MR. TIM RUSSERT: This is a special edition. For the last half century he has performed on television, in the movies and on stage. For the last three years he has traveled the country listening to and talking with the black community.
MR. BILL COSBY: I want you to go back to parenting. You young men, when you get married and you have children, you’ve got to parent. You’ve got to be parents.
MR. RUSSERT: In this new book, “Come On, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors,” he tackles controversial and complicated issues such as the plight of the black family, black on black violence, high school dropout rates, the need for parental responsibility and more. With us, entertainer and activist Bill Cosby, and his co-author, Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. Cosby and Poussaint, only on MEET THE PRESS.
But first this morning, we take a break from our coverage of political campaigns and focus on issues that are very important to this nation. As this book explains, “No matter your economic status, no matter your age, no matter your race, no matter your gender,” “no matter your religion. Many families in tight-knit communities are crumbling at an alarming rate. We need to see this as a reality, not something to just talk about” “to act on.” And that frames our conversation with Alvin Poussaint, Bill Cosby.
MR. COSBY: Thank you.
DR. ALVIN F. POUSSAINT: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me to right to the book. Your very first chapter, headline, “What’s Going On With Black Men?” And this is what you write: “For the last generation or two, as our communities dissolved and our parenting skills broke down, no one has suffered more than our young black men. There is one statistic that captures the bleakness. In 1950, five out of every six black children were born into” “two-parent home. Today, that number is less than two out of six. In poor communities, that number is lower still. There are whole blocks with scarcely a married couple, whole blocks without responsible males to watch out for wayward boys, whole neighborhoods in which little girls and boys come of age without seeing up close a committed partnership and perhaps never having attended a wedding.”
Bill Cosby, why is that so important?
MR. COSBY: Because children need the guidance. Because the other parent needs help as well. Because if a home is set with one parent, and then to other—an aunt, a caregiver—we’re in big trouble. But these families that we speak of are also included with homeless children, the number of homeless children we have.
DR. POUSSAINT: Homeless children and homeless fathers, that one-third of homeless people are black, black men. But I think, you know, right now that figure cited is 70 percent of black babies are born to single mothers in the United States each year, and a lot of them are living in poverty because of that. And the boys and the girls don’t have fathers, and every study indicates that the involvement of fathers with their family, and particularly with their children, is very important to their good and healthy development. But that’s not happening. And many of these fathers don’t even know what to do as a father because many of them grew up in homes that were fatherless. So what’s the model for a, a two-parent home or for a family? They—many of them don’t have any.
MR. COSBY: Or what is the model for corrective behavior? If you have this generational, fatherless situation, unwed father or whatever, but the male is not there, then it, it registers on another person, on, on the child as abandonment.
DR. POUSSAINT: Mm. Mm-hmm. That’s...
MR. COSBY: “Somewhere in my life a person called my father has not shown up, and I feel very sad about this because I don’t know if I’m ugly, I don’t know what the reason is.” And so there’s a great deal that a person has to put up with.
DR. POUSSAINT: Mm. That’s—I—that’s a good, good point. I think a lot of these males kind of have a, a father hunger and actually grieve that they don’t have a father. And I think later a lot of that turns into anger. “Why aren’t you with me? Why don’t you care about me?” And also affects their own feelings of, of self, self-worth, being—feeling abandoned in, in that way. So fathers have to see how critical and important they are in a society where they’re always talking about two-parent families and TV wherever—whatever you see there’s fathers there, and they don’t see these men.
MR. RUSSERT: What happened within the black community that we got to a point, since 1950, where 70 percent of the children are born with single parents? What happened?
DR. POUSSAINT: Well, I think all kinds of things. Some of it has to do with the fact that things changed for women with the women’s liberation movement. In the past, there was a stigma if you had—a big stigma if you had a child out of wedlock. That’s not true anymore for, for white women or black women. So a lot of the black women do not feel compelled to get married. And then the other issue is the availability of black men and whether they’re eligible to be married. You have so many black men incarcerated, so many black men unemployed, underemployed. In colleges now, black women outnumber black men two to one. And so the chances of hooking up in a marital relationship in the way our society works is more difficult. So I think that’s changed as well.
