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. Crown, New York. 2006.
The major shortcoming of Juan Williams book is that he doesn’t go far enough. But more of that later. It should first be said that he goes very far indeed, saying much that has needed to be said for years, if not decades. No mean achievement. The subtitle itself sets out much of the structure of the book: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure that are Undermining Black America–and What We Can Do About It. Williams’ discussion is built around Bill Cosby’s speech in 2004 on the fiftieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, as well as Cosby’s numerous other talks throughout the country since then, including Detroit.
Williams laments the lack of any real leaders in the black community in the tradition of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Dubois, and Martin Luther King, Jr., all of whom in Williams’ view shared a commitment to black self-reliance and self-determination:
“In its place is a tired rant by civil rights leaders about the power of white people–what white people have done wrong, what white people didn’t do, and what white people should do. This rant puts black people in the role of hapless victims waiting for only one thing–white guilt to bail them out” (32).
He lambasts both Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as never having really accomplished much, in a way similar to John McWhorter’s scathing reference to “black theatrics.” Returning often to Bill Cosby’s speeches, concurring with Cosby, Williams states, “At some point, people have to take a personal accounting, turn away from any self-defeating behavior, and be sure they are doing everything in their power to put their families and their communities in a position to prosper and advance” (43). Jackson and Sharpton have “slowed the emergence of any new model of national black political leadership” (47). Juan Williams never suggests that Bill Cosby is in a sense the model–Cosby himself has repeatedly stated he’s an entertainer, not a leader, but merely someone sick and tired of it all and speaking out to wake people up to how bad things really are. Williams’ book goes a long way towards helping people do just that by facing the unpleasant facts.
Some of those facts include the diversion of attention and resources from the truly pressing needs of the black community to a futile fight for reparations for slavery. The chapter title says it all: “The Reparations Mirage.”
In a chapter on education, Juan Williams frames his discussion with Cosby’s provocative challenge, “What the hell good is Brown v. Board of Education if nobody wants it?” The dismal statistic of a 50 percent black drop out rate from high school, the best students pilloried as “acting white,” behavior way out of control, and so on, all adds up to deep and endemic crisis for young black people and the community. Cosby, Williams, and others are to be applauded for caring enough about the students themselves that they have publicly confronted and discussed what the issues really are, unlike those who, as Cosby cuts to the quick, are worried “they would lose their gig.” Indeed, there are black leaders and school officials who deserve to, and should, lose their “gig,” for the sake of the children and the future good of the black community.
On the national level in regard to black crime, Juan Williams similarly asserts there has been a failure of leadership:
“Never a word was spoken about the need for black Americans to take up their own war on drugs and on crime as a matter of personal responsibility…. All the silence could not blind anyone to the neon lights flashing sad facts about the severity of black crime. By 2004 federal data showed that black Americans–13 percent of the population–accounted for 37 percent of the violent crimes, 54 percent of arrests for robbery, and 51 percent of murders. Most of the victims of these violent criminals were their fellow black people. This legitimate fear of violent crime by black people spread into every corner of the nation” (116).
To these sad facts, Cosby and Williams rightly emphasize the utter crisis that confronts black America, all of America, and the need to wake up, take personal responsibility, and begin at the most basic level of society, with rebuilding the black family and community, citing the past in about 1950 when 78% of black children were raised in two-parent homes, compared to today with approximately only 34%. Williams also repeatedly emphasizes Cosby’s other major points, education and hard work, giving many inspiring examples.
Part of that rebuilding involves confronting the glorification of violence and sex in hip-hop and rap music and videos. Increasingly widely criticized, and justly, by many people, black and otherwise, for the misogyny and demeaning portrayals and exploitation of women, Williams discusses a number of disturbing and shocking incidents and rappers, highlighting that again black leaders, by failing to speak out and condemn “the corruption of rap for all these years” has “resulted in real damage to the most vulnerable of black America–poor children, boys and girls, often from broken homes” (133).
Throughout his book, Juan Williams demonstrates a firm command of the history of black people in America, the heroic struggle for freedom and dignity. Bringing it alive for black people today, he shows how black history is indeed relevant to the current problems of phony leadership and community crisis. He seems to be saying the resources are there in the past and in the people; we need to do a better job of drawing on the best and striving to live up to it; we need leaders who can set the right standards, point us in the right direction, and demand we struggle for the mountain top.
My only misgiving with his book is that he seems studiously to avoid the subject of affirmative action, which I believe is a significant part of the problem, undermining self-determination and providing false excuses for failure or the lack of personal development. Unlike John McWhorter who directly takes on affirmative action, Williams may feel it’s best just to discuss the need for personal and community responsibility, cultural improvement.
I would argue the psychological chains binding the wrists of the black community must be cut, if any true progress is to be made. After all, the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), up for a vote in the very same year Williams publishes his book, will almost certainly pass and quite probably help further lead to a nationwide end of racial preference. Williams ignores the entire issue. It seems to me that Ward Connerly, Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell, and others are more perceptive in this regard, kicking the destructive, misbegotten crutch away. But for anyone interested in an insightful survey and analysis of the issues that will remain and must be confronted on November 8th, Juan Williams’ Enough may be one of the best places to begin.