Alvin Poussaint, M.D. and celebrity Bill Cosby, Ed.D. recently
penned a book entitled Come On People. Finally, two pillars of the black
community have come up with a radical take on what's wrong with the youth of
America. Not just black youth; they also address the fact that white youth have
embraced the concept of "gangsta rap," they use the term "nigger" (more specifically,
in Dr. Poussaint's case "wigger" as loosely
as, sadly, their black brethren. Dr. Pouissant and Dr. Cosby have both crafted a
compelling solution for the problem of the high-school dropout rate among black
male students (50%) and the 60% rate of incarceration of those high-school and
college age black males who have dropped out of high school or college.
Laura S. Washington, in the website
www.thesetimes.com argues that although their initial theory was unpopular,
Cosby and Poussaint make a very good case for black Americans to get off of the
"victim of oppression" bandwagon and get themselves intelligenced on how to
conduct themselves, but more importantly, how to raise their children. This
excerpt from Ms. Washington says it all, with quotes from Dr. Cosby:
“I can’t even talk the way these people talk. ‘Why you ain’t?’
‘Where you is?’ … Everybody knows it’s important to speak English except
these knuckleheads. You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out
of your mouth.”
Back then, Cosby didn’t get a lot of “Amen, brothers!” from that
crowd, nor from many others back in the ‘hood. At least, not out in the
Cosby’s critics excoriated him for delivering his rant from an
elitist ivory tower without offering solutions. They argue that the black
poor are the helpless victims of white supremacy and institutional racism.
In other words, it’s not their fault—the deck is stacked just too high.
But he was right then. And he is right now.
Come on People has replaced Cosby’s vitriolic speechifying with
firm but loving essays that urge blacks to eschew their pathological embrace
of victimization, violence and despair.
The authors respond to their detractors. “Certain people tell us
that we are picking on the poor. Many of those who accuse us are scholars
and intellectuals, upset that we are not blaming everything on white people
as they do. Well, blaming only the system keeps certain black people in the
limelight, but it also keeps the black poor wallowing in victimhood.”
Want more? Read the book and then come back to this piece. Or, heck, trust me
Senator Barack Obama wrote a book as well, telling an extremely candid story
of his emergence from the world of the drugs, crime and other
social ills of the ghetto, and his subsequent commitment to public service.
Read the book and then come back to this piece. Or, again, trust me and
Senator Obama admits freely that he indeed "inhaled." So did, I think, a
majority of my peers and a majority of young people of subsequent generations.
Heck, I think that President Bill Clinton was a "'fraidy-cat" and a "wet blanket"
if he indeed decided to cast a pall upon the party he attended where marijuana
was partaken of. I can tell you from personal experience that if I attend a
party where marijuana's being passed around and there's a sole individual who
tells me "none for me, thanks," I wonder what the hell he or she is doing there
in the first place and am possessed with a modicum of concern that perhaps the
abstainer will later use his or her witness of my drug use as a way to criticize
my values, my character, and certainly (and understandably) my respect for the
laws of my State and my Country. That's called "paranoia," and is, for some, a
by-product of the use of marijuana for many individuals, especially those who
only occasionally partake of the drug.
I've taken a lot of heat recently about my writings on this website which
criticize Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign for the
Presidency. So I will not mention Senator Clinton again in this piece. It has
finally occurred to me (duh!) that if I continue to criticize Senator Clinton I
am resorting to the same policy of negativity and acrimony that I accuse the
Senator and her aides of perpetrating.
So let's talk positive.
Barack Obama intends to bring to this country social, economic and political
change the likes of which we perhaps have never seen since the days of our
Nation's great Civil War. Senator Obama asserts that there indeed will be a
price for this change. The price will not be measured in dollars; the price will
be measured in the amount of effort put forth by the people of this country to
help one another. To volunteer one's time and, if possible effort. A person's
time could, perhaps, be measured in the amount of money he or she earns per
hour. But the giving of time and effort is a gift far more precious than
anything money can buy.
