The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s went a long way toward assuring black equality under the law. So why does actual success elude many African Americans more than forty years later? Racism may still be a factor, but Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint argue that many of the problems holding back progress could be overcome from within.
In Come On People: On the Path From Victims to Victors, Cosby and Poussaint explain how many self-destructive aspects of modern black culture discourage success and restrict opportunities. Instead of brother helping brother overcoming adversity, black culture often devalues achievement. If getting good grades and working hard can be labeled “acting white,” for example, then what demoralized message becomes associated with “acting black”?
The authors, both well-credentialed veterans of civil rights, urge the African American community to get over the victim mentality that erodes self-respect and motivation. Then they list ways blacks can help themselves, their families, and their communities. Number one on their list is mentoring African American males to take responsibility for the women and children in their lives. Why do so many black men abandon the unwed mothers of their children, and fall into a spiraling culture of bad language, debasement, failure, drugs, and crime?
“Come on People,” the authors shout. “We can do better.” The words on the front cover echo throughout the book. They urge readers to make a difference locally. Stop blaming everyone else for failure. Take responsibility. Racism might continue to stain American culture, but much can be done despite racism, history, and current conditions.
African Americans need to tone down the culture, cool the violence, stick with family, pursue an education, learn to speak properly, develop employable habits, and support their community. These, the authors say, are the tools blacks need to avoid the traps of poverty and victimhood. I would take their argument one step further (though I’m guessing they’d agree with me): these are tools needed by anyone regardless of race. The African American community is, at the moment, simply mired in the traps more than others. I am white, but I was joining in the chorus every time the authors repeated their call: “Come on people. We can do better.”
The book is dotted with “call outs” — inspiring thoughts from successful black educators, business people, and community leaders. They pulled themselves up and want to show others the way. Possibly the most important lesson from the call outs is the overall concept: African American success IS possible. The civil rights leaders of yesterday did the hard part; they assured that opportunities existed. Cosby and Pouissant don’t want those opportunities ignored or squandered. It’s a powerful message in a well-written book.