Jonathan Tilove

My Life As A Race Writer

Racism vs. Cultural Failings? Juan Williams picks up where Bill Cosby left off

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Newhouse News Service

August 14, 2006

c. 2006

WASHINGTON – The question of whether racism or cultural failings are more to  blame for the crisis in black America has been much debated in recent years.

In 2004, Bill Cosby weighed in on the side of personal  responsibility. Then the “hip-hop intellectual” Michael Eric Dyson, a humanities  professor at the University of Pennsylvania, replied with a book, Is Bill Cosby  Right? (Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?, arguing that Cosby was  in a long, sorry tradition of better-off blacks blaming poorer blacks for their  own plight and letting white society off the hook.

Now comes  Juan Williams  and his new book Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of  Failure That Are Undermining Black America and What We Can Do About It.

“Bill Cosby was right, but he only told a portion of the story,”  Williams writes. “This book picks up the baton to continue the race.”

More than Cosby, Williams names names.

The “phony leaders” include the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al  Sharpton and former Mayors Marion Barry of Washington and Sharpe James of  Newark. Reparations is a “dead-end movement.” Much of rap culture is  destructive. Dave Chappelle’s Comedy Central gig was “a minstrel show.”

Williams is a big foot of American journalism, with one foot at  National Public Radio, where he is a senior correspondent, and the other a Fox New,  where  he is a political analyst and ubiquitous talking head. He is the author of Eyes  on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965, and Thurgood Marshall:  American Revolutionary.

With Enough, the longtime journalist he earlier spent 21 years  at The Washington Post emerges as a polemicist. As he recently told a receptive  audience at Karibu Books, an Afrocentric bookstore in Prince George’s County,  Md., “It’s about finding my voice at age 52.”

“Juan is standing up against the orthodoxy,” said John McWhorter,  a linguist and conservative social critic who is a senior fellow at the  Manhattan Institute. “It shows that the idea that it’s all society’s fault is  tottering.”

By contrast, Ronald Walters, the University of Maryland political  scientist whom Williams acknowledges in the book as one of “my political  insiders,” considers “Enough,” “unfortunate.”

African-Americans are in a unique situation, in “this very public  discussion of how screwed up we are and what it would take to fix it,” Walters  said. “What we need is a thoughtful approach, not this public theater.”

Cosby, in startling remarks at a ceremony marking the 50th  anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown decision, declared that the black poor  were “not holding their end in this deal,” and that the time had come for them  to pull up their pants and lead more disciplined lives.

In fact, according to a Pew Research Center study released last  year, 37 percent of African-Americans said that “discrimination is the reason  blacks don’t get ahead,” while 49 percent believed that “blacks are responsible  for their own condition.” Interestingly, lower-income blacks were most likely to  pick personal responsibility.

Of course, most respondents may blame a bit of both. But Williams  believes that at a time when only 43 percent of black males graduate from high  school with a regular diploma and 44 percent of the prison population is black,  the choice of emphasis is decisive.

“I think it’s a crucial dividing line at the start of the 21st  Century,” he said in an interview.

“We have people who are locked into fights that took place not  just a generation ago, but many generations ago, and their fight is against the  color line and to play on white guilt.”

Williams faults leaders like Sharpton and Jackson for a “stifling  echo chamber” of stale ideas. He faults politicians like Barry and James for  building self-serving machines on the back of black empowerment.

His message to young blacks: Follow a few rules and “there’s  almost no chance of being poor.” Stay in school. Stay in the work force. Don’t  have a baby out of wedlock. Don’t get married until your twenties.

Williams, who was born in Panama and came to New York at 4, has  never been a cookie-cutter liberal.

During the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in 1991, he  penned a controversial piece for The Washington Post defending Thomas. “In  pursuit of abuses by a conservative president, the liberals have become the  abusive monsters,” he wrote.

In June 2004, he wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times on  President Bush’s potential appeal to black voters. Williams’ son, Antonio, a  Republican, is running this year for a seat on the D.C. City Council.

Williams feels his own career hit a “glass ceiling.”

“You look at who the anchormen are in American life. I don’t see  black people,” he said. “My ambition when I started out (in newspapers) was to  be a managing editor. Now that is something that may be more possible for a  younger generation, but for my generation that is still exceptional.”

He believes some venues won’t touch Enough, because it violates  liberal taboos.

“I can’t get on the (network) morning talk shows,” Williams said.  “They don’t want someone who is shaking up the pot, especially when it comes to  debate about race in America.”

“For this grievous offense,” Michael Reagan wrote after Williams  appeared on his radio show, “he has been cast into the outer darkness.”

The “outer darkness” includes appearances on NPR’s Morning  Edition and The Diane Rehm Show, and a sometimes heated interview with Dyson on  the Book TV show After Words on CSPAN2.

Williams said he would like his book to be seen in the tradition  of James Baldwin’s 1963 classic, “The Fire Next Time.”

But University of Michigan historian Angela Dillard thinks the  noteworthy book this year is Tavis Smiley’s edited volume,  A Covenant with  Black America, published by Third World Press, which topped The New York Times  non-fiction paperback best-seller list and drew large crowds to town hall  meetings across the country.

“I think people are really hungry for food for thought,” she  said, “and it isn’t this cranky back-and-forth between Bill Cosby, Michael Eric  Dyson and Juan Williams.”


Written by jonathantilove

October 3, 2012 at 12:59 am

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