in yesterday's Detroit News shows that he is unfazed.

What can the future hold for us with a 50 percent high school dropout rate in many urban areas and with a 60 percent illiteracy rate among inmates and a prison population that's 45 percent black?

Most of these ills stem from several factors, but an important one is the lack of education of too many of our young people. Studies show a correlation between inadequate schooling and a wide range of distressing outcomes, including early death, a propensity toward violence and substance abuse.

Our children are telling us something. Why are we not listening and paying attention to the messages?

Parent power! Proper education has to begin at home. We must demand that our youth have an understanding of spoken and written English, math and science. We must transform our communities with a renewed commitment to our children, and that means parents must show that they value education. We don't need another federal commission to study the problem.

What we need now is parents sitting down with children, overseeing homework, sending children off to school in the morning well fed, clothed, rested and ready to learn.
It's not unreasonable to presume that if Bill Cosby were a white entertainer, his missives on the state of Black America would be quickly dismissed as racist. That convenient pigeonhole is not available in this particular case, and puts many people in the uncomfortable position of having to respond to the content of his comments rather than the color of his skin.

The Cos is not dismissing the effects of racism in this country; he's dismissing the notion that racism gives African Americans a pass on taking any responsibility for their own circumstances. That attitude - that racism and circumstance are insurmountable obstacles that make effort pointless - is summed up perfectly in an MSNBC piece about Cosby's comments:
So many kids on the block would like nothing better than to fulfill Cosby's middle-class fantasies, but they also don't want to be seen as suckers itching to abandon childhood friends and ways for dreams that can never come true.
It's depressing to think that the idea of black parents investing time and energy in their children's education is a "fantasy" and that aspiring to a better future is "a dream that can never come true." It's the ubiquitous nature of that mindset that the Cos is railing against. It's a shame that his voice appears so solitary.

Note: More of Cosby's thoughts on education can be found in Letters to the Next President:What We Can Do About the Real Crisis in Public Education, available at Amazon.