And then I think that a lot of supports for the family, changing values in the society and then the issue of black men being pulled out by going to jail. Let me just stress that. Right, right now, there are 2.2 million people in jail, and at last count about 910,000 were African-Americans. Now, the—at the time of Brown v. the Board of Education of 1954 there were 98,000 African-Americans in prison. So just from that period of time, there’s been a ninefold increase. And most of these prisoners, of course, are, are black men, 90 percent of them. And so they’re not available. They come out of jail, they can’t get jobs, they can’t get work. They can’t be fathers, they can’t build a family, they can’t make an income. And so the—all of these things that make...
MR. COSBY: They also don’t have diplomas.
DR. POUSSAINT: They also don’t have diplomas.
MR. COSBY: High school.
DR. POUSSAINT: And, and this is how—is one of the ways Bill got started on this, was that, you know, when traveling around in the callouts, you know, over 50 percent of, of black males were high school dropouts. And in some cities, one nearby, I think, Baltimore, the dropout rate was 75 percent for black males.
MR. RUSSERT: One of the things that you did in “Come On, People” were—was to compile statistics, very hard-headed numbers.
DR. POUSSAINT: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: And they are numbing when you read through them. You mentioned one. One out of three of homeless people are black. Blacks make up 12 percent of our population. And here’s a some—a few more that you cite which I think really does help us dramatize how critical this discussion is. And let’s read them through here.
“Homicide is the number one cause of death for black men between 15 and 29 years of age and has been for decades.
“Of the roughly 16,000 homicides in this country each year, more than half are committed by black men. A black man is seven times more likely to commit a murder than a white man, and six times more likely to be murdered.
“Ninety-four percent of all black people who are murdered are murdered by other black people.
“Although black people make up” “12 percent of the general population,” “make up nearly 44 percent of the prison population.
“At any given time, as many as one in four of all” black men, “young black men are in the criminal justice system—in prison or jail, on probation or on parole.”
Those are numbing numbers. They truly are. What can we do?
MR. COSBY: Let’s deal first with what people call the systemic—the, the racism that exists in this country, which is absolutely for real. But people just say it. They say, “Well, there’s systemic and institutional racism.” “What do you mean by that?” Well, what I mean is that the power structure can stop a person from getting a better education. It can stop them from living in better conditions. It can stop improvements from being made. For instance, if you have a slum landlord, if you’re lower, lower economic, to get that fixed, to bring the law in on this person, it, it just doesn’t happen. If police decide to ride in and arrest, if laws are made to go against you, I mean, this kind of thing is very, very hurtful. And then we move into areas of health, health care, where racism can stop a person from getting immediate attention...
DR. POUSSAINT: Hm.
MR. COSBY: ...in times of need, etc., etc. So when you look at education, it is my belief that it is there with a very ugly head. However, it is also my belief that this is not the first time my race has seen systemic or institutional racism. There were times, even worse times, when lynchings were acceptable. Sure, the newspapers wrote about it, but it happened. Juries were set and freed the, people who did the, the lynching. Therefore, we knew how to fight, we knew how to protect our children, protect our women. Today, in lower, lower economic areas, some people—not all—some people are not contributing to that protection. Therefore, when you see these numbers, you see, you see numbers and the character correction has not happened. Many times it’s the TV set, a BET or, or videos played, kids look at it and they admire it. It’s the proliferation of drugs into the neighborhood.
DR. POUSSAINT: And guns.
MR. COSBY: Drugs work. Drugs work. It—there’s a domino effect that the dealer—and we’ve heard this over and over—feels, “Well, what else, what else can I do? I might as well do that.” But I don’t think people draw enough to the reality that “I sell you, you use it.”
DR. POUSSAINT: Mm-hmm.
MR. COSBY: That knocks you out of any wanting to become anything other than a user. If I give it to a woman, that knocks her out of doing anything other than being a user. She also can become pregnant, and this goes to her child, better known as crack babies. There’s something that’s still going on when the child is born, in the physiological part, so we don’t know what is, is happening with the child like this. But the more we see it in neighborhoods, the more we will accept it that we can’t help it. And what we need to do is give people more of a confidence that they can. They must realize that the revolution is in their apartment now. The revolution is in their house, their neighborhood, and then they can fight strongly, clearly the systemic and the institutional racism.
