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Bill Cosby has been pulling no punches about what he considers poor choices and lack of personal responsibility among low income Black individuals. As commentator Clarence Page says, Cosby’s choice of words is harsh (“We’ve got these knuckleheads walking around who don’t want to learn English…In neighborhoods that most of us grew up in, parenting is not going on…These people are fighting hard to be ignorant.”), he doesn’t have all the answers, and he doesn’t have all the facts. But Cosby is at least speaking up.

Cosby is right in at least one thing—destructive forces working against Black families and Black self-reliance are as much about each individual’s values and choices as they are about community opposition, politics, or racism. The same can be said for destructive forces among Whites, Asians, Hispanics, and any other hyphenated American.

The point is not to claim naively that racism doesn’t exist or to heap all the blame and burden upon the backs of the poor and disadvantaged. Clearly racism does exist, and clearly many individuals cannot make it on their own. They need help. There’s nothing wrong or inconsistent about exercising compassion even as one calls for more personal responsibility.

But the answer to turning around individuals and even entire communities is not found solely in government help programs, more money, or pointing fingers everywhere but at the individuals making the choices. People are born in to very bad situations. People are hurt by limited education, poverty, broken families, and a host of other social pathologies. All of these negative circumstances take a toll. But people are still responsible.

Black or White, Asian, Hispanic, or new immigrant—people are free agents. Their lives are determined by their values and the choices they make based upon those values. They can exercise their moral will, apply their talent, learn, work and contribute, and demonstrate basic values like honesty and reliability. Individuals who choose not to learn, who choose delinquency and crime, who choose sexual promiscuity, who choose anger and belligerence, who choose laziness, who choose amorality, always pay a price.

Cosby is right: Poor and disadvantaged Black Americans [and I would say any other racial or ethnic subgroup] need to work harder to construct their own future and hold themselves accountable to proven value choices. Clarence Page is correct: “Black America needs to look not for what’s right or what’s left but to what works in our drive to liberate those who have been left behind by the civil rights revolution.”

In other words, it’s not about race. It’s not about power, politics, or ideology. It’s about values. This is not a “conservative thing.” It’s a time-tested, religiously supported, common sense thing.


© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

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