Jewish World Review July 12, 2004 / 23 Tamuz, 5764
Let's take the gloves off regarding this Bill Cosby deal. Recently, the entertainer has made a number of pointed comments about black America that engendered some loathing but also, some applause.
Cosby is correct when he says that moral standards have declined drastically among many African-Americans. For example, in 1969, the out-of-wedlock birth rate for black Americans stood at 35 percent, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. In 2002, that rate was a shocking 68.2 percent, as opposed to 28.5 percent for white Americans. With single black women now heading 54.4 percent of all African-American households, the seeds of social chaos are deeply planted.
But it was his analysis of black American culture that brought Cosby the most reaction. He openly derides blacks who refuse to become educated, who embrace anti-social attitudes and who disrespect authority. Cosby understands that the ticket out of poverty is assimilation into the competitive system of capitalism that drives America. Failing to develop marketable skills will doom most Americans to a miserable life, and all the hollow promises of exploitative politicians will not change that.
Thus the widespread acceptance of "gangsta rap," the "street life" and a posture of defiance by many black Americans has brought blight upon countless communities. The question is: Why does Bill Cosby have to lead this fight? Where is the black leadership in America?
The most visible black leader, Jesse Jackson, said this after listening to Cosby's remarks: "Bill is saying let's fight the right fight, let's level the playing field. Drunk people can't do that. Illiterate people can't do that."
This is rich. Jackson has vilified me and a number of other white Americans for spotlighting the same things Cosby spoke about. Jackson has mostly disappeared in the face of the enormous cultural collapse in the black community; the last Jackson statement I could find where he publicly criticized gangsta rap was in 1997. Once upon a time the Temptations and Four Tops contributed positive music that American of all colors embraced. Now we have rapping thugs urging young people to sell drugs and disrespect women while Jackson and most other black leaders stand mute, apparently hearing no evil.
Bill Cosby is wrong on some things. He continues to tell black Americans that whites will do the same things to them that their "grandfathers did." That is simply insulting to millions of non-black Americans who sincerely want African-Americans to prosper.
Cosby preaches self-reliance, and that's a good thing. Many white Americans are afraid of blacks, and rather than engage them honestly, they patronize and flee. And forget about the politicians, they are clueless on both sides of the aisle. Democrats mostly want to throw money at social problems without strict oversight, and Republicans have absolutely no frame of reference when it comes to minority citizens. You can't solve a problem unless you understand it. When was the last time a Republican leader tried to understand the minority community in America?
The solution to reviving black culture and improving economic fortunes for African-Americans and, indeed, for all the poor, lies in providing disciplined education in the public schools. Forget about counting on parents, that's a pipedream. The truth is that many parents are addicted to the pipe or the bottle or to pursuing an irresponsible life. Even Bill Cosby can't force a screwed up mother or father to be responsible.
But the public schools can be forced to give disadvantaged children a chance by doing the following:
All public school children should wear uniforms. This sends a signal that the child is in school, a place that is different from the street.
Students who fall behind academically should be placed into special tutorials beginning in the second grade. Students who consistently behave inappropriately will also be placed in special classes where socialization will be taught and counseling provided.
Summer school will be mandatory for every student who fails the grade tests given at the end of each school year.
Students who are truant will be sent to special "opportunity schools," where class sizes are small and individual attention will be paramount. Parents who cannot control their children vis-à-vis truancy may be charged with child neglect or lose the child altogether to social services.
That's the way to give disadvantaged children a chance to grow into productive adults. Bill Cosby has enough guts to point out the problems, but I'd be shocked if the powers that be in this country have enough courage to provide disciplined solutions. It's all too messy and too loaded with racial controversy. And so millions of American kids will continue to wander in a manmade social wilderness that should shame us all.
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