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May 29, 2004
Column #1,187

                              Blacks Begin Discussing the "M" Word

     WASHINGTON - Bill Cosby shocked the black establishment in a speech on the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision that sparked the
desegregation of America. The Presidents of the NAACP and of Howard University undoubtedly expected Cosby, who has given millions to such causes - to praise their "leadership."

     He did not. Rather, he praised the giants of the civil rights era, and contrasted them with today's "lower economic people who are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids $500 sneakers for what? And won't spend $200 for 'Hooked on Phonics.'

     "I am talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was 2? Where were you when he was 12? Where were you when he was 18 and how come you didn't know that he had a pistol?"

     He rejected the threadbare charges of discrimination: "We cannot blame white people."

     "People putting their clothes on backward. Isn't that sign of something gone wrong?...People with the hats on backward, pants down around the crack, isn't that a sign of something, or are you waiting for Jesus to pull his pants up? ...She has her dress all the way up to the...and got all types of needles going through her body.  What part of Africa did this come from? We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans; they don't know a damn thing about Africa.

     "They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English. I can't even talk the way these people talk: 'Why you ain't,' 'Where you is.' ...and I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk and I heard the father talk. Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads."

     Even a week later, Cosby's blistering comments about black parenting were keeping the phone lines lit up into radio show host Joe Madison. Hamil Harris of The Washington Post, reported that Madison himself was conflicted about Cosby's remarks.

     While he thinks Cosby "touched on some truths about the black community's failure to take responsibility for high school dropout rates, unwed mothers and young men in prison," Madison said, "Cosby went overboard when he absolved white America and the government of any responsibility for the ills of the poor black community."

     By contrast, Colbert King, a black Washington Post columnist who won the Pulitzer Prize this year, recalled that when he was growing up, black America was less violent and for a reason. "Time was you could leave your doors unlocked. Your mother could walk to church meetings at night without a male escort. A child didn't have to fear strangers. And no boy would think of robbing a helpless old man.

     "Time was we had something called families," King wrote. "When men and women came together and stayed together, whether out of love, for the sake of the kids, for both, or none of the above. Maybe they kept at it just to make each other miserable. But they stayed together, grew old together and cried when one of them died."

     King then uttered the "M" word: "Here's another post-Brown truth: The lowest marriage rate of any group belongs to African Americans. Nearly 70 percent of our children have unmarried moms, and an equal percentage - one source put it at 80 percent - will grow up without the presence of their dads."

     However, millions of black Americans have made it. Their English is perfect. There are more African-Americans in Washington's suburbs than in the city.

     What's more stunning - and is widely unknown - is that married blacks have achieved virtual economic parity with married whites. In 1999, black couples with both spouses working, earned $60,439. Compare that with similar white couples who earned $61,878.

     The problem, of course, is that black marriage rates have plunged. As recently as 1970, two-thirds of African-American adults were married, compared to only a third today.

     "White discrimination has nothing to do with this self-inflicted wound," I wrote on the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

     "Here is a cause for the next generation of civil rights activists and African-American religious leaders." 

     Easy for me to say as a white guy. What's encouraging is that black leaders like Bill Cosby and Colbert King are speaking truth and beginning to mention the "M" word.

     Accurate diagnosis is the first step of creating the cure.

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