Bill Cosby on Black America, Part II

October 17, 2007

In 2004, Bill Cosby caused controversy when he vehemently criticized low-income blacks for what he viewed as a lack of parental responsibility and misplaced priorities.

He urged black men to “stop beating your women because you can’t get a job,” and lambasted urban blacks for poor grammar.

Now, the Cos is back with more scathing—and constructive—criticism for black America.

Cosby appeared on “Meet the Press” Sunday to plug his new book, “Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors.” The book talks about the state of the black family, high incarceration and dropout rates among black men, and once again, the need for more parental responsibility.

Cosby on the Black Community Then and Now

‘For the last generation or two, as our communities have dissolved and as our parenting skills broke down, no one has suffered more than our young black men”

Cosby on the Black Family

“Many of these fathers don’t know what to do as a father because many of them grew up in homes that were fatherless. So what’s the model fo a two-parent home or for a family? Or what is the model for corrective behavior?  If you have this generational, fatherless situation, unwed father or whatever, but the male is not there, then it registers on another person, on the child, as abandonment.”

Cosby on the Drug Problem in Urban Communities

“There’s a domino effect that the dealer—and we’ve heard this over and over—feels, “Well, what else, what else can I do?  I might as well do that.” The more we see it in neighborhoods, the more we will accept it that we can’t help it.  And what we need to do is give people more of a confidence that they can.  They must realize that the revolution is in their apartment now.  The revolution is in their house, their neighborhood, and then they can fight strongly, clearly the systemic and the institutional racism.”

Cosby on the Music Industry

“It’s the people who make these records.  It’s the guy in the boardroom.  I have another friend of mine who said to me, “I write rap lyrics.” He said, “And I went to a man”—I mean, “I went to work, and the guy said, the executive said to me, ‘I want lyrics about rape.  Rape is good.’” He said, “And I looked at the guy, and I said, ‘You’re talking about my mother.’ And the guy said, ‘Well, if you don’t want to write it, then I’ll get somebody else who will.’” But see, all these things, this dopamine-raising level.  Alvin has a very interesting viewpoint on whether or not kids are listening to the lyrics.  Because if you challenge them, you say, “Why are you listening to that?” They say, “I’m not listening to the words.  I just like the beat.”

Cosby on his Criticism of the Black Community

“Let me tell you something.  Your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day.  It’s cursing and it’s calling each other niggers as they walk up and down the street.  They think they’re hip.  They can’t read; they can’t write.  Fifty percent of them. It’s about them and their cursing and grabbing each other and laughing and giggling and going nowhere.  And the book bags are very, very thin because there’s no books in them. The people know exactly what I’m saying.  See, a great deal of the negative is about people not wanting so much attention in that area, but it has to come out.  If it is what it is —and that is a horrible, horrible problem— then we must direct ourselves to it. ”

Cosby isn’t the only one talking, bloggers are also weighing in. Some interesting links:

The Chief Source

Whose America Is it Anyway?


Thoughts on Paper

Cobb’s Blog

AOL Black Voices


Let Me See Your Grillz

October 15, 2007


Who would have known that grills, dental jewelry worn by hip-hop artists like Nelly and Bubba Sparks, would become a fad in middle schools across the country? 

Recently, a fifth-grader in Florida had his gold grills, which had been permanently glued to his teeth, yanked out by a school guidance counselor. The counselor said the boy’s oral decoration was an unwanted distraction.

The fifth-grader, Vincent Holloman, was given the grills as a present. His stepfather bought them as reward for getting good grades. 

The counselor was reassigned because of the incident, and Vincent was taken to the hospital, where doctors told his parents there was some damage to his gum tissue.

But most people who posted on the Miami Herald’s website were less sympathetic, one of them said a 10-year-old should not be adorned with a $500 mouthpiece:

The gradual or I should say the accelerated decay of our society. Why not buy the kid a computer or some books?How about some sporting equipment? Fishing gear? New sneakers or new clothes? But some “grillz”? Why not just buy the kid a gold plated AK-47 like the real thugs? I swear the hip hop / wanna be thug mentality is a cancer to our society.

