African-American History Month: Bill Cosby
In last week’s post on pound cake, I was reminded of Bill Cosby’s infamous Pound Cake Speech that he delivered in 2004 at the NAACP award ceremony in Washington DC. As I mentioned in the previous post, the comedian suffered quite a bit of backlash about his criticism of the African-American community and the race’s lack of social responsibility for our position in American society. This being the last black history month post of 2014, and having never had a previous opportunity to register my opinion, I thought I’d take the time to address this highly controversial topic.
Let me lead by saying that slavery, disenfranchisement and segregation were very real social hindrances in the time of our black American ancestors. Let me continue by saying that racism and racial profiling, political inequality and poverty are very real social hindrances in the 20th and 21st centuries. The difference between our ancestors and our current generations are this: the preceding generation fought for those equalities using the very system it railed against (our judiciary and political systems) to eradicate those injustices. In our current generation, we have no evident appreciation for the struggle that came before, or any apparent desire to instill those values in our children. We seem much more willing to complain than we are to set hands to the plow and fight for what we believe we deserve.
In 2000, Dave Chappelle in his stand-up comedy “Killin’ Them Softly” riffed on one such value: politics. He commented that whites are generally very guarded about their political affiliations, whereas blacks tend to openly discuss politics and political inequalities. However, Chappelle points out a very prominent point: blacks don’t vote. We fought, bled and died risking our lives in the early 1900s to be allowed that very right. Blacks were lynched, burned and threatened if they attempted to vote. While the right to vote in those times were supposedly legal, polling laws were passed with criteria legislators knew black Americans couldn’t meet. Now, according to NBC News and due to the presidency of Barack Obama, polling rates for black Americans rose in the 2008 and 2012 elections. Prior to, only about 32% of eligible black Americans voted in any presidential election.
Cosby laments in his speech that parents these days care nothing for the values that matter. “…these people are not parenting. They’re buying things for the kid. $500 sneakers and for what? They won’t buy or spend $250 on Hooked on Phonics.” My generation calls this “hood rich”. We go out and spend our money on cars and rims and systems–while living in an income-based apartment complex. We spend our tax money on shoes and clothes and the latest iPhone, and by the end of February our children look “fresh” on the bus but boarded it with an empty stomach. It is as Cosby mentions: the hood is just enough. What was once a stepping stone to the Jeffersons “moving on up” has now become the standard with no apparent desire to escape. The 50% drop-out rate among African-Americans that Cosby mentions is, as he said, due in fact to the lack of value placed on the importance of American education. In short, we teach our young children that you are born with one strike against you–you’re black–and therefore, there is no point in wishing to be anything more.
|Black student standards are lower in school systems|
Back when I was still dating, I remember meeting a young black man on a dating site. He was 33 years old with a bachelor’s degree in science, a stable job he had worked for about five years, no children and not so much as a traffic violation. I remember gushing with my girlfriends over this guy and the rarity that he was. A black male with no baby mama drama? A black male with no criminal record? A black male with a degree and a good job with aspirations of owning things: a business, a home, an investment portfolio? It was absolutely unheard of! But…why is this type of man a rarity? It’s because as parents we’ve ridiculed these aspirations. Perhaps in our own bitterness at our misshapen lives and our own past mistakes, we teach our children underachievement. We say a C or D in a subject is okay because “at least you passed”. We say “as long as you gave it your best, you did okay”, but okay in this modern day society is not enough. It is not okay ball players that make it to the NBA. It is not okay inventors that revolutionize American technology, and it is not okay students that become notorious surgeons, writers, and politicians. Why do we celebrate mediocrity? Why are we afraid to push our children? Why do we not teach them that the foundation of success is built on the bricks of failure? Why have we stunted our children’s ability to dream…?
It is not wrong to appreciate and value one’s culture. By all means, keep your street vernacular and “cultural dress”–as long as you know that when you step from outside your neighborhood and into school and corporate America, we speak English in this country. How can we ridicule and criticize Hispanic and Asian immigrants who have not learned to speak proper English when black Americans who were born here can’t even do so? At some point, we must aspire to be more. We must aspire, like our ancestors, to take the judicial and political system and turn it on its ear. We have to realize that a “street pharmacist” is not a real job nor is it a legal way to make money. We have to stop being afraid to get more than a part-time job for fear that our food stamps will get cut off. We have to stop blaming others for our lot in life–especially when we haven’t even tried.
I am now married to a man who was raised in an inner city by a drug-addicted and abusive mother, kicked out at 14 years old, dropped out of school and promptly became a millionaire as a career criminal. Hustling was all he knew. Now, he will soon be an ordained pastor who seeks to reinvest in his former community by establishing a non-profit that teaches young impressionable men what Cosby and Steve Harvey had been saying from the beginning: it starts at home. It starts with telling our children there is more than this, and you can have it–with hard work and perseverance. You may not be afforded the same opportunities as your white counterparts, but you’ll appreciate it more because you fought for it. And you’ll be the better for it because it wasn’t handed to you on a silver platter. You and the grace of the Almighty God made it happen.
You cannot blame society for your lot in life if you are unwilling to take advantage of the rights and freedoms already afforded you by the sweat, blood and struggle of the preceding generation. Don’t get me wrong: hundreds of thousands marched on Washington so you could have a choice. You are free not to care about education or want one; you are free to sell, purchase and abuse narcotics if you so choose. You are free to remain at a dead-end job. But, you made that choice–that is not the work of an all-powerful white culture society oppressing your ability to be successful. There are no bars around our inner cities, ladies and gentlemen; nor is there an angel with a flaming sword at the gate of modern suburbia. You are free to leave whenever you wish.
Still there are some who will say, “Raynetta, you know it’s not that easy.” You’re right; it isn’t. Racism and racial inequalities are very real injustices in our society. But we must be careful not to make these injustices very real excuses to remain impoverished by mediocrity. Strive, my people. You can only be what you believe you are…