In this country, it has been demonstrated that those with the drive and the
perseverance can indeed enjoy as much spiritual, intellectual, and financial
success as they care to. Time, however, is a finite commodity that only God (or
the higher power of your belief) controls. And when it's up, it's up. So,
according to Senator Obama's plan for America, those who are able will be called
upon to commit time, skill, knowledge and other intangible assets in order to
make the United States a better place to live. This surely, at least in my book,
is a fine alternative to the good old American habit of throwing money at our
problems in hopes they'll go away.
We've thrown money at the crisis of the homeless, and what has it achieved
but the building of myriad but filthy housing projects that are havens for crime
and certainly no place to call "home." We've thrown money at single mothers who
become addicted to drugs and continue having babies because each child they have
garners them another $100 or so a month in welfare income. We've thrown money at
the problem of crime in this country and have done nothing to rehabilitate
criminals; the money's gone to incarcerate criminals; many of whom will
return to the streets only to resort to crime again after they discover that, in
the short run, it's easier to rob homes, steal cars and mug (and most times
injure) our fellow citizens than it is to take advantage of the few programs
existent which provide basic education and skills to ex-convicts.
To those of you who'd invoke the familiar old lament that it's hard, yea,
nearly impossible to free one's self from the "shackles of the white oppressor,"
I say bullshit. You heard me; bullshit.
In every state of this nation there's a government office dedicated to the
advancement and assistance of minority and women-owned businesses. In academia,
quotas still exist, offering the B+ student who's black or Latino or Asian a
chance at acceptance into a college that a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant with
straight A grades will be passed over. In government hiring, the minority
applicant for police officer comes under far less scrutiny than their white
counterparts. Yet this is not enough.
Let me add that the children of the successful upper-middle class households
in white America have embraced the very culture of ebonics, hip-hop clothes and
"gangsta" music that Cosby and Poussaint lament. A recent job applicant at my
restaurant had completed his education at a top-notch high school, and lived in
a $3 million home with his brother and sisters.
When he came for his interview, he did not possess a pen with which to write
out his job application (a small grievance on my part, but I recall having
two pens in my pocket when going on job interviews, should one give out.
This young man's jeans were literally four sizes too large and were cinched up
by a belt with a buckle that displayed a finger pointing toward the zipper of
his trousers, emblazoned with the phrase "it's here, bitch." His shirt, however,
I would've wanted to buy. It said "FCUK." I appreciated the brilliance of that
single mix-up of letters to attract attention to the wearer without being
This candidate for a job, despite his appearance, was judged on the merits of
his (poorly completed) job application. When it was explained to him that he'd
earn $10.60 per hour to wash dishes, clean the floor and also perform small
cleaning tasks as assigned by his manager, he blurted out that he was "no
Puerto Rican" and he wanted to be a waiter, and would certainly not perform
mopping nor dishwashing chores. This young man also made it a point to say that
he'd never in his life cleaned a toilet and refused to consider "cleaning other
people's shit" no matter what the level of compensation.
Had he experience? No. Did he fulfill the waitstaff's requirement of
employment to speak and at least read a moderate amount of Mandarin Chinese?
Not at all. Well then all I had for him was the clean-up work that he'd already
insisted he'd not perform in return for the rate of pay being offered, much less
a thousand gold coins a day and a dozen fan-waving, towel-bearing young nymphs
to wipe the sweat off of his tired brow.
When he left the front door of the restaurant, he shouted more obscenities
within earshot of myself and the few customers who were there, and then departed
in a car blasting rap music so loudly we could understand the words inside. (The
song playing was a brilliant creation by rapper 50-cent, whom I appreciate to a
degree; I'll say that much for the taste of the driver of the car.)
