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Cosby's Comments Bring Applause From Black Conservatives

by Jenni Parker and Chad Groening
May 28, 2004
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(AgapePress) - A black conservative leader is praising entertainment icon Bill Cosby for publicly asserting that problems in the black community are mostly the result of personal failure rather than external factors such as racism and public policy.

On May 17 Cosby made the controversial remarks at a Constitution Hall gala event -- a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that outlawed school segregation. His speech garnered only slight attention at first, like a small stone dropped into the pool of public discourse. But what began as a few small ripples has continued to spread as liberals and conservatives -- white and black -- debate what some view as a scathing attack against low-income blacks, and others regard as a timely word of truth about personal responsibility.

Ward Connerly founded and serves as chair of the American Civil Rights Institute (ACRI), an organization aimed at educating the public about the need to move beyond racial and gender preferences. He has nothing but praise for Cosby and says his comments were "right on target" when told poor blacks to own up to their own problems.

Connerly says Cosby is "well-meaning" and "wants to do what's right for black Americans," as most members of the black community do. "And in this instance," he says, "you can't do what's right for them by standing on the sidelines and complaining about racism and viewing all of their problems as being driven by external forces rather than being self-inflicted."

The founder of ACRI feels Cosby was absolutely correct to chastise blacks who fail to take responsibility for the social issues like urban crime and black-on-black violence -- problems that are so often blamed on white racism and systemically racist public policy. Besides agreeing with Cosby's comments, Connerly says he feels they "need to have been said by someone in a high-profile position a long time ago."

In fact, the black conservative says he has been uttering the same kind of statements for some time, and has been called a sellout and an "Uncle Tom" for his pains. However, he says, "Bill Cosby is in a position to deflect such comments, and I applaud his statements."

Black community reactions

Reactions from other black leaders have been mixed and sometimes unexpected. For instance, NAACP Executive Director Kweisi Mfume conceded to a Washington Post reporter that Cosby's words were "on target." On NBC's Today Show, news anchor Matt Lauer interviewed two media commentators, who illustrated the polarity of opinions.

Joe Madison, a talk show host from WOL-AM radio in Lanham, Maryland, felt Cosby made some valid points, but believed the entertainer's remarks were extreme and needed to be balanced. Also, Madison said personal responsibility is a valid issue, but that public policy and racism still have to be addressed; and he warned, "We also have to make sure that we don't demonize poor people in this country, black or white."

In the same interview, syndicated columnist Armstrong Williams countered that Cosby was "absolutely correct." Williams said when it comes to problems in the black community, "It's not about the Republicans or the Democrats or policy or race -- it's about personal responsibility and accountability. We've talked about these issues for decades, and we still have the same problems. Something has to be done."

And in a recent Washington Post.com editorial, Theodore Shaw expressed the sentiments of many who found Cosby's stand harsh. The columnist wrote, "Most poor black people struggle admirably to raise their children well. Parents, including single mothers, work for low wages, sometimes in multiple jobs, to support their families."

Shaw went on to note that Cosby has acknowledged this in a recent press statement, in which he tried to clarify his intentions. The actor-comedian and spokesman stressed that he did not mean to criticize everyone in the "black lower economic classes" but was only trying to promote "a sense of shared responsibility and action."

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