Whether or not hip-hop is a cancer to society, wearing grillz comes with some potential health hazards, like oral cancer. Writing about the grills controversy in her column, Tonyaa Weathersbee of BlackAmericaWeb says :  

“Grills aren’t just some sort of fashion statement that invokes the usual fear in straitlaced folks who blame gangster rap for all the ills of black youth. Grills, you   see, can kill.  They can kill because they encourage tooth decay and bad oral health. Tooth decay and bad oral often lead to periodontal disease, which can lead to oral cancer.”

Weathersbee says black men have the highest incidence of oral cancer and wearing grills does nothing to help this statistic. The American Dental Association even released a statement saying grills act as a haven for bacteria that cause tooth decay.

Tooth decay aside, Vincent Holloman’s parents say they will allow him to continue wearing grills. And I’m sure he won’t be the only one.   

A Black and White Difference in Saving for Retirement

October 13, 2007

A survey released on Thursday by investment firms Ariel Mutual Funds and Charles Schwab showed  African-Americans are saving less for retirement than whites, and the discrepancy could seriously affect their ability to support themselves as they get older.

The survey found average savings for an African-American making $50,000 a year was $48,000, compared with $100,000 for whites in the same bracket. Most blacks preferred not to invest in stock but in real estate, figuring the risks outweighed the rewards. 

The survey also found Americans in general aren’t saving as much as they should be, but the differences between the saving practices of blacks and whites are so stark that John Rogers, founder of Ariel Capital Management, told Chicago Tribune columnist Gail MarksJarvis: “both whites and African-Americans are failing to save enough, but if Americans have a cold, African-Americans have pneumonia. ”

Some key findings of the Ariel-Schwab Black Investor Survey:

  • On a monthly basis, median savings is $182 for Blacks versus $261 for Whites.
  • Just 57% of Blacks are stock investors, compared to 76% of Whites.
  • Retired Blacks have median savings of just $73,000 compared to $210,000 for Whites.
  • Blacks, on average, also retired earlier than Whites (59 vs. 61) and are more likely to be relying on a pension or Social Security rather than a defined contribution plan, such as a 401(k) plan.

Time for a Third Party?

October 13, 2007

So-called “values voters” who have traditionally leaned towards the right of the political spectrum may be becoming weary of the current two-party system. They’re scoping out black moral values voters, who are more socially conservative, to possibly start a new party.  Ralph Hallow of the Washington Times wrote this week that “black traditional-values voters, credited with making up the margin that re-elected President Bush in 2004, would be prime targets to join a pro-life third-party protest movement, some on the religious right say.”

The issue is getting some mileage in the press. The New York Times recently reported on the political discontent of religious conservatives. As did Reid Wilson of RealClearPolitics. A 2005 article in the Harvard Gazette discusses why black voters may be prime for a third party.

Democrats Compete for Black Voters

October 13, 2007

When Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards announced his bid for the White House, a constant theme was the idea of “Two Americas,” one for the wealthy and the other for the poor. It’s a message that would seem to appeal to many blacks, especially those in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward where Edwards announced his candidacy.

But despite his “Two Americas” view of the country, Edwards has found himself trailing two candidates for the black vote. A recent article on said black voters in South Carolina, Edwards’ home state, are leaning more towards Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Edwards trails them by 20-30 percentage points.

Black voters have typically been a dependable constituency for Democratic candidates. In the last presidential election, nearly 90 percent of blacks voted Democratic. In Southern states, African-Americans make up nearly 50 percent of the electorate. That margin could help determine who becomes the Democratic presidential nominee.