DR. POUSSAINT: And that was the spirit, I think, in many of the callouts. People who have reached rock bottom—drugs, jail and so on—were able to pull themselves together, sometimes with a self-revelation, but because other people cared and helped them, were able to come back and still succeed and make something of themselves. And I think that’s the spirit that we’re—we would want to create in the communities. But one other thing about this systemic problem, even in, in the incarceration rate, you know that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world? The United States of America. And that the prison population has gone up for black men because of—particularly because of disparities in the sentencing laws around crack and cocaine.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, this is a very important point. If powder cocaine, 80 percent of those arrested are white; crack cocaine, 75 percent arrested are black. And you need 100 times more powder cocaine...
DR. POUSSAINT: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...to get the same penalty mandatory...
DR. POUSSAINT: Right, right. Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...that you would get with crack cocaine.
DR. POUSSAINT: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: There’s a disparity.
DR. POUSSAINT: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: There’s no doubt about it.
DR. POUSSAINT: Disparity. That—that’s right. And these mandatory sentences you see are a problem. Five, five year mandatory sentence for carrying five grams of, of cocaine. So a lot of the increase in the prison population has been because of these mandatory sentences, three strikes you’re out type of thing, revoking parole because you, you test positive for drugs. And this is creating, really, a disaster for the black community, and it has to be a lot of—we have to put much more into what happens to these young men and women when they come out of jail. There’s very little for them.
MR. RUSSERT: But Dr. Poussaint, you grew up in East Harlem, eight children.
DR. POUSSAINT: Mm.
MR. RUSSERT: Bill Cosby grew up in Philadelphia. And to your point, there was racism through your life, and yet your families were able to stay together and fight it as a unit and, and learn from each other and take inspiration from each other. Has that broken down?
MR. COSBY: Yes.
DR. POUSSAINT: Yes.
MR. COSBY: Tremendously. I cannot fully tell you how disappointing it is to hear philosophies come from people—and the only way I can describe it is a friend of mine who says people—some people are, are, are acting with abnormal behavior, trying to make it normal, and that’s insane. And that’s, that’s what he said. I hear things coming out of the mouths of babes, things that they believe—example, and what—one of the most old-fashioned things. Kid us studying, and so they say to the kid, “You’re acting white,” which is a put-down to make this kid stop studying. Well, let’s examine this. If you’re black and you say to me, because you see me studying, “You’re acting white,” what is it you’re saying about black people? You see, these are things that have to be discussed with, with—and nobody—people aren’t coming up enough to challenge these statements, to, to, to do character corrections on these things.
DR. POUSSAINT: Mm.
MR. COSBY: If a young girl says, “I want to have a baby because I want something that, that loves me,” that young lady is saying something. And we’ve got to talk to her about herself and her idea of love. She hasn’t graduated from high school, she’s willing to, to have a child. All of these character corrections are not being done while record companies are putting out records inviting people to continue that kind of behavior, to, to not talk about get an education. It’s just as easy to put that to a rhythm.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask about that--(clears throat) excuse me—because you write about gangster rap in your book. And this is from page 144. Let’s look at it: The “Gangsta rap promotes the widespread use of N-word to sell CDs among people of all ethnic groups. In fact, the audience for gangsta rap is made up predominantly of white youth, who get a vicarious thrill from participating in a black thug fantasy, including the degradation of women. Black youth, as well as some misguided adults, have defended the use of the N-word, suggesting they are somehow making it a positive term.
“Don’t fall for that nonsense. The N-word is a vile symbol of our oppression by slave masters.”
DR. POUSSAINT: I agree. And it does damage to our children from the very beginning, very young ages, because it’s such a derogatory word that it’s going to make them feel like kind of worthless that they’re called that. And there’s no way that you can make that word positive in this, in this culture, in terms of what it meant for black people, their oppression, slavery, lynching. That can never be made positive. And even the people who suggest that it can, say a gangster rapper or the kids in, in the street, say it’s positive and “You’re my brother,” use the word.’ They also use it when they’re shooting and killing each other. They’re calling them that, that same name in a derogatory way.
