When Bill Cosby took to the stage of the NAACP’s 50th anniversary gala celebrating the of the Brown v. Board of Education decision integrating schools, little did he know his comments on the current state of Black America would create a firestorm of controversy. During that speech, he admonished Blacks for not assisting or concerning themselves with the individuals who are involved with crime or have counter-productive aspirations. He further described those who needed attention as “Blacks (who) had forgotten the sacrifices of those in the Civil Rights Movement.”
Cosby criticism of what he sees as the African-American community’s acceptance of fatherless single parent households, high crime rates, and high illiteracy rates was met with a scathing critique of his personal political views. While he encouraged a more proactive effort from African-Americans to reduce those problems his comments provoked a great deal of anger from some African Americans.
The aftermath of Cosby’s comments have elicited statements and even books denouncing him as bourgeois, anti-Black and hypocritical. Through it all, Cosby reminded firmly unapologetic for his stance and instead took his message across the country in a series of town hall meetings that garnered large media attention. Cosby chastised Blacks to stop blaming whites, but to instead look to themselves for solutions. “It’s not what they’re doing to us. It’s what we’re not doing,” the entertainer told the audience of nearly 2,000 people in Detroit.
This episode in Black history spurred journalist Juan Williams to wonder why the attacks, especially from fellow African Americans, where so venomous in their delivery. He expands on this theory in his latest book “Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America—and What We Can Do About It”($25, Crown).
Through the lens of history, Williams concludes that Cosby was a “flawed messenger” who hit upon a real issue that no prominent Black American had dared to seriously address: the destructive elements of contemporary Black culture.
In “Enough,” Williams calls Cosby a genius while taking particular aim at prominent Black leaders—from Al Sharpton to Jesse Jackson to Marion Barry.
“You don’t after somebody like that unless they got something to say that you find truly threatening. The idea in my mind was that it was important to pick up this argument by doing reporting to substantiate or contradict what Cosby had to say—to really look into it—and then to try to advance the conversation so that people don’t stop talking about this, so that we don’t turn away from what are the key issues of our day.”
In his address last week during the Annual Meeting of the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition, an audience of 175 GPUAC board members, staff and supporters cheered Williams’ comments.
“I thought it’s really important to put some historical context around this because again it’s such an important message at such an important moment,” explained Williams. “In my mind, you go back to the start of the last century and if you had gone to a speech by W.E.B. DuBois, you would have heard DuBois talking about the challenge of the 20th Century being the challenge of the color line in American society. It really was the introduction to the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century. But I think if you heard Bill Cosby with open ears, you would have heard something similar for the start of the 21st century, because what Cosby was doing was setting down a line saying the challenge of the 21st century in so many ways is going to be the class line. Those who are now able to step through the doors of opportunity in an America that’s increasingly divided by class are going to do just fine. But those who get left behind at this moment are going to be left in a very deep ditch.”
Williams also charged that too many Black Americans are in crisis—caught in a twisted hip-hop culture, dropping out of school, ending up in jail, having babies when they are not ready to be parents, and falling to the bottom in twenty-first-century global economic competition.
“We see so many of these social problems repeating in a generational context,” said Williams. “We see these problems as a downward spiral. Somebody at this moment has to be about helping people up so they don’t get left behind. That’s the importance of this moment and I think this is what Cosby was talking about in much the same way as Dubois was talking about racial struggle across the color barrier in the 20th century.”
Unlike the other books written in response to Cosby’s comments, Williams went to the source, Cosby himself, and the ensuing several hours of interviews are interspersed throughout “Enough.” Williams, like Cosby, has had his share of praises and criticism and says he is surprised that the book is a current bestsellers now in its seventh printing.
Although Williams may have suffered from limited media appearances since the release of “Enough,” his position as one of America’s leading political writers and thinkers is firmly ensconced. Williams is a senior correspondent for National Public Radio, a political analyst for Fox News and the author of six books including “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965”. Prior to writing bestsellers, he worked for 21 years at The Washington Post.
Williams condemns the “Stop Snitching” campaign as nothing more than a surrender to criminals; and he decries the glorification of materialism, misogyny, and murder as a corruption of a rich Black culture, a tragic turn into pornographic excess that is hurting young Black minds, especially among the poor.
“You might say, ‘Cosby and Juan Williams are up there moralizing,’” said Williams mock response to his critics. “But forget that for a minute and go to the numbers: 7 out of 10 (Black kids are being born to single mothers) has real consequence in terms of that child’s likely success in school. We know that a child born out of wedlock to a single mom has less of a chance to succeed in school. We know that that child is more likely to get involved with crime. We know that child is less likely to graduate from high school. We know that child is less likely to ever hold a job. So why aren’t we saying this? Why aren’t we screaming this? Why aren’t we in a panic in announcing this everyday? To our community this is not a good idea to have a child out of wedlock. Why aren’t people saying this?”