Let's Keep It Real, Y'all

Just to add a little perspective to Bill Cosby's public tirade over out-of-wedlock births in black America: Any black person who has lived long enough has heard similar rants a million times before - from black preachers to family members to even lefty leaders like Jesse Jackson.

One thing that should give balance to Cosby's remarks is the fact that "from 1991 to 1996 there was a 7 percent decrease in white teenage birth rates - and a 20 percent decrease among black teenagers, with an 8 percent drop among black teenagers during the last year alone." And that's according to the conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute.

And while I'm at it, let me say something about conservative columnist Thomas Sowell, who never seems to tire of telling mostly white readers, many of whom have little or no real interaction with black people, that black America is basically lazy, stupid and undeserving of government aid, affirmative action or anything else that might give African-Americans a hand-up.

Yeah, I know. "Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps." Most black people I know all across the country live it every day. But this idea that individuals succeed all by their lonesome is one of the biggest crocks of you-know-what in popular thought today.

By the way, I grew up in East Oakland (one of California's most notorious ghettos; the city that give birth to "The Mack," the Black Panther Party, the Hell's Angels and produced thug-rapper Tupac Shakur), which is practically in Sowell's backyard.

All those years in Oakland and never once did I even hear of Sowell leaving his nearly all-white Ivy Tower at Stanford University to rub elbows with the ignorant black masses in the Bay Area.

So, here we have a well-paid Ivy League professor writing to mostly white readers about what's "really" going down in the hood? Yeah, and I'm a founding member of the Pointer Sisters.

Yes. It's true. A disproportionate number of black students do poorly in school. There are lots of reasons (or excuses) for that, many of which are far more complicated than Sowell's gross exaggeration that it's because would-be black scholars are permanently discouraged by their peers who tease them for "acting white."

The truth is the small minority of black students who equate getting good grades with "acting white" don't hang out with the majority of black students who can better recognize a hustling thug posing as a student far better than Sowell. Hence, the term subculture.

Here's something that might actually help a black student, instead of paralyzing them with more guilt and condemnation. It wasn't until after I got my G.E.D. and started taking community college courses that I realized that the students who get "good" grades usually get help. Lots of it. They study in groups. They tutor one another.

That may seem obvious but I'll tell you why I never did that. I had internalized the neo-white supremacist idea (being peddled, perhaps unwittingly, by columnists like Sowell) that black people are intellectually inferior. To my young, naive, indoctrinated mind, I didn't equate getting good grades with "acting white." I equated asking for help with an admission of intellectual inferiority!

The real problem, as I see it, is that too often black youth try to mimic the visible values perceived as being "(white) mainstream." But if you don't know about the informal social networks and even government programs like the GI Bill that white brothers and sisters have disproportionately benefited from, and you combine that with the Horatio Alger myth of "rugged individualism," you have a recipe for black failure and white scapegoating.

So we can get into fruitless public debates over personal responsibility or we can truly be our "brother's keeper," leading by example and not with you-get-what-you-deserve exhortation.

To borrow a played-out hip-hop phrase: let's keep it real, y'all.

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