Juan Williams, senior correspondent for NPR‘s Morning Edition and political analyst for Fox News, recently gave a 90 minute lecture at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, and his lecture was included in Princeton’s University Channel Podcast, with the title Eyes Off the Prize? Why Bill Cosby Is Right and What We Should Do About It. (since removed)
In this powerful speech, he asks the listeners to imagine if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. suddenly returned and asked you “how is the black family doing?” Williams plays out this scenario with tragic humor, then goes on to attack the culture of victimhood, the poor leadership of the black American community who focus on the wrong things, and how it attacks its own internal critics like Bill Cosby or Oprah instead of listening.
1. On Black Youth
So Williams imagines that he asks Dr. King to sit down and watch some TV, and Dr. King first lands on MTV.
What should come up but Flava of Love [in which] a black man in a large comical hat…all sorts of grillwork on this teeth, making all sorts of nasty, dehumanizing comments about women and himself…and Dr. King says “This is unbelievable! They have a KKK network…a modern minstrel show!”
Shocked, he goes up a channel and gets BET
[But what he sees are] images of young black people, many of the men stripped to the waist, threatening demeanor, angry, lot of attitude, guns in ample display, big fancy cars…dressed like they just got out of jail with their pants hanging off their butts, no belt, no laces in their shoes, a do rag on their head. The only women in evidence are half naked and gyrating and acting like sex toys, and Dr. King says, “This is unbelievable! Who would allow this kind of thing, this image of black people to be sent worldwide?”
Again shocked, he changes to Comedy Central
…and there are black comedians using the N word willy nilly and he thinks, “Do people not understand the power of degrading language? What is going on? How can this be excused?”
One last time, he changes and sees Oprah on a news program.
… and they’re having a news story about how Oprah is taking $40M and going off to S. Africa to open a school for young black girls, and he thinks to himself, “Why would this child of Mississippi, this famous African American talk show host, invest her dollars at a time of crisis in American education so far away?” A reporters asks her just that question and she says, “When I got to schools in the United States, they ask me for iPods and expensive sneakers. But when I got to South Africa, the children ask me for books, wanting schools, and the opportunity to become leaders in their society, so I’ve decided to invest my money there.”
2. On Black Leadership
Dr. King asks “what about the leadership? People who would speak to these issues…to strategize? If people look back on the civil rights movement, the glory of it was that you had black people standing tall, organizing, strategizing…why is that not happening now?”
“Well, Dr. King,” you say, “it’s kind of tragic. The leadership seems to be stuck in anachronistic patterns of behavior…a real reluctance to deal with the difficulties of the day. Why, only a year and half ago, we had a tremendous flood in New Orleans. Awful sad pictures across TV of poor people, disproportionately black, dragging their belongings in plastic bags…and the government wasn’t in a place to help.”
And Dr. King says, “That must have been a real moment of conscience for America.”
“Well, Dr. King, it really didn’t become a moment of conscience.”
“How can that be?”
“Well, look at what the leadership did. The black leadership, including many of our celebrities, said ‘If there wasn’t a white Republican in the White House, those poor black people wouldn’t have been left to make their own way.’ But then that turned out not to be true. It turned out that the government…had also failed poor white people. And then there was a backlash, and people said ‘don’t glorify those poor black people. There’s all kinds of rape and murders and looting in the Superdome, and not just for food but for boomboxes and sneakers – they’re a bunch of thieves.’ So there was a counter argument, and in the midst of this, the moment of conscience was washed away.
There were so many ways in which we could have talked about how people with strong family units were not left behind, we could talk about the generosity of neighboring states…and the church community that not only sent money but people…but none of that happened. Instead, the focus was on the argument between left and right about who was to blame.
3. On American views of the Black Community
Williams goes on to quote stats from a Pew Center poll which occurred right after Katrina.
Are blacks in America better off than ever?
- 77% of whites said YES
- 66% of blacks said YES
Are black people who are not moving ahead creating their own problems?
- 63% of whites said YES
- 45% of blacks said YES
Are the poor overly dependent on government in America?
- 71% of whites said YES
- 66% of blacks said YES
We don’t have leadership that speaks to the [self-defeating behaviors] of the poor. To the contrary, we have leadership that shows up when a policeman shoots a young black person…that complains of insufficient funding for a government program…but we don’t have leadership that talks about the strength in the black community, an individuals ability to help himself or herself, his children or her children, to build stronger families and communities.
We have leadership that focuses on grievance, but not on opportunity. So, there is a great doubletalk and doublethink going on in the American body politic with regard to poverty, and esp. among the black poor. There are so many lies being told, and when anyone dares to break out of this doublethink, well, you see what happened to Bill Cosby.
You get charged with being unfeeling, callous, with not truly loving people, but with being an antagonist. And the tragedy is that those people are [in reality] allowing the status quo to hold. They are not inviting change, they are not about creating new opportunities, they are simply about making excuses for bad behavior.
Williams goes on to discuss the black on black murder rate, black incarceration, and drug use.
4. What happens when someone from the black community brings these things up?
What happens when someone brings up the subject? They’re belittled. People say it’s all about overly punitive penalties for petty drug crimes and disparate treatment for those doing powdered cocaine v. crack…. And people say that’s evidence of racism, and Bill Cosby said, “Well why don’t you simply say to people that it’s a mistake, esp. if you’re poor, to use cocaine in any form? That this is damaging to your aspirations?”
Cosby said that it was really evidence of bad leadership, and a failure to speak to people in need, that you would avoid the subject, and make excuses for people who are using and selling drugs, opening crack houses, diminishing the quality of life in the black community, running out retail businesses, making it hard to walk down the street without being mugged by some crackhead. But the energy from the leadership was to attack Cosby and to deny him any platform from which to speak.
5. On the NAACP’s failure in Baltimore as an example of the lack of black leadership.
The drug dealers, in anger at a woman who called the police on a crack dealer in her neighborhood, burnt out her house and killed her and all five members of her family, her three children and her husband. The NAACP right there in her city didn’t have any marches in support of her. There was no waving of banners or people rallying across racial lines saying “We’ve got to do something about these murderous drug dealers who would kill a woman who was just trying to keep drug dealers away from her children.”
That’s just from the first half hour. He moves into a call to action, and asking if you will make a difference? Then Q&A. And he gives a great answer at about 1 hour into the program (just fast forward to it if you want to hear his advice to young blacks).
Listen to the rest if you dare, and learn from a thinking black man what you might not be able to listen to from white conservatives. And if you don’t have 90 minutes, you can listen to a few shorter pieces by Juan Williams on NPR.
You can also read some long excerpts from Williams 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.