MR. RUSSERT: And when white youth are the primary buyers of these CDs, is there a license given to them to say, “You know what? You can use the word. Black artists use it. It’s OK”?
MR. COSBY: I think so.
DR. POUSSAINT: Hm.
MR. COSBY: I think, I think just looking, I’ve, I’ve—if, if they’re putting out and it’s public. But I also think that the, the white male and the black male putting—the black male putting this on record, and then, of course, you have white rappers. You have to look at what they share—my belief—what do these two men or boys share, the white boy and the black boy, 70 percent of whatever? And not all black males agree with the rap music.
DR. POUSSAINT: Hm.
MR. COSBY: OK. So what is it they, they, they have a position for the female. That’s what they’re saying. If you’re going to use those words and the white male is buying the CD, then they’re buying into those words, and those words are being used on their women. Hint, hint. Domestic violence in the police department. Now they also share in the N-word. And it’s OK to say it, according to them, because it’s on the record. I have a fellow, drives a limousine, I got in the car with him, this is a black fellow, and he said, he said, “Mr. Cosby, I picked up six white kids for the prom, and I rang the doorbell, the door opened, the parents were very nice. I said, “Limousine.” And the music that they were listening to was country-western music. I hear it coming out of the house. The kids come out, they get in the car, and I’m driving, they put the CD in and it’s rap, full of all of the profanities, all of the horrible words and the N-word, as well.” And he said, “I’m 55 years old, Mr. Cosby, and I’m listening to this,” he said, “and I had to call my dispatcher. I said, ‘Look, we’re going to this address and when I get there I, I, I have to change cars. Get, get another driver for this because I’m getting very, very angry.’”
DR. POUSSAINT: Remember, too, that for a while that white kids who were into some of this rap and so on started calling themselves “wiggers”? Remember? And where a wigger was—they hyphenate...
MR. COSBY: Yeah.
DR. POUSSAINT: They took part of the N-word and put part of the white word and called themselves wiggers.
MR. COSBY: But you see, when youth does that, you have to understand that youth—these are, these are kids, they, they don’t have the responsibilities that, that we have. They don’t have to have a job. They don’t have to support a family. They don’t have to buy insurance. They—so they’re, they’re free-forming and they’re freewheeling. It’s the people who make these records. It’s the, it’s the guy in the boardroom. I have another friend of mine who said to me, “I, I write rap lyrics.” He said, “And I went to a man”—I mean, “I went to work, and the guy said, the executive said to me, ‘I want lyrics about rape. Rape is good.’” He said, “And I looked at the guy, and I said, ‘You’re talking about my mother.’ And the guy said, ‘Well, if you don’t want to write it, then I’ll get somebody else who will.’” But, see, all these things, this dopamine-raising level. Alvin has a very interesting viewpoint on whether or not kids are listening to the lyrics. Because if you, if you challenge them, you say, “Why are you listening to that?” They say, “I’m not listening to the words. I just like the beat.”
DR. POUSSAINT: Which is nonsense. They’re listening to the—they got to hear the words. And the, the young, young girls will be dancing to words that degrade women and degrade them and they’re dancing to it. It shows you how much values have been corrupted, you know, by some of the media influences, and the young people can’t distinguish between what’s right and wrong. It’s like the, the bad stuff has become normal, and then they even see it as part of their culture instead of something that’s abhorrent and, and, and, and hurtful to their, to their lives and to their community.
MR. RUSSERT: Your callouts around the country—I watched the video of them. I also watched Bill Cosby when you went to Jesse Jackson’s group, Rainbow Push Coalition, and said some things in a very blunt way, maybe even for shock value. I want to watch that and come back and ask you what kind of reaction you got.
DR. POUSSAINT: Good.
RUSSERT: Let’s watch.
