Anyone who reads “Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America — and What We Can Do About It,” Juan Williams’ angry indictment of what ails America’s black community, will never again accuse the NPR and FOX News journalist with being a knee-jerk liberal. Elaborating on Bill Cosby’s controversial 2004 scolding that blacks are their own worst moral, cultural, political and economic enemies, Williams says blacks must return to the time-tested basics if they want to fully share in the American dream. They should stay in school as long as possible; work any job to get ahead; marry later in life and then have babies; and practice better parenting. I talked to Williams Sept. 20.
Have you turned into a “black conservative”?
Williams: No. I think I’ve been pretty consistent. I’ve always been a guy who has a strong belief in family values, the church, a strong belief in Christ. I’ve got to say, when it comes to education, I’ve always said education is Number One. These are not things that have just come to me. A lot of people have always said I’m a conservative. It’s interesting: On Fox, black people say to me, “Gee, you’re pretty conservative.” White people say, “Oh, you’re the liberal on Fox.” I’m sitting there next to Brit Hume and Bill Kristol, and I’m to the left of them. But in my life and even on National Public Radio, people say, “Yeah, you can be pretty conservative.” So I think it’s a lot about where people are coming from and not my political beliefs.
Can you give us a 60-second synopsis of your book?
Williams: "Enough" is a real call to arms. It’s a real charge to the American people to pay attention to what is going on — especially with our young people and particularly with our young black people. At the moment we have a 50 percent dropout rate among young black Americans. We have 70 percent of them born out of wedlock. At the same time there are about 25 percent of white children born out of wedlock and 50 percent of Hispanic children. This is a real crisis that is tearing apart the foundation of our society — the family. When Bill Cosby spoke on the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision and said these things, it really was a clarion call to me. I thought it was a prophetic voice. He was attacked and I thought it was necessary then to do some reporting, to do some research, and substantiate what Cosby had to say. That’s what “Enough” was about.
Why was what Bill Cosby said so important to you and to the black community?
Williams: This is a time when, unfortunately, there are too many black leaders who focus on grievance. The only time you see these guys on TV is when they say somebody has been racist or the police department has done something wrong. All they are doing is complaining and it leads young people to a victim mentality, where they don’t think they can succeed in America. They don’t think they have a chance. They hear from their leaders that if you’re black or Hispanic, you don’t have a chance.
This message from Cosby said, “You know what” — and I’m almost quoting here — “the lower end of the economic scale — poor people — have not been holding up their end of the deal.” They have not been stepping through the doors of opportunity that have been opened since the Brown decision, since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the passage of the Voters Rights Act.
So here was Cosby saying, “You have the power to do it.” That’s in the great tradition of leaders from Frederick Douglas, to W.E.B. Dubois, to Booker T. Washington to Doctor King. It’s an important message, an important message from Cosby, and an important message that has not been delivered to this generation.
And that message is …
Williams: That message is that you have it within your power to succeed.
And it’s primarily, stay in school, don’t get married until you’re older and have a job…?
Williams: The way I would say it, is this: Let’s start with the basics: You have a 25 percent poverty rate in black America. It’s about 12 percent nationally. It’s of course higher when you look at black children. So the question becomes, how can you help these people? Lots of people say that nothing can be done — especially if they live in bad neighborhoods, or they come from a broken family, there’s no dad around, or there’s criminality in the neighborhood and these are the role models they have. I say, "Wait a second." In “Enough,” I say there are some basic principles that people can follow and they can make sure their children are aware of these principles as they try to go forward.
Number One, graduate from high school. Don’t listen to anybody who says “Oh, that’s not a great school. You can go out and be a rapper or a basketball player or stay on the corner and sell drugs.” Forget it. Graduate from high school. In a global economy, where there is competition and jobs are being outsourced, you must have an education — certainly a high school education. I prefer you have more, but you must have a high school education.
The second thing, once you graduate from high school, stay in the job market. Don’t listen to people who tell you “Oh that job is demeaning or you’ll just be flipping burgers.” Stay in the job market, build a resume, get the job experience and that will lead you to come into contact with people who know about other jobs and other opportunities — and then you’ll be prepared when those job opportunities come your way.
The third thing is, don’t get married until you’re in your twenties. And then, finally, don’t have a baby until you’re married, because obviously if you have a baby when you are single or when you are a young person and not fully mature, you’re not ready for that responsibility and maybe, worst of all, you’re not ready to be a parent. And parenting and families, for me, are the foundation of what carried African-Americans, white Americans — everybody — through every storm.
Most blacks agree with Cosby’s prescription for success, but has his “wake-up call” been heard?
Williams: When Cosby says things, it’s like a signal. Everybody pays attention. But the polls that you were talking about are interesting. I think you’re right. There’s such widespread agreement — not from the black leadership; not from the civil rights leaders, not from the academics, these so-called intellectuals. They all condemn him as a stupid comedian who doesn’t understand the power of racism or a self-hating black man who is blaming the victim. But if you look at the polls, the polls say most black Americans believe that black people are better off in this generation than ever before. They believe that black or white, you can make it in this country. They believe that to be dependent on the government at this point is wrong and that there are too many people who are overly dependent on the government, and as a result, it is killing their spirit. These are facts. This is an “Amen corner” for Cosby.
Twenty six years ago, black conservatives like Thomas Sowell were saying essentially the same things — that racism was no longer a significant obstacle to black progress. Did you not believe them back then or have you changed?
Williams: Have I changed? Well, I think my thinking is more mature now. But here’s the thing: I think that racism still persists, make no mistake about it…. I’ve changed in this regard, though. To my eyes, we have a larger black middle class in America today. We have more success in black America today…. African Americans are in prominent positions. The opportunity to succeed is greater than ever and I recognize that. To not recognize it is a ploy used by too many black leaders who prefer to say they are playing on white guilt or attacking racism, when in fact they are abandoning young people to this mentality that they are always going to be victims and losers. It’s exactly a poisonous, paralyzing message, and I won’t have anything to do with it.
What are the long-term solutions? Is it a back-to-basics thing? Is it to get away from the so-called helping hand of government that conservatives have always said has hurt blacks in many ways?
Williams: I think the key here is that if you are waiting for a government program, if you are waiting for another Martin Luther King or whatever, you are going to be waiting and wasting time and I don’t know if it’s ever going to happen for you. That’s a mistake and we can see where that’s been a mistake.
We can see where government policies have not always been supportive of the family or providing good schools to educate our children. That’s why I say what you have got to do is empower yourself as an actor. Use your political leverage: vote for both the Democrat and Republic party. Make them compete for your vote and your attention. Thoroughly empower yourself by educating yourself and preparing yourself for opportunities. That’s what’s imperative for this generation. That’s the civil rights movement of the 21st century.