We live in a peculiarly twisting and turning time in which the responsibility of defining our troubles becomes ever more befuddling. Now Juan Williams, because of his new book, Enough, is getting the treatment.
Williams, so goes the critics’ tales, is a man who went blind in the long storm of racial trouble and has converted to that lunatic, black middle class, which rejects its lower-class brothers and can do nothing but “blame the victim.”
How did Williams become excluded from the squad of acceptable black commentators after debating the right-wing gang on Fox News, writing a biography of Thurgood Marshall and another book examining the role of faith in Afro-American progress, and working on the impressive PBS documentary of the civil rights movement, “Eyes on the Prize”?
Williams would be just fine if he had denounced Bill Cosby instead of championing the comedian’s opinions and basing Enough on substantial research that corroborates Cosby’s attacks on the self-destructive behavior in the black lower class.
“What happens,” says Williams, “is that you become some sort of a leper if you don’t lockstep your opinions in line with white liberals. They run the programming of CBS, NBC and ABC, and they don’t want you to rock the boat of received opinion. I have done my homework and I have seen these problems grow to epidemic proportions. But I have to say that these white liberals have bought the line of the do-nothing black leadership on the one hand, and have been convinced that the high dropout rate, the violence and the misogyny you hear in one rap recording after another are just natural to black culture and not an aberration.”
Williams means that what he calls a “culture of failure” is a historical aberration. Once upon a time in America, black people from the top to the bottom realized the importance of education in supplying some of the most reliable tools with which to combat the limitations imposed by racism. Though 500 black men just graduated from Morehouse College, there is now a 50 percent dropout rate among black high school students in America. Though Dorothy Height and the Council of Negro Women warned against irresponsible sexual behavior many years ago, 70 percent of black American children are born out of wedlock.
Racists might look at the gloomy numbers and say that they were right all along: Black men and women are not ready for civilization. But we have learned so much about the gene pool over the past 50 years that we can now dismiss such stupidity and realize that what we are seeing has less to do with genetic doom than with learned behavior, or learned misbehavior. It is still, however, an inarguable form of doom.
I strongly recommend Enough as a very welcome turning away from explaining everything in terms of white America’s unlimited power and unlimited disregard. Had black Americans ever truly believed that, there never would have been a Thurgood Marshall or a Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and all of those who came before them. In our moment, Bill Cosby opened the door for new discussion. For the good of all, Juan Williams is helping to hold that door open. If you enter, you will risk nothing but your received opinions.
Stanley Crouch is a columnist, novelist, essayist, critic, and television commentator. This essay first appeared in the August 24, 2006 issue of New York Daily News.