(Videotape, July 1, 2004)
MR. COSBY: Hey, man, let me tell you something. Your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day. It’s cursing and it’s calling each other niggers as they walk up and down the street. They think they’re hip. They can’t read; they can’t write. Fifty percent of them. They, they, they take it into the candy store. They, they put it—they put themselves on the train and on the buses, and they don’t even care what color or what age somebody else is. It’s about them and their cursing and grabbing each other and laughing and giggling and going nowhere. And the book bags are very, very thin because there’s no books in them.
MR. RUSSERT: The audience seemed to be responsive.
MR. COSBY: Yes, because the people know exactly what I’m saying. See, a great deal of, of the negative is about people not wanting so much attention in that area, but it has to come out. If it is what it is and that is a horrible, horrible problem, then we must direct ourselves to it. I keep thinking about a parent who’s called in to, to the principle’s office because the child is misbehaving, and so many teachers have, have said, “And the parent comes in yelling at us that their child would never do that and why are they called, and all of a sudden it’s, it’s no longer about ‘We’re, we’re here to talk about making corrective behavioral changes in your child,’ but about the parent who is using all kinds of language and threatening people.” It’s something that goes into the person.
Now, just let me, let me say this. When I say it the way I say it, I felt and I still feel that it has been said so softly, so intelligently, so carefully that people are used to it and they’re not responding. There’s inertia and there’s entropy. Now, when I was in the service, the first great shock I had was when this man with a cigarette hanging, smoke going up into one eye, with his Navy hat on in charge of us, and I had done something—I don’t even remember what it was. It was sort of innocent, but I was only two days in the Navy. And this man up this face to mine—it was a white man—they never curse. He never called me the N-word, but they had words they would call you like a one-eyed maggot. You know, and it hurt. You said, “What?” But what he said was, “I’m not your mother.” And, man, I wanted to knock him out, but I knew that I didn’t want to go to the brig. And, and what’s happening here is when I used that, that, that language and I use it that way, I’m trying to wake people up, that inertia, I’m trying to move them from that entropy because we’re, we’re in the stage now we can’t take much more with all—we need our men to be fathers. The book you wrote, the book you have about your father, kids grow up with, not—I mean, they know somebody was the other half, but they don’t know who. And by the time, if they ever met the person, they, they would have to go way, way back and not realize why—and within themselves, they, too want to Domestic violence—what are the numbers on the domestic violence?
DR. POUSSAINT: Well, I don’t know the exact numbers. It’s widespread, and it’s a problem in the black community and many communities. And domestic violence, I think people have to understand, is also a form of child abuse. That the domestic violence in and of itself is a form of child abuse. Children are damaged if they see a father punch a mother or vice versa, which occurs less often. But in those cases, those childs are damaged just as much as if they were abused by a parent themselves physically or neglected. And many of the abused children in these situations later turn out to be, be violent. Not all of them. But they become violent. They see violence used in the home. They become angry, they become damaged. It’s very, very, very devastating to the black community.
MR. RUSSERT: What...
DR. POUSSAINT: And we spend a lot of time in the book talking about parenting...
MR. COSBY: And reinforcing it.
DR. POUSSAINT: ...that, that—for that reason.
MR. RUSSERT: Over and over again.
MR. COSBY: One of...
DR. POUSSAINT: Over and over again.
MR. COSBY: One of the great things that, that I saw witnessing in the callouts was the successful child, now successful, who came to the podium, whether he or she was homeless or whether there was one parent or whether there was foster homes. And, and the kid admitted that, when they came, they were sad and they had a great deal with anger, and they brought with them all kinds of baggage, and they, and they, they wanted to follow what they wanted to do, and it—and that the giver, the, the, the care, or the love giver—love giver, that’s very important. Not caregiver, but the love giver stayed on his or her course. “No, you won’t. You’re going to do it this way.” It’s going—and the, and the, the person who’s made the transformation says, “And he or she stayed on me.” I mean, it’s just, just, if you, if, if I may. There’s a white girl in Birmingham, and she pointed to this white woman, and she said, “When I came to her, schools had rendered me in terms of, of, of just not being able to do anything. Retarded, they called me. And when I moved in with her,” and she pointed to the woman, and they started to (makes gesture of tears falling down face)--both of them. She said, “And, and, and we were so angry, and almost come to blows. And I wanted to—and as I began, to over the months, the years, all of a sudden,” she said, “I just want you to know,” and looked at this audience of predominantly African-American people, she said, “Today I, I am, I have a degree, an RN, and I graduated from community college with 3.A--8 GPA.” And the place went crazy. So what we have to do is parenting. We have to stay on these kids. These children are telling us something. There’s not a person who’s ever raised a kid has—kid says, “Oh, no, I never had a problem.” You have problems. And these kids—my little joke, they’re brain damaged. But not really. But you have to stay on them. And if we can do that, stay on them, stay on them, then we’re going to win.
