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What's Holding Black Kids Back?

Kay S. Hymowitz

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In January, almost 2,000 people jammed the auditorium at Wayne County Community College in Detroit in order to hear Bill Cosby yell at them--there's really no other way to put it--for being bad parents. That was after a crowd had already filled a hall in Newark. And another in Springfield, Massachusetts. And another in Milwaukee. And yet another in Atlanta.

Had Cosby not gone into quarantine as the result of sexual-abuse charges that prosecutors say they are no longer pursuing, there's no question that thousands more poor black parents would have come to town-hall meetings, asking the comedian-activist to harangue them, too. They would have waited in line to hear Cosby say the same sort of thing he said in front of the NAACP on the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Brown decision last May when he started his crusade: "The lower economic people are not holding up their end of the deal. These people are not parenting!" Or the litany he presented in a Paula Zahn interview: "You got to straighten up your house! Straighten up your apartment! Straighten up your child!" Wearing a sweatshirt with the motto "Parent Power!" he doubtless would have blasted the "poverty pimps and victim pimps" who blame their children's plight on racial injustice. "Proper education has to begin at home. . . . 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, rested, and ready to learn."

Now Bill Cosby is a big star and all, but at 67, he's not exactly Beyoncé. Why would people hang from the rafters in order to hear an aging sitcom dad accuse them of raising "knuckleheads"? The commentariat, black and white, sure didn't have an answer. Billionaire bashes poor blacks, the New York Times headlined columnist Barbara Ehrenreich's attack on Cosby's critique. Newsweek columnist Ellis Cose admitted that there was some truth to Cosby's charges, but objected, "The basic question is whether criticizing such behavior is enough to change it." Hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons harrumphed an answer to Cose's question: "Judgment of the people in this situation is not helpful." In his Paula Zahn interview, Cosby told how ex-poet laureate Maya Angelou had chided him in similar terms: "You know, Bill, you're a very nice man, but you have a big mouth."

Read the entire article on the City Journal website (new window will open).

Posted: 22-Apr-05



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