Don't attack Cosby, attack problems

July 03, 2006|By CHARLES M. CHRISTIAN

As a black male, I got angry when Bill Cosby came to Coppin State University last year on his "Call Out" tour. He was blunt and said some bitter and divisive things. But as I hear others voice similar anger, and then go on to challenge Mr. Cosby to debates, I get angrier still. This time, I'm angry at those who want to engage in fruitless debates with him.

Nobody has to remind African-Americans that our communities have worsened considerably over the last several decades. We, too, are fully aware that black males have become more demonized, so much so that police tend to arrest them whenever they are perceived to pose a fearful situation.

Mr. Cosby's statements are cutting when he says that young black people "don't want to learn English" or that many young black women are "having children by five, six different men" or that parenting is defined by many as "buying $500 sneakers" instead of spending "$250 on Hooked on Phonics."

Mr. Cosby doesn't stop there. He says that too many of our young black men are "sperm banks" and "not interested in marriage or fatherhood," and further tells us that "nobody's pushed them into drug dealing" and "they can't blame the white man, he didn't pull the trigger." When you hear this, you can't help but get choked up. Who does he think he is, saying those hateful things?

But it doesn't take very long to realize that although Mr. Cosby's statements are not grounded in scholarly social science research, what he is saying is true. More clearly, his statements are meant to provoke us. Mr. Cosby is presenting facts in the raw, just as most of our parents did long ago, except that he is doing it for the world to hear.

To criticize Mr. Cosby for not identifying the "social obstructions to individual betterment" is missing Mr. Cosby's mission. He is skillful. He is using his pulpit to create reactions and using considerable media coverage to make us listen to what would not grab attention in any other way. He is calling on us, in his own way, to roll up our sleeves and to spend a few hours working on the problems that drove us out of our old neighborhoods in the first place.

At Coppin State University, a historically black university situated in the midst of impoverished surroundings, we have concluded that we have no choice but to get involved in helping to solve some of the problems addressed by Mr. Cosby.

Further, when we see an all-black high school just across the street where only about half of the students return after the ninth grade, where less than 5 percent passed the algebra High School Assessment examination, 7 percent passed the biology exam, 11 percent passed the government exam and 16 percent passed the English exam - we are provoked to respond.

We at Coppin have rolled up our sleeves and are about the business of improving the community in which we live. We have implemented several strategies to stabilize and build social capital in our community. We have a charter school that educates children in our community, and we have the Coppin Academy to educate high school students on our campus.

In several months, we will have a think tank to help us define appropriate public policies to more effectively and efficiently deal with our socioeconomic problems.

We could use my fellow scholars at various universities and the misplaced, energized anger toward Mr. Cosby. I propose a resolution to compliment Mr. Cosby for bringing us to the table to deal with our problems and for taking it on the chin.

Let's make Mr. Cosby our advocate rather than our villain. Let's encourage him to be our spokesman by adding to his message rather than killing both the message and the messenger.

Mr. Cosby's responsibility does not end with highlighting the problems, however. We need him to expand his articulation of the problems, but with more support and input from the scholarly and African-American communities. Perhaps we should be cognizant of the urgency of Mr. Cosby's "call out"; we already have lost several battles.

Regardless of how he is saying it, it still translates that we are losing the war.

Charles M. Christian is a distinguished professor at Coppin State University and the founder of the Black Saga Competition. His e-mail is cchristian@coppin.edu.

Columnist Cynthia Tucker is on vacation.

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