DR. POUSSAINT: With, with, with love, and not through beating. See, there are a lot of people—parents who feel the way to help their kids stay on the right track is to beat them a lot. And actually it does the very opposite of what they think it’s going to do. It makes angry children. It makes it more, more difficult for them in school, makes it—makes them accept violence as a way of coping out in the street with their friends, and that we really take a stand against parents using a lot of physical punishment on their children.
MR. RUSSERT: You can have tough love and discipline...
DR. POUSSAINT: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...without beating.
DR. POUSSAINT: That’s right. But not beating.
MR. RUSSERT: We’re going to take a quick break. We’re talking to Alvin Poussaint and Bill Cosby. A lot more of our conversation right after this.
MR. RUSSERT: More with Bill Cosby and Dr. Alvin Poussaint. Their book, “Come On, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors,” after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’re back with Dr. Alvin Poussaint, Bill Cosby. Their new book, “Come On, People.”
Eugene Robinson, who writes for The Washington Post, frequent contributor on this program, wrote this this week, and I’m going to share it and get your reaction.
“The problem is that we all say we want an ‘honest dialogue’ about race, but we’ve been having the same old arguments for years—affirmative action, inner-city dysfunction, overt and covert racism.” “We seem to be stuck. We need a new language, a new vocabulary, a new syntax.
“Let’s start by opening our eyes and recognizing that if there ever was a monolithic ‘black America’—absolutely and uniformly deprived and aggrieved, with invariant values and attitudes—there certainly isn’t one now.”
DR. POUSSAINT: Well, what’s he saying, kind of the—presenting of this two different black Americas, two different communities? People are just...
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah, you can’t just brand it...
DR. POUSSAINT: That you—well, no, it’s—the community’s not monolithic. At the same time, there are things that affect all of us as black people. If you have a Jena-type incident, even if you weren’t the person—the kids who were, who were given those harsh sentences, you still feel that as a, as, as a black person. If there’s a lynching of some type, you feel that as a black person, whether you are upper middle class or whether you are lower income. Of course, lower income people catch more of it. They’re going to be much more likely to be victims of racial profiling, discrimination in the criminal justice system. But also, Bill and I could feel some stress and tension around racial profiling because it may happen to us, or it does happen to us, too. So I think we’re all hooked in, in one way. I think what separates us is, is kind of a socioeconomic divide, that you have many poor black people now suffering a lot of the things we talk about in this book. If—you know, if you’re a high school dropout, you’re likely to be poor and you’re likely to go to, go to jail. That’s not as true for black middle class people. And in many, many urban areas, you have huge clusters of the very, very poor without kind of balanced communities over class lines, so that there is a separation and sometimes a feeling that the two groups are not communicating with each other.
On the other hand, many people in the black middle class are involved in programs trying to help the black community, from social programs to mentoring programs to financial support for the programs, and I think that’s all very important. And even organizations like The Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Big Brothers Big Sisters, One Hundred Black Men, Concerned Black Men, these men, most of them in these organizations, have middle class blacks involved in them who are reaching out and trying to do something, particularly for black youth in the black community.
MR. RUSSERT: Have you received criticism within the black community?
MR. COSBY: Yes, but you have to weigh and measure who’s yelling what, and, and that, too, can be split on different lives. Get an awful lot of “yeah, buts.” “Yeah, but the systemic, when it”—well, we know. If you really understand what Bill Cosby is saying, if you really listen, he’s saying, “Get an education. Drive your children with love and care, and they will feel confidence when they go to school. Build a confidence about yourself and what you can control, and then you will be able to fight the systemic and the institutional. You will care more about what you do and what is done to you.” I’ve said that over and over.