Now, I realize we're in no Depression right now. However,
when my Grandfather was raising his family of wife, two daughters and a son
during that time, he'd been laid off as a Building Engineer for a very large
skyscraper and had to take what he could get; $20 a month and living space for
his family (as caretakers) in a town-house in a luxury area of New York City. The town house
belonged to a wealthy family who wanted it kept safe from burglars and squatters
in the depths of the nation's greatest fiscal crisis. "Pappy," as the whole
family called him, had rifles and pistols all over the house, Heaven forbid a
break-in be committed on his watch. The glory of the whole thing was that since
the house was furnished but devoid of residents, my Grandmother could take in
sewing, my Uncle could attend a community college, and my mother and aunt found
jobs doing menial work, fifty per cent of the wages therefor were due and owing
to the household, for room and board.
My mother related to me a story whereby my Grandfather called the ice company
(there were few homes with refrigeration at that time) and then carefully sat
down to calculate how many turkeys he could cool sufficiently so that they'd be
edible in the coming months. It turned out that two or three blocks did the
trick, and my mother and aunt (dressed in proper rags) went from soup-kitchen to
Salvation Army building gathering turkeys. The family go so sick of turkey
after a while they decided that the following year, come hell or high water,
they were going to punctuate their meals of macaroni and cheese and all kinds of
turkey (typically in white gravy) with some sort of beef stew or beef roast. And
that they did.
My thanks to you for dealing with these two tales, one of a modern job-seeker
and the other of how we made do during the Nation's greatest fiscal crisis. The
modern job-seeker is going to get a big surprise from Senator Obama, should he
become President (and I support Senator Obama and all of his platform planks).
My family, well, they were under President
Roosevelt's care, for the most part. The stories they told about the enormous
gap between the wealthy who'd survived the Stock Market crash of 1929 and the
poor who either hadn't, or had been affected by it, were not all bad. They were
stories of an intrepid American populace making good however they could.
When I grew up, the Depression Mentality had not left my
mother. So therefore it was drummed into my head that we were "poor" and
certainly "not as fortunate as our neighbors." My father, despite his best
efforts, could not cure us of this problem. My mother was shameless; she's buy
the ends of delicatessen meats long before the stores had figured out they could
sell them for $2.59 a pound. My mother lied to the vegetable manager and told
him that we had rabbits; and would be glad to take the trimmings of cabbage,
broccoli, carrots, and lettuce off of his hands. I was ashamed then to go
marketing with her; today I find it laughable and admire my mother's
contribution to the lessening of wastefulness in a booming post-war economy.
I was a target of bullies in middle-school. I wore mis-matched clothes and
hand-me-downs from my cousins (what could my aunts do, buy us new clothing? They
couldn't afford it.) When we moved to Connecticut in the middle of my high
school years, the "disco" clothes that I'd acquired from my cousin Glenn didn't
go over well at all in the land of Levi Jeans, polo shirts and the like.
However, after a year of taunting I managed to bring back enough drugs and
trinkets from my weekly travels to New York City that I acquired a bunch of
friends of the B-list kind.
The New Recession
Of course, the times I've talked of above were far more severe than the times
this Nation is enduring now. However, we still have among us the poor who've
been poor for years and can't seem to pull up their bootstraps and make a
sufficient wage. I feel great despair for these people. I have met them, I have
talked with them, I have given them charity. There are just some people who're
going to take a whole lot of education in order to bring themselves and their
families up to financial par.
Perhaps the most intriguing of these families was the family of a young man I
met who hesitantly introduced me to them. They were the only white family in a
housing-project of black and Latino families. What broke my heart was when the
young man's sister peeled a potato, and said that they're "just like apples we
get in school" no doubt Delicious Apples that'd been genetically engineered
for goodness and astro-cooled with nitrogen since the past year's picking.
