Bill Cosby is taking some pretty hard hits in the media these days. Are the claims from various women about sexual misconduct on his part true? I don’t know, although I am skeptical of claims about alleged offenses that occurred 20 or 30 years ago. Be that as it may, we should not allow these claims—even if they turn out to be true—to obscure the fact that for more than 30 years he has been an outspoken advocate of personal responsibility in the black community—particularly among black youth. Cosby has been a consistent critic of the entitlement mentality, fatherless families, drugs, crime, and violence; activities that are corroding the moral fiber of not just black Americans, but poor people of all races. It is no stretch to suggest that if Michael Brown had listened to Cosby’s advice he would be alive today and Ferguson, Missouri would not be a burned out town.
Cosby has taken some heat from liberals for being too hard on the black community. Even those who agree with him behind closed doors sometimes wish he wouldn’t be so public in expressing his views. I disagree. Cosby’s advice to black Americans should be echoed by other black leaders. In fact, it should be echoed by leaders of all races who are truly interested in helping poor people build better lives for themselves because his advice applies not just to black Americans but to poor people of all races. If you really want to prevent another Ferguson, don’t rely on the ridiculous approach suggested by black leaders and other liberals of requiring sensitivity training for police officers. A better approach would be to drive home Bill Cosby’s message to young blacks.
Cosby’s answer to the argument that blacks cannot get ahead in America because of discrimination is simple, straight-forward, and solid as a brick. He tells young blacks that even where discrimination exists—and he freely admits it exists—they cannot use it as excuse. His message can be summarized in these words: You have to decide if you want to make progress or make excuses. Cosby once made his point by telling a story about a boxer who was getting beaten badly. The battered fighter staggers to his corner and asks his manager what the other guy is doing that is so effective. His manager responds: “It’s not what he’s doing that’s important. It’s what you’re NOT doing.” It was what Michael Brown did NOT do that got him killed. Quite simply, he did not obey and respect the law.
There is a powerful message in Cosby’s story about the battered boxer and it applies to more than just the young black Americans Cosby intended it for. All poor people, regardless of their race face barriers to getting ahead in life. Yes, there are barriers to success for young black people. But blacks hold no monopoly on difficult circumstances or hard times. There are barriers to success for poor people of all races. I know all about those barriers because I had to face them myself as a young person. Many of the barriers to a better life faced by poor black Americans are also faced by poor whites, Hispanics, and Asians, and the way to overcome these barriers is the same regardless of race. Further, for poor minorities the rules of the game have been altered to give them a head start.
Admission to institutions of higher education is governed by Affirmative Action—a federal program that favors minorities. Further, there are so many federal grant and loan programs to help poor people finance a college education I can no longer remember them all. These federal programs favor minorities. Hiring practices in the workplace are governed by Equal Employment Opportunity laws and regulations—regulations that favor minorities. Discrimination is strictly forbidden in every aspect of American life. Let me be clear on this subject. I freely admit that making discrimination illegal does not completely eliminate it. As long as there are people there will be discrimination. However, we have come about as close as is possible to having a level playing field in America. It is not completely level. No such playing field exists outside of utopia, and only the most ideologically blind liberals believe in utopia. However, the playing field is level enough that making excuses for failure is no longer acceptable.
The key to success is the attitude and motivation young people bring to the playing field. Where an individual ends up in America is not a function of where he comes from, but of what he is willing to do to succeed. Poor people may have to attend second-rate public schools rather than exclusive prep schools. They might also have to begin their college careers in community colleges rather than exclusive Ivy-League universities. But even second-rate public schools and community colleges can be launching pads out of poverty for young people who take education seriously and are determined to learn. Some of the most successful people in America used public schools and community colleges as stepping stones to a better life.
Consider the example of Dr. Ben Carson. The renowned brain surgeon and presidential candidate had every excuse a young person could possibly offer for failing: living in poverty, being raised by a single mother, growing up on the mean streets of Detroit, and attending inferior public schools. But Carson was not about making excuses. He was about making progress. He had to work harder and work smarter than the children of wealth, but that did not deter him. His mother, who could not even read, set the bar high for Carson and his brother and brooked not excuses. As a result he took personal responsibility for his life, and the rest is history. Yes, there are barriers to success for poor black people—as well as poor people of any race—and yes there are still instances of discrimination. But barriers, including discrimination, are challenges to be faced and overcome as so many American have. They cannot be allowed to become excuses for failure, developing an entitlement mentality, or resenting the success of others.
Our country is not perfect when it comes to the issue of discrimination, and the poor will always have to work harder to get ahead than will the children of wealth. But we have established a playing field that is level enough that blaming one’s lack of success on discrimination is no longer acceptable. Having spent my formative years in the grip of poverty, I can say with certainty that the playing field of today is closer to being level than the one I played on. For example, scholarships and grants in my day were awarded on the basis of academic merit. Today most scholarships and grants are awarded on the basis of need. In other words, they favor the poor over the middle-class and the wealthy.
I appreciate the fact that Cosby is willing to endure criticism from other black leaders whose message is the opposite of his. Contrast Cosby’s message with that of Al Sharpton and other race hustlers who fatten their own wallets by exploiting the circumstance and resultant frustration of poor black Americans. These hypocritical opportunists are fond of telling young black Americans that the fatherless families, drugs, violence, and crime that are so prevalent in their communities are not their fault. Rather, they are caused by the remaining vestiges of slavery and discrimination by white people. Sharpton and race hustlers like to tell poor blacks that they are poor because of white privilege. They like to blame all of the problems faced in the black community on racial discrimination. Opportunistic race hustlers like Al Sharpton should be ashamed to show their faces in black communities. Their promotion of a poor-me attitude is doing more to keep black Americans down than any remaining vestiges of racial discrimination.
Consider what none other than Barack Obama once had to say about what is holding black Americans back. Speaking to a predominantly black audience about circumstances in their community, Obama said: “Too many fathers are missing, too many fathers are MIA! They’ve abandoned their responsibilities; they’re acting like boys instead of men…Nowhere is it more true than in the African American community. We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households—half—a number that has doubled since we were children. We know the statistics: …children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crimes, nine times more likely to drop out of school, twenty times more likely to end up in prison…Some of this has to do with a tragic history, but we can’t keep using that as an excuse.”
Frankly, I am not sure the president really believes what he said—after all he has tripled the number of people collecting welfare during his time in office. But I do believe that Bill Cosby means it when he delivers the same message to young black Americans. Further, I believe he is right. Now if only someone will listen.