I’ve also said our children are trying to tell us something, and we’re not listening. You’ve got to listen to these children. You can’t feel that they’re—that, “Well, it’s the system, and that’s why it”—no, bring your children in. If you say that “my black child is going to do more time for selling crack cocaine than your white child for selling cocaine, then I’m going to tell my black child, ‘Don’t sell it. Here’s what’s happening, son.’” It’s the same as warning your kid that the Ku Klux Klan is coming. Don’t tell me you can’t help it.
When you—when—there’s a, there’s a friend of mine who was in jail. He is now a pastor in, in Wilmington. And he talks about a thing called “shakedown.” And in shakedown, you’re in prison, you go to your cell, and all of a sudden they go whoop-whoop! And they stop the water from flowing into your—and they turn the lights, and you have to take your clothes, and they go through everything in your cell, and you have to stand there, period. They’re looking for stuff. And what, and what Pastor Dee says to the people in the church—and I’m telling you, people started cheering—he said, “Shakedown in your child’s room! Your child didn’t buy that room, your child’s not paying rent. You’re trying to keep your child from being murdered, from going to jail, etc., etc. Shake down. Look under the mattress, make sure your kid doesn’t have a gun. Look into materials on the wall. What is your kid talking about? Is it dangerous?” This is a part of love, and this is what we have to do, regardless of race, color or creed.
MR. RUSSERT: Michael Eric Dyson wrote a whole book “Is Cosby Right?” saying that he overemphasizes personal responsibility...
MR. COSBY: Wow.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and it’s structural and systemic racism that’s the real problem.
MR. COSBY: Wow.
DR. POUSSAINT: Well, I—well, I think there’s always personal responsibility, no matter what’s going on in society. There was personal responsibility, you know, during Jim Crow segregation. And a lot of black people, their history is succeeding against the odds. People always make—have choices to make. If they’re poor, if they’re not poor, things that you can do or not do. Are you going to take drugs, or you’re not going to take drugs? Are you going to go to school, are you going to try to learn, or you’re not going to try to learn? A lot of these are, are choices that people make, that children make, that young people make, but also that families make. Do you want to support education in your home, or you want to ignore it, in fact, do the opposite? Right? You, you tell parents support education, and read to their, read to their children, is a big way of supporting their education, even when they’re not yet one year, year of age, you know, when they’re four months old. And a lot of parents are reluctant to do the simple kinds of things. We have a HIV-AIDS epidemic in the black community where we’re responsible for 50 percent of the new cases. Well, there’s behavior, see, connected to all of these things. Do we have choices around what kind of food we eat? We have an obesity, diabetes epidemic in the black community. To suggest that all of those problems are due totally and solely to systemic racism, I, I think, is just not correct. But I think systemic racism should be worked on always. But if we—we’re a strong people, if we’re a strong people because we raise our children to be strong, they’ll be better activists who can bring about some of those systemic changes, policy changes that are so...
MR. COSBY: Institutional.
DR. POUSSAINT: ...institutional changes that are important for the black community.
MR. RUSSERT: The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, headed by Joe Califano, a statistic that just underscores our discussion today: If you have dinner with your children five times a week, they are three times less likely to be addicted to drugs, alcohol, smoking and on down the line.
Talking about institutions, Bill Cosby, this was you at one of the callouts talking about participating in our democracy. Let’s watch.
MR. COSBY: Your mayor says that the city is 75 percent black. Twenty-seven percent of you voted. Come on, people! The simplest thing to do. People will come and get you on the voting night. Too much apathy. Too much.
MR. RUSSERT: Vote.
MR. COSBY: Yeah. Doesn’t that make sense? I mean, vote. If you’re—in Detroit, the population, OK, is at 75 percent. It’s even higher now. So here’s what a woman says. I called, I said, “What, what’s the number of your kids in the, in, in, in the jail?” “Well,” she says, “let’s say 190.” I said, “Thank you.” Then I went to a policeman, I said “I want you to get—find out how many of them are medicated.” Because I didn’t want to get it messed up. Then he came back, he said of the 100 and whatever, whatever, 75 percent of them are medicated. So I said, “OK, the next question is, you medicate a kid for 18 months or whatever. When that kid gets out, what happens to the medication?” So a call comes, and it’s a woman on the phone. I say, “Yes, ma’am.” She says, “Well,” it’s a black woman. She said, “The white ones get the medication, but the black ones don’t.” I said, “But the population of Detroit is 75 percent. Why are you letting this happen?” I got no, I got no clarity. There’s something about inertia.
