For writing the book that I did not. Enough.
Mainly pivoting off of the swirling controversy that followed comedian and philanthropist Bill Cosby's speech on the 50th anniversary of Brown Vs. Education, May 17th, 2004, in Washington, D.C., the book takes a look not at Cosby's political incorrectness (you don't call out black folks in public, or our established black leaders anywhere), but whether he actually had something meaningful to say. And while I am still working my way through the book, so far what I have to say is (1) Juan Williams is a brilliant and highly thoughtful, balanced and reflective writer (he is also the author of multi-award winning "Eyes on the Prize") who nailed his topic, along with its relevance, and (2) that while Cosby could have used more balanced language -- subscribing the crippling problems in Black America not just to the urban poor, but to all of us (including the Black middle class the the Black elite), on balance he was right on. Black America and the African-American community in general are in trouble. Oh, ...and we are NOT victims anymore.
A couple years ago I was head-strong and focused on writing a book entitled "Bryant Guide to Being Black: 50 Rules to Doing It Right." Fortunately or unfortunately, my friends and advisors at the time somehow talked me back from the edge, and from publishing this book, thinking that it would drag me off message from the powerful "silver rights" movement and economic empowerment message (for our people) of Operation HOPE, etc, etc, but I believe as strongly now as I did then that something needs to be said, and I am glad that Juan Williams is saying it. Enough, is right. Buy the book.
Here are a few things the "Bryant Guide to Being Black" would have had to say...
(excerpt from the book, "The Bryant Guide to Being Black: 50 Rules to Doing it Right"):
"I write this book because I am frustrated and angry as hell.
Frustrated and angry at myself, for not doing more.
Frustrated and angry at some of our so called black leadership for not doing enough, and then when things don’t work out, which has been most of the time, doing even more damage by placing the blame and the responsibility for our collective lives on someone else other than ourselves.
Frustrated and angry in love with my own people - black people - for settling; and in so doing effectively lowering the bar of expectation for ourselves.
The great educator Harold Mays once said, “sin is not to fail, sin is to have low aim.” Even the Bible says, “be hot or be cold, but be lukewarm and I will spat you out…” Even God has no use for mediocrity.
And so, yes, I admit it. I don’t get it. I just …don’t get it.
Black America has come through enslavement, sharecropping, the Jim Crow era, the abuses of 1950’s and 1960’, the slights and subtleties of the brand of discrimination that permeated the 20th century in general, all with our collective heads high, and yet, in the 21st century we are as a race of people, substantially on our own rear-ends -- progress wise.
Yes, of course there are those of us who are making it on an individual basis (and come on now, even Oprah Winfrey is tired of you using her as our “example” of what can be done…), and today a substantial and growing number of black Americans can legitimately call themselves legitimate members of America’s middle-class ranks. That said, black America is also like the tale of two-cities. One which has progressed, got their education, and is doing fairly well, and another which substantially has not. But BOTH black America’s are still suffering and being held back in 21st century America on many other levels. In short, as a race of people we are not living the American Dream, and the really odd thing is that I have come to the conclusion that it is mostly not because of racism or the white man anymore (Yes, I said it!). It is because of, well, us.
Black America as a whole has accumulated over the years a whole series of unintended bad habits, and these bad habits – more than white America, more than racism, more than almost anything else – represent what is principally holding us back in 21st century America. Speaking in a builders’ language, our designs are right, but our wiring is all wrong. Let’s take a look at this head on.
Black America in 2004 leads almost every negative indicator you can think of or imagine; from health, to welfare and jobs, to education, to really bad things like crime (most notably, black on black crime) and the three P’s --- Prison, Probation and Parole. So…, let me see if I understand this properly; we are approximately 9% of the nation’s population but something like 40% of the nation’s prison population. Huh? Again, I don’t get it. I don’t want to get this.
Racism and discrimination are still very much a reality in today’s society, but racism and discrimination alone don’t explain away the fact that we are almost half the prison population in this country! I am a black man in America, and proud and of it I might add -- even grew up in places like Compton, California and South Central Los Angeles -- and yet I have never been to jail. No one in my family has ever been to jail, and we are all black, went to neighborhood public schools and were raised in a traditional working class, inner-city household. Ahhh… Now there is a notion we need to get back to; a traditional household. Of course, I speak to this priority issue in the Rules.
My life growing up as a child was full of memories of a nurturing, loving mother and a strong, disciplined father; both of whom showed me their love by “showing up.” They spent time with me and made clear where the boundaries were as I was growing up. Married and then divorced, they were the difference maker in my life, because they behaved like real parents. What’s that old saying, “watch how you live your life, it may be the only Bible that anyone else reads.” Our grandparents and great grandparents caught legitimate hell in the America of their day, and as a result had a lot to complain about; most of which was NOT of their own making. But in 2004, come on, …what do we really have to complain about? I mean, yes, life is difficult, even hard, and sometime life hurts – a lot, but so what? It’s hard for everyone. When mainstream America has a headache, black America has pneumonia, but we are all sick. This is an “is,” as I like to say, and we need to learn to get over it. And quickly.
Yes, this my friends is our main problem today. Black America has come down with a terrible case of bad habits, and many of us have been doing them for so long, we have taken many of them on as normal behavior patterns. Well, they are NOT, …and somehow we must learn to get over ourselves.
This book talks about and even speaks to many of these bad habits. At least half of them will come as absolutely no surprise to the reader, irrespective of ethnicity, because half of them are as plain as the nose of your face…but we do them anyway, and repeatedly I might add. And so, if some of t hese “things” are occurring all the time, with every ethnic group, including whites, some might say “why make a case for them for black folk Mr. John Bryant?” Well, precisely because black folks are not white. Never will be.
And while, truth be told, if you know who you really are, and value that, and respect that, you of course have no desire to be (white, respectfully stated), the other practical reality is that if you are black you were born on probation in this country. That is not a knock, nor whining (and I hate whining..), it is as I like to say, an “is.”
If we are going to be successful as a race of people – and we will be, in this country or in any other, black America has to learn to be twice as smart, twice as intelligent, twice as well dressed, twice as well prepared, and well, twice as good. The good news is that we can do this. But it is time for black America to look ourselves in the mirror and say… “beautiful yes, …but in truth I need to do some work on me!” Enough already.
The reality is that we all should do this, but black America must.
Being reflective, on a continuous basis.
Being comfortable in one’s one skin.
Being accountable and 100% responsible for ourselves, what happens to us, and what we become in this life. Always moving forward, even if that means falling forward first. God helps those that help themselves.
A Japanese mentor of mine, Ambassador Saburo Yuzawa, once told asked me if I wanted to understand the purpose of life. Of course I said yes. As I sat down for what I thought would be a long conversation, he said “stay right there, this will only take a moment. The whole purpose of life is to become transparent to God’s will.” Wow. How simple. Transparent to God’s will in our lives. And so, naturally I then asked, “and how do I do that?” “Get out of your own way my dear friend. Learn how to get out of your own way.” Let this be our charge and call to action black America in 2004 and beyond.
As my pastor and mentor, Reverend Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray of First A.M.E. Church once told me, “John, the only person that can hurt you now, is you…” Okay, let’s go!"
John Hope Bryant