Both Clinton and Obama are trying to court black voters. On Sunday, TV One, a black television network, will air an interview with Clinton. The discussion will focus solely on issues of concern to black voters. John DeSio of the New York Press says Clinton seems to be positioning herself as the candidate who will best serve African-Americans.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama has been successful in his fundraising efforts among the black middle class. An article in USA Today showed Obama outraised Clinton by almost double in areas that had blacks with above-average incomes. The implications of this are important—albeit only symbolically, a point made by Bill Boyarsky of Truthdig, who says Obama’s fundraising efforts among the black middle class is “showing America a black political landscape seldom visited by journalists.”

Obama himself has acknowledged the importance of the black vote to his campaign. In August he claimed his candidacy would “redraw the political map”  and increase black voter turnout by 30 percent. But some people are a little more skeptical of this theory. In a blog posting on the Washington Post, Perry Bacon Jr. and Jennifer Agiesta argued that Obama’s 30 percent solution would be almost impossible to achieve in some states. One responder agreed, posting: “Obama needs to see this election season for what it is — an introduction for his future candidacy and getting people to imagine the possibility of a Black man in the White House so that they’re better ready for him in 2016.”

Panhandling for Reparations

October 12, 2007

On October 10th, visual artist damali ayo launched the first annual National Day of Panhandling for Reparations. The day of panhandling is based on a 2003 street performance ayo did in which she sat in public places throughout many cities and collected money from white passersby. She then redistributed it to black people who walked past her, telling them the money was atonement for their ancestors’ enslavement.

In a telephone interview I did with ayo on Wednesday morning, she said the day is more about artistic performance and awareness than provocative protest. 

“I’m an artist; I’m not a marcher,” said ayo, who is based in Portland, Oregon. “What I’m interested in is a creative approach to social issues to the people. I’m interested in making a difference in people’s every day lives.”

“The thing that I love the most about this performance is when I’m on the street panhandling, every single person, whether they talk to me or not, has an experience with that,” ayo said. “They walk past; they see it; they snicker; they judge it. It’s confusing; they like it. They start conversations with people about it. That’s what art should do.”

On Wednesday,  70 people from 21 states and three countries re-enacted ayo’s street performance in their respective cities. The volunteers hoped their performances would help to re-open the debate about reparations for the descendents of slaves.

The issue was even addressed during the recent CNN/YouTube Democratic Presidential debate. The Democrats, who have typically received widespread support from the African-American community, were very prudent in their answers.

Should African Americans be given reparations for slavery?

Reaction to the National Day of Panhandling for Reparations has been decidely mixed:

Online Communities

October 7, 2007

Online groups interested in my beat: Free the Jena 6; In Support of Affirmative Action; Affirmative Action: Brilliantly Fighting Discrimination with Discrimination; Let Everyone VOTE!. All of the previous groups were Facebook groups. There are also discussion forums like the African America discussion forum and the Afro-Chat Discussion Forum. Roland Martin, the first executive editor of the Chicago Defender, also has a blog on, which I forget to mention in my previous posting. Users also post comments on that site. Ebony Magazine also has a daily blog. NPR’s News and Views blog.  Yahoo groups like Black Issue and Revolutionary Minds. Black Planet and Black Network are also other social networking sites that post news and generate a lot of user comments.

Key Websites

October 7, 2007

There are many websites that frequently discuss the hot topics and other issues I mentioned. Blogs by Keith Boykin, Chris Rabb, Covenant with Black America, Politopics, Booker Rising and the Bakare Chronicles are just some blogs that provide commentary on these issues. News sites like African American Opinion,Urban MeccaBlack America Web, Black Commentator, Final Call, AOL Black Voices, Black America Today, and Black Press USA also have good information. The websites of organizations like the National Urban League, NAACP, and the Congressional Black Caucus also keep track of the legislative issues affecting African-Americans. The Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Center for Disease Control also provide statistical information on their respective websites.  


October 7, 2007

Princeton University professor Cornel West once said that “the crisis in Black America is threefold…economic, political and spiritual.”  Though many leaders in the African-American community would agree with that statement, certain issues have risen to the forefront more than others. I decided to title my blog “The Other America” because people like Cornel West and NAACP leader Julian Bond believe there is a divide between mainstream America and what has been called “Black America,” and that there are issues only understandable and unique to people of color in this country.