DR. POUSSAINT: Yeah.
MR. COSBY: There’s something...
DR. POUSSAINT: And, and, and passivity. I think one of the things we emphasize in the book is that to make things happen, to bring about change, that you have to be an activist of some sort because things will just not happen for you. You have to go out and, and make demands, you have to get involved, you have to vote, that it just will not come. And you have the power to do that if you come together and you unify as a community and begin to talk about what we need to have a better community and better conditions for all black children.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me end our discussion by reading your final essay in this book, and I’d like to read it, it’s long, but it’s important I think for our viewers.
“Victims To Victors.”
“The most important thing that is within the reach of just about everyone is to make sure that every black child has two active parents in his or her lives. If something happens to the boy’s natural father, it’s time for the stepfather or the grandfather or the uncle or the godfather to fill the void. Likewise with the mother. A two-parent home is less likely to be poor, and the children it produces are much” [less] “likely to end up in prison. If, a generation from now, every black child grew up in a functional two-parent home, the problems of crime and poverty in black communities would greatly diminish.
“Black women seen to understand this better than our men. Few of them, even those living in poverty, fit the stereotypes society tends to impose. Most are trying to do the right thing for their families and children. Most care about their children getting an education and staying out of jail. Such parents and caregivers are involved with schools, churches, health clinics and community settlement homes. Probably many more would be involved if they felt it was safe to go out without becoming a victim of crime or senseless violence. They are the key to reach our men.
“The young men need to learn that it is highly unlikely they will grow up to star in the NBA or see their hip-hop CD go platinum. Although within reach, it will be challenge for them, today at least, to graduate from college and start a successful business. But most youth can overcome the obstacles to their finishing high school and getting a legitimate job. And there is no reason in the world they cannot become good partners and fathers, especially since the women want them to be.
“This is the base we build on. Children who are loved will have the confidence to succeed in school, to succeed on the job, to succeed in life.
“Education plus jobs plus increased minimum wage plus” entrepreneurialship “plus affordable housing plus decreased craving for material goods plus avoidance of credit card debt could equal the end of poverty, maybe. Poverty is deeply rooted in American society and our economic system. Black people have more than their share of poverty, which stunts their ambition, saddles them with a host of social burdens. But by doing the things we can do, we can make the future much brighter for black—poor black youth, much brighter for everyone.
“No more excuses, no more delays.
“Come on, people!”
MR. COSBY: May I say something, though? Is it all right?
MR. RUSSERT: Please.
MR. COSBY: I have a friend. Her name is Jessica Pope, and she spoke at a—or two or three of the callouts. She’s a graduate of Swathmore. She’s African-American. She’s from Memphis, Tennessee. And she spoke to the people and she said, “I want you to think of your children like you think of, of a genie in the lamp.” In that we all know the story of the genie in the lamp. There’s a genie, and she also equates genie with genius, genie/genius. So in order to have the genie come out of the lamp and grant you your three wishes, you rub the lamp. You rub it, the genie comes out and grants you three wishes. She then says, “Think of your child that way. Rub your child. Stroke you child like this magical lamp. The genie/genius will come out.” And then I add to it, and the other two wishes you can put in your hip pocket and save for a rainy day.
MR. RUSSERT: Bill Cosby, Alvin Poussaint, thank you both very much.
“Come On, People.” You can read excerpts on our Web site, mtp.msnbc.com. And then find out what Bill Cosby’s only request before he comes to Washington is. Our MEET THE PRESS Take Two Web extra also on our Web site this afternoon. We’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: That’s all for today. You can watch the rebroadcast of MEET THE PRESS Sunday evenings two times, 6 PM Eastern, 2 AM Eastern on MSNBC. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS.