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"Leaders" disserving black America

Union-Tribune, August 13, 2006, by Ruben Navarrette Jr.

A few years ago, my friend Juan Williams told me that he thought we had something in common — namely, how those who represent our communities, or claim to represent them, view us with suspicion and resentment.

In interviews with Hispanic members of Congress, the National Public Radio senior correspondent and Fox News commentator said he had detected that some of them were uneasy about me, and much of what I write.

"They don't trust you," Williams said. "They never know what you're going to do. And they know you won't always agree with them and, when they're wrong, you're going to say so."

Juan said it reminded him of how the members of the Congressional Black Caucus felt about him.

Now many black members of Congress — along with local and state officials, academics, the civil rights establishment, etc. — will trust him even less. That's because my friend has written a provocative and immensely important book that challenges a lot of what they're selling to the masses.

Titled "Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America — And What We Can Do About It," the book is a good read. But it's also a good deed. And you can bet it won't go unpunished.

You see, it ain't easy being Juan Williams. As a panelist on "Fox News Sunday," my friend comes across as a common-sense liberal dueling with conservatives who spend all their time in a right-wing bubble. But put him around those individuals whom we in the media generously refer to as "black leaders," and suddenly Juan is a common-sense conservative dueling with liberals who are trapped in a left-wing bubble.

As you can guess from the title of his book, Williams has had a bellyful of African-Americans acting as their own worst enemy. He's tired of black people not having good leadership and instead settling for professional grievance brokers — Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton et al — who "misinform, mismanage and miseducate (the black community) by refusing to articulate established truths about what it takes to get ahead: strong families, education and hard work" and who do all this for their own financial and political benefit because keeping people weak is a way to keep them dependent on their "leaders."

Can I get an amen?

Convinced that many of the problems that black people face today can be solved by black people, Williams doesn't think the answer is to embrace victimhood, blame all your troubles on racism and wait for white America to bail out black America in what he calls the "blacks-as-beggars" approach.

And he's particularly incensed that you don't have more black leaders getting in the faces of black youth and telling them that — in order to be a success — you have to stay in school, study hard, speak proper English, stay away from crack and stop defining what it means to be authentically black as someone who is acting like a thug and "dressing like a convict."

Can I get another amen?

This should sound familiar. Williams draws much of his inspiration from the now infamous speech delivered by comedian Bill Cosby on May 17, 2004, to a few thousand members of the black elite who gathered in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Instead of basking in how far African-Americans have come in the last half-century, Cosby lobbed grenades. He talked about dropout rates, out-of-wedlock births, drug abuse, high rates of incarceration and other forms of self-defeating behavior that plague the black community, and how no one seemed to be doing anything about it. Cosby was criticized — not because what he said wasn't true, but because he aired dirty laundry and said publicly things that many African-Americans talk about only behind closed doors.

Now Williams has done the same thing. And besides diagnosing the illness, he's offered a prescription.

"It's so simple," he told me. "It's all about education. You've got to say to young people who are thinking of dropping out of school: 'Don't do it. It's a death sentence.' After you graduate, take any job you can find and work hard. You can move up from there."

It's a solid message, not just for African-Americans, but for all Americans. And the black community owes the messenger a debt of gratitude for having the courage to spread it.

Navarrette can be reached via e-mail at ruben.navarrette@uniontrib.com.

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