One current hot topic is high incarceration rates of black men and what some view as discrimination within the criminal justice system. On Thursday, Dana Boone of the Iowa Independent wrote about the high incarceration rates for blacks in Iowa. Blacks compromise a little over 2 percent of the state’s population, but account for 25 percent of its prison population, according to a study by the Sentencing Project. State legislators have submitted proposals to lower the number of blacks in prison, but some policy analysts argue that Iowa–and other states—need to reevaluate its sentencing laws and determine if the punishments fit the crimes.

In Cincinnati, a riot occurred in April 2001 after a police killed an unarmed black man. Writing a guest article in the Cincinnati Beacon yesterday, Dan LaBotz says six years after the riots the city has decided to build another jail. LaBotz says that to many in Cincinnati a new jail is both the “symbol and the reality of racial discrimination.”

But perhaps the Jena 6 case is the situation that most symbolizes what many blacks believe is injustice in the criminal justice system. In a New York Times op-ed column titled “Jena, O. J. and the Jailing of Black America,” Orlando Patterson argues that what drew thousands of protestors to Jena, Louisiana was not only to show support for the six young men accused of assaulting a white classmate, but to express a “long overdue cry of outrage at the use of the prison system as a means of controlling young black men.”  But Jason Whitlock, a columnist for the Kansas City Star, disagrees. He says that Jena 6 supporters have rarely mentioned that Mychal Bell, one of the six accused, was already on probation for assault. According to Whitlock, who is African-American, Black America remains “deeply locked in denial about the path we need to travel today for true American liberation, equality and power in the new millennium. The fact that we waited to love Mychal Bell until after he’d thrown away a Division I football scholarship and nine months of his life is just as heinous as the grossly excessive attempted-murder charges that originally landed him in jail.”

The second hot topic is health disparities between African-Americans and other groups. An article in this month’s issue of Chicago Magazine discussed how black women in Chicago were more likely to die of breast cancer and other diseases than white women. This disparity also exists on a national scale. Black men are also more likely to die of certain diseases than men of other racial backgrounds. In an article in the Baltimore Sun, Susan Brink reports that researchers believe it may be racism, more so than race, which causes black men to have such high incidences of diseases like diabetes and heart disease. African-Americans are also more likely to be uninsured. Because of incidents like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which black men were denied treatment for syphilis during a clinical study, many African-Americans have some distrust of the medical establishment and seek health care less often, according to a 2003 study published in the American Journal of Public Health. African-Americans who live in lower-income urban areas are also more likely to suffer from lead poisoning and asthma. A recent article in the New York Times Magazine, reports that most of America’s power plants, refineries, and waste-transfer stations are concentrated in poorer urban areas.  U.S. environmental policy has traditionally focused on environmental solutions for wilderness, remote areas, but some politicians in Washington are calling for a policy with more of an urban focus.

The third hot topic concerns public education. In places like Chicago and New York, many black children attend underperforming schools. School choice, the ability of parents to place their children in better schools, has been one of the key facets of No Child Left behind. However, a Supreme Court ruling in June rejected assigning kids to certain schools exclusively on the basis of race.  In a post Friday on the Washington D.C. Employment Law blog, Richard Seymour argues that school assignments based on race are well-meaning but unjust: “These school districts’ student assignment plans were well-intentioned, but relied on race reflexively rather than thoughtfully. It did not appear from the decision that the factual predicates of the plans had ever gone through any rigorous analysis.” The issue of school diversity is also occurring in higher education. In 1996, California passed Proposition 209, which made it illegal for race to be a factor in government-hiring and college admissions. However, a consequence of the law is that is has dramatically reduced the number of black students at California’s public universities.

All three of these issues are hot topics. They’re the subject of ongoing debate in circles inside and outside of the African-American community and they’d be interesting to examine over the course of the quarter.