Few celebrities besides Bill Cosby could get away with the straight talk he gave recently about certain ills plaguing 21-century black Americans. At a Constitution Hall gala commemorating the 50-year-old desegregation decision, Brown v. Board of Education, Cosby had harsh words for blacks who have squandered the opportunities opened for them due to the dismantling of Jim Crow and segregation since the 1954 Court ruling:
Cosby, contrasting the achievements of civil rights giants of the past with today’s generation, observed that a lot of "lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids -- $500 sneakers for what? And won’t spend $200 for ’Hooked on Phonics.’"
When the novelist Ralph Ellison heard the high court’s decision in Brown, he wrote, "So now the Court has found in our favor and recognized our human psychological complexity and citizenship and another battle of the Civil War has been won. The rest is up to us and I’m very glad . . . What a wonderful world of possibilities are unfolded for the children!" A decade later Ellison would write, "For Negroes the Supreme Court Decision of 1954 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 induced no sudden transformation of character; it provided the stage upon which they could reveal themselves for what their experiences have made them, and for what they have made of their experiences."
The challenge of building character is an abiding one for all members of the human family. Unfortunately, Cosby’s challenge for blacks to do better for themselves by seizing the opportunities established in the wake Brown was met by a rebuttal from NAACP legal defense fund head Theodore Shaw, who asserted that many problems facing poor blacks were not self-inflicted. The NAACP’s obsolescence has never been more in evidence.