The family of my young friend had, each of them, a set of "Sunday best"
clothes. I, at the young age of 26, gave them the choice of us all chipping in
to make a Sunday meal (from which left-overs could be sent to work with Dad) or
the choice of going to a restaurant for their favorite foods. The vote was
always overwhelmingly in favor of "eating out." So once a week I'd load them
into their car and mine (We tried fitting Dad, Mom and I in the front and the
three kids in the back of the Cadillac but it didn't work; the children in the
back would use the three electric cigarette lighters to injure one another to
certain degrees; none serious. We'd then head for a seafood/steak house of note
in Greenwich, Connecticut. Although I knew that the money could've been spent
on far more nutritious fare for them all, all week long, it was the excitement
of the moment; something I'd become quite familiar with, that gave them such a
kick. They'd never gotten to set a white linen napkin on their laps. Well, the
napkins weren't the most important. I had to teach the kids how to use oyster
and clam forks, which spoon or fork to use, in fact, to eat which dish, and
other little bits of etiquette including how to take rolls from the bread-basket
and butter them appropriately.
Long after my friend left to pursue his fortune in a promised job in an
industry he'd not describe to me (I think he'd found work in pornography in
Arizona) I stayed in touch with this family. Dad prospered in his later years. I
don't know if it was because he quit being such a son-of-a-bitch awful human
being, or whether he enjoyed his new skills as an assembler in a factory which
made computerized equipment. Mother started volunteering for the library, and
when her situation, financially, was found out she was given a job at a social
services agency in town. I haven't seen them in 30 years.
Now what is important about what I call the "new recession" is that there are
families all over the country who've been taken out of their homes and are now
living in hotel rooms, thanks to the system of public assistance in this
There are people who're too proud to go to mother and dad and say "hey, look,
I ran up $75,000 in credit debt keeping up with the Joneses and I need your
help." Then there are the people whose mother and father aren't doing as well
financially, have waited their turn for a chance at a lovely apartment in their
town's Senior Center, and cannot help their children.
I frankly don't know which is worse. The news seems to be relatively silent
with regard to those who've incurred two or three year's worth of earnings in
credit-card debt, and perhaps have also taken out a home equity line of credit.
Why does this not appear on the news? Because the people who watch the news
would identify too much with the situation of the "example families" on
television and change the channel.
What to do?
The first thing I want to tell the reader who's stayed with me this long is
that, although we don't have significant debts that are costing us astronomical
interest rates, my wife and I are, indeed, indebted to our partners. Those
people have already realized the entirety of their principal on their notes to
us during the course of our latest venture; the rest is gravy; the rest is
interest that they're acutely aware that we'll pay come rain or come shine. In
fact, my spouse and I have forfeited pay checks in order to make those payments
of late. Thank goodness I have consulting and entertainment industry producing
sending a big fat check every once in a while, as well as the amusing checks for
$2.59 on songs that I've copyrighted via ASCAP every
The American Culture of Consumerism - a.k.a. Materialism, are at fault for
our current woes. I would just love to blame President Bush for this
portion of our nation's economic woes, however, unlike President
Reagan's naive unfettering of the nation's banking system, President Bush just
allowed it to happen, ever so slowly. And he's not to blame. His financial
Oh, how I long for the days of Alan Greenspan as chief of the Fed. But that
aint' gonna happen.
Prices are going to rise, and credit will be very hard to come by in the near
future. (In the interest of "noding for the ages, I hope that this writing
sticks around similarly to the writings of 9/11 which are such a great part of
The good news is this: the nation's financial pendulum has swung in an
erratic fashion ever since it was created. The thing we can count on is that if
it swings too far to the right, it's gonna swing to the left after a year or so.
So therefore we must put off our construction of new in-ground swimming pools,
or simply curtail our frequency of dining out, and everything's going to be just
How many times have we witnessed in the media a multi-million dollar divorce,
with spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend complaining that the Court's judgement in their
favor will "never allow me to live the life to which I've become accustomed."
Perhaps we should think about living a different life from that to which
we've become accustomed.