Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Enough by Juan Williams

Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America--and What We Can Do About It
(I wrote this review as a guest post for a friend's blog, and am re-posting it here)
Juan Williams has been in the news recently, with his firing by NPR, and so I decided I should probably read something he's written. The full title of this book is Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movement, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America - and What We Can Do About It. The entire book is more or less a riff on the themes that Bill Cosby raised in his controversial speech at Constitution Hall on the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision that forced integration of public schools in America.

Critics said that Cosby was beating up on poor black people, an easy target. But Williams, who interviewed the comedian extensively for his book,  says that Cosby's charge was that black cultural and political leaders have misinformed, mismanaged, and mis-educated by failing to tell black people about what it takes to get ahead in America: strong families, a good educations, and hard work, instead focusing the spotlight constantly on alleged systemic racism as the cause of all of the black poor's woes. Williams even suggests that it's in the best interests (especially financial) of these leaders to maintain the status quo, sacrificing the well being of those they claim to champion.

Williams, and Cosby, both believe that the behavior of many of the black poor today, disgraces and dishonors the sacrifices made by the generations of black civil rights leaders who fought for the freedom they enjoy today. The popular culture that embraces thuggish behavior, encourages indiscriminate sexual behavior and bearing children out of wedlock, and discourages blacks who try to graduate from high school and go on to college as "acting white", would be incomprehensible to those like Fredrick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Dubois, Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks.

Williams attacks the idea of reparations for slavery that has been floating around Congress for years now. He calls it a "flashy distraction" from the real work that must be done by black people to take advantages of all the opportunities in America. Like lottery winnings, the money would soon be spent, most likely frivolously, and things would continue as usual, but with whites, and the government, feeling that the "debt" had been paid and that no further effort would be needed to help the black poor.

In his speech, Cosby said "What the Hell good is Brown v Board of Education if nobody wants it?" Black people before, during, and after slavery had regarded education as their way out, a chance to succeed. "...in a thirty-year period, between 1880 and 1920, the percentage of black people who could read and write jumped from 30 percent to 70 percent. This ... took place despite a lack of schools, frequent denial of the right to vote...run for office, including seats on the school boards that controlled funding for black schools." In 2004 only 50 percent of black students who enter the ninth grade later graduated with a regular high school diploma. Only 43 percent of black males graduate. Even worse, the children coming out of many big-city schools are not ready to compete at the best colleges, as the quality of high school education there has declined. Cosby said in a column in the Los Angeles Times, "What we need now is parents sitting down with children, overseeing homework, sending children off to school in the morning, well-fed, clothed, rested, and ready to learn."

One quote from Williams that I found amusing. With respect to the reason a disproportionate amount of black males are prison. "The fashionable theory was that America's poor, disproportionately black and concentrated in big cities, did their drug deals and robberies on street corners where lazy, racist police had an easy time arresting them." I just get this mental picture of a couple of good ole boy cops, eating donuts in the squad car, and one says to the other, "Let's drive downtown and get our quota of arrests for this week - won't take us very long." Williams also mentions that the mayors of big cities "understand the utility of having an attractive black police chief to handle ... misconduct by officers (such as the cruel beating of Rodney King) or charges that police are inattentive to crime in black neighborhoods." Isn't it sad that appearances are all that really count? Williams believes that black Americans need to take up their own war on drugs and crime, which undermines the advances in racial justice and opportunities won by the civil rights movement,  as a matter of personal responsibility.

One minor inaccuracy, in my opinion, appears in this section. Williams repeats the slander that William Bennett said on his radio show that the crime rate in America could be reduced if all black babies were aborted. I believe Bennett was actually discussing a statement made by the authors of Freakonomics. The authors claimed as a result of their studies that the decrease in crime in the inner cities that was seen at a particular time came about as a result of Roe v. Wade. When abortion on demand became readily available after the Supreme Court decision, it reduced the number of children born significantly in the following decade. Most of those children would have been teenagers or young adults during the decade studied for its reduction in crime. Statistically, young males are more likely to commit crimes, and again, statistically, black males are more likely to be arrested for crimes, therefore the reduction in crime rates during that period could be attributed to the increase in abortions of inner city (black) babies.

Williams talks quite a bit about the effect of gangster rap music. He says that "it leaves young black people, especially poor kids searching for identity, with the poisonous idea that middle-class normalcy and achievement are 'white' while 'authentically black' behavior is tied to violence, illiteracy, and drug dealing." The misogynistic lyrics of rap music also destroy the self esteem of young black women, who are referred to often as "bitches and hos", and encourages them to believe that their only value is as sexual objects. "In the world of rap, only suckers believe that America is a land of opportunity..."

In Chapter 7, Williams gives a detailed history of what civil rights workers did after Brown to force the issues of integration in the public schools, and voting rights for blacks. Martin Luther King, in a speech in 1958, even criticized blacks for some of the same types of behavior that Cosby would criticize nearly fifty years later. He said that black crime rates were too high and that drinking too much and spending money on luxury items (can you say "bling"?) was wasting black potential for creating positive change, and he criticized sloppiness and personal hygiene. "Even the most poverty-stricken among us can purchase a ten-cent bar of soap. even the most uneducated among us can have high morals."

Williams and Cosby both believe that the poor black community cannot wait for the issues of systemic racism, which modern black leaders decry, to go away. It will be far too late for young blacks by then. The way out of poverty is available to all, and the formula is simple. It begins with finishing high school, though finishing college is better. Next, get a job and keep it. Third, get married after finishing school and getting a job. Finally, avoid having children until you are over 21 and married. This formula applies to black and white poor alike.

This is a great read, really. I felt in some ways like Williams was "preaching to the choir" with me as an audience, as I firmly believe in the value of a good education, a strong work ethic, and supportive family. I've seen friends and family struggle in their lives when any one of those foundations were not in place, and I've seen other people with those qualities present succeed like gangbusters.

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