Sunday, October 21, 2007

Cosby is Right

As someone who has dedicated most of his educational life to the study of American history generally, and African American history particularly, I cannot help but think that contemporary African America has dropped the ball passed to us by our ancestors. When I think about the challenges that this community has weathered throughout the American historical narrative, I cannot understand how we seem to be

Frankly, I am disappointed in who we have become. It bothers me that at the turn of the 20th century, we as a people seemed united in the desire to prove to the world that we were the equal of every individual on the planet. We held in honor those who could make it through education and hard work. We scorned those who seemed to support, through their actions, those who appeared "to prove" our not being ready to take on the responsibility of full citizenship. And I think that the evidence is clear that those past generations did their jobs.

In her book of essays Racism 101, Nikki Giovanni asked (and I am paraphrasing) why black folks were letting the challenges of this society get to us now. We'd fought larger and more dangerous battles and came out on the other side. We helped this nation take its contract with her people seriously. The efforts of those black folks and their allies moved this nation forward. Why now does it seem that we have thoroughly lost our way? Why now have we come to embrace competitive consumption? Why now?

Pundits often talk about the notion of African American victimology, and I think that indeed there are those who call themselves our "leaders" who reinforce that sensability. However, I think that a good examination of African American history will reveal stories of triumph in the face of continual and sustained adversity. The aforementioned pundits want simply to act as though years of sustained adversity do not leave psychic scars that need to be tended and healed. The aformentioned "leaders" seem to be unable to move beyond the point of scarring in order to recognize the survival. And too many of us simply do not know our history to our detriment.

I think that Bill Cosby is right. In the midst of unimaginable plenty and material success, we are not moving forward as we should. I can only imagine if the opportunities that we enjoy now were present at the turn of 20th century, during the artistic renaissances throughout black communities in the 1910s and 1920s, or during the post WWII boom.

Too many of us have abandoned education. Too many of us have embraced absolute materialism. Too many of us have lost a sense of decorum while in public ("Black America's dirty laundry gets out of school around 2:30 in the afternoon"). Too many of us have become numb to violence that would not be outside of the realm of possibility in Iraq or Afghanistan.

No community outside of African America is equipped to save African America. As Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint have said, "Come on People." We are better than this. We have within our DNA the necessary materials to be our best selves regardless of the musings or rants of others. But it is our responsibility to act like we are living in an era of unprecedented opportunity. It is our responsibility to follow the lead of our ancestors and not let "no one turn us 'round." In the end, I may be disappointed in my people, but I still have faith that we can follow Cosby's call.

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