Bill Cosby’s status as sage is confirmed by the release of his new book, co-authored with Dr. Alvin Poussaint of Harvard Medical School, Come On People: On The Path From Victims to Victors. Cosby and Poussaint remind us that black America’s hope for escape from abysmal self-destruction is moral formation -- not government programs or blaming white people.
This book will arouse needed controversy as it challenges the victim mentality often promulgated by men like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Michael Eric Dyson, and other black liberal elites. Cosby and Poussaint are direct, candid, and engender a spirit of urgency. We need to put silly racial politics aside and concentrate on the real reasons that black America is hemorrhaging.
Cosby and Poussaint open with the $64,000 question: “What’s Going On With Black Men?” Without strong black men, they argue, the black community will continue to decompose. In 1950, five out of every six black children were born into a two-parent family and today that number is less than two out of six. Irresponsible men and fatherlessness have destroyed for many of us any hope of achieving Dr. King’s dream. White people do not make black men father children outside of marriage.
“A house without a father is a challenge. A neighborhood without fathers is a catastrophe,” the authors note. Most black boys are never morally formed into manhood by virtuous men and many end up in jail because of it. Ninety-four percent of all blacks murdered are killed by other blacks. For many blacks, a Klu Klux Klan rally is a safer place than their own neighborhoods.
Blaming white people for personal irresponsibility is laughable. “For all the talk of systemic racism and government screw-ups,” Cosby and Poussaint insist, “we [blacks] must look to ourselves and understand our responsibility.” No government program, well-meaning white liberal patronization, guilt-driven Saturday morning urban missions project, or large sum of unearned cash assistance will overcome the real challenge: blacks need to step up, reject the materialistic, narcissistic American Dream and love their neighborhoods again.
The book also reminds us of the centrality of the family. Kids need a mother and a father. Women and children need men. The authors brilliantly highlight the fact that many black kids are lazy, addicted to television, can’t speak standard English, doubt their dignity and worth, or are physically and sexually abused because they are not in loving homes led by strong men serving their wives and children.
Placing a high value on education had been a pillar of the black community until recently, when the minds of many black kids began to be filled with “self-defeating, self-degrading, and finally self-destructive” music that perverts virtue. Blacks are failing in school because many black parents have dropped the ball, for sometimes difficult reasons, and kids are being raised on BET instead of books.
Cosby’s book challenges blacks to care about their own health, in light of chronic obesity, Type II diabetes, and the HIV/AIDS crisis. It encourages blacks to overcome the stigma of counseling and get help for scarring left from past physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
Cosby and Poussaint conclude their pleading with a call to self-efficacy: one’s belief about personal capacity to contribute to the good and exercise influence over events that affect one’s life. “If you are not working and your only job is to stand in line so that the government can sustain you, then you are not contributing to your community,” they write.
In the end, black America is called to renew the principles, ideals, and institutions that have carried blacks along since slavery: faith in God, sustained marriages and family, an emphasis on learning, prudent financial empowerment, building community, and an unwavering hope that the future will be better for our children and grandchildren.
While I cannot endorse all of the book’s proposals -- their allowance of “committed partnerships” in lieu of an exclusive focus on lifelong marriage is ill-advised -- I wholeheartedly affirm Cosby and Poussaint’s clear message: Moral and economic flourishing in the black community will be achieved only by individual blacks bestowing lives of virtue on the next generation, one child at a time.
Anthony B. Bradley is a research fellow at the Acton Institute.