Obama’s Bill Cosby Take on Personal Responsibility


Jesse Jackson made an utter fool of himself last week with his crude comments on a hot Fox mike. He must know there is no big job waiting for him in the new Obama Administration.

But he raises an important point about the government’s responsibility to end racism, and end the conditions for poverty in urban areas that fuel the sort of despair that Obama then focuses on at the level of individual responsibility.

This debate is perhaps the next chapter following the battle between Bill Cosby and Eric Michael Dyson a couple years ago. This debate is not going away, and it is an important one to have.

I saw Cosby speak in Baltimore a couple years ago; it was in a black church in West Baltimore.  Nearly everyone there (but me) was black, and over 90% of the crowd was male.  The gist of Cosby’s talk was that  black men have to take personal responsibility; they need to be dads and they need to be present in the household. He received an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response.

Obama’s message is roughly the same.

At the same time, just this morning NPR had a story about driving while black “dwb,” where about 70% of the stops on Rte 95 are of black drivers. This is not an issue of personal responsibility; it is an issue of government responsibiity.

In Baltimore, young black boys are street fodder, particularly during summer. The main reason? nothing to do. The lack of jobs, summer enrichment programs or summer school is not the result of personal responsibility; it is the result of a lack of government responsibility

The lack of jobs for black males in Baltimore and the poverty of Baltimore City’s public education system create the conditions for the sort of lack of personal responsibility that Cosby and Obama preach against. 

Personal responsibility is important. I don’t think that Dyson or Jackson would disagree.   But when conditions beyond the control of any single individual diminish the quality of one’s social existence, it is simply unjust to harp on the issue of personal responsibility without also giving equal time to address these policy problems.

So, Obama is partly right; Now he needs to present his urban agenda; his agenda for public education– beyond saying NCLB needs to be fixed (quite frankly it needs to be replaced); and he needs to present an agenda to getting real, well paying jobs (sustainable wages), with health insurance, into Batimore’s east and west sides.

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3 responses to “Obama’s Bill Cosby Take on Personal Responsibility

  1. Yes, there are social injustices all throughout the white “privilege” system of America—I’m far from ignorant about that. Things on that end, involving other people in fact, do need to change and hopefully they will change in time.

    However, if I stood around waiting on white America, I’d be putting the lives of many black children and future generations (as we have been for years) on the line because I am waiting on the world to change and not commanding change within myself and my community, which is affected.

    We simply can not afford to play the “blame game” any longer–even IF they (white America/government) are part of the blame-not if we care about the future of our people. If we don’t care and take action, who will?………..no one.

    Acknowledging both extremes–government responsibility and personal responsibility– are important, but let’s not neglect the one we actually have some personal control over, and it’s rather obvious that many have.

    “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

    I don’t mean to get all “Biblical” on you, but it gives great insight on the current topic. There are things that we, as a people, have the individual power to change on an individual level to better ourselves, children, and strengthen our communities—yes, especially those in the inner city where it would have the greatest effect because we are ALL affected by it, even if indirectly.

    Instead, however, many are wallowing in a mess that we can, at least, partially lift ourselves out of—middle class, inner city, or otherwise—

  2. I think you really hit the nail on the head (both the writer and commenter above).

    Personal responsibility does loom large, but unfortunately government attitudes and policies have promoted inequities to continue. I read a book called The Origins of the Urban Crisis which talks about actual government policy that prevented blacks from getting mortgages. That is just one example.

    Having said that governments have a responsibility, what is that responsibility? the gov’t can’t legislate people to be good parents. It can’t end racism on its own. Racism, while often institutional exists because of reinforced prejudices within communities that are not corrected because different racial and ethnic groups don’t mix (this is due to gov’t policy which enforces students going to school with those who live in their own neighborhood).

    The government can’t legislate motivation or good study habits. For true change to happen, it must come from organized groups of individuals. If liberty and equality were up to the government, we would still be ruled by Great Britain.

    I grew up in Rochester, NY and attended city schools and come from a single-parent household etc. I saw kids that were black, white, poor, middle-class all go on to college with or without support from parents. I also saw the opposite–kids completely broken down; joining gangs, getting pregnant. I know that people can rise above their circumstances and break the terrible cycles that exist.

    “many are wallowing in a mess that we can, at least, partially lift ourselves out of—middle class, inner city, or otherwise—”

    Agreed.

  3. i really agree with the author of this article—thank you for your message.

    here’s another great article to check out.
    http://socialistworker.org/2008/06/17/scoring-points

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