Friday, December 5, 2008

Judgmental Judges and The Art of Fear: Please Stop Being So Scary

Dr. Boyce Watkins

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The article below clears up exactly how I feel about Bill Cosby. I don't hate the man - I just want to slap him sometimes....just kidding....we just have different ways of seeing the world, and I think it is through diversity of perspective that we find our way to progress. I believe Bill really does love Black people, and that makes me give him my respect.


Judgmental Judges and The Art of Fear: Come On People, Let’s Stop Being So Damn Scared
by Dr. Boyce Watkins

“‘White America needs to understand that it is poisoned to its soul by racism’, and that ‘all too many White Americans are horrified not with the conditions of (Black) life but with the product of these conditions-the (Black person) himself’. In a word, they are not horrified by injustice done to us in New York or New Orleans, in the schools, courts, streets, slums or prisons, but are horrified at the righteous anger we express, and the audacity not just to hope but also to resist injustice and oppression in its various forms.” - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I recently appeared on an episode of Good Morning America about a judge in Atlanta named Marvin Arrington. The show renewed my skepticism of mainstream media, and helped me remember why I love Bill Cosby so much.

Apparently, Judge Arrington was fed up with seeing one black defendant after another in his courtroom, and surely to the liking of Bill Cosby, Arrington took matters into his own hands. Judge Arrington took the unprecedented step of dismissing all of the white attorneys from his courtroom and holding a private session with the black defendants.

During the session, Arrington gave the defendants a piece of his mind, preaching values we can all agree with: hard work, good behavior, and human decency. He topped it off by reminding these men that they are destroying the black community with their behavior and that they just need to stop.

When Good Morning America called to ask me what I thought about Arrington’s actions, they spent more time asking me about Bill Cosby than Arrington. I was confused, since they apparently think I don’t like Bill Cosby. That’s not true. I have a lot of respect for Bill Cosby, but it is my respect for human empathy that leads me to share my point of view, even if Bill Cosby does not agree. I truly believe Bill Cosby cares for black people, even if he has a unique way of showing it.

The reporter asked me if I thought it could be appropriate for a black judge to have a conversation with only the black defendants, excluding everyone else from the court room. I informed the reporter that it’s O.K. for African-Americans to have private conversations, and the nature of the Marvin Arrington’s words would be the ultimate determinant of conversation quality.

Elitist finger wagging at members of an oppressed group is not only counter-productive, it is consistent with how minority groups are dealt with around the world. From the Turkish minority in Germany to the Aboriginal population in Australia, it is always the habit of the elite to presume that minority groups can’t fit in because they are just lazy, stupid and bad. But a conversation from a point of understanding might actually achieve something. The problem is that some judges feel they are only there to talk, not to listen or learn. Also, Bill Cosby has shown Michael Eric Dyson, Marc Lamont Hill and myself that he feels no obligation to listen to anyone.

Apparently, we have not yet created enough episodes of Fat Albert to earn the license of unconditional, single-minded self-righteousness.

I know a judge named Langston McKinney who would also hold the same kinds of private conversations as Judge Arrington. The difference with Judge McKinney, however, is that right after having a private conversation with black defendants, McKinney would be equally bold in having another “tough love” conversation with the very justice system responsible for giving these men longer sentences for the same crimes, inadequate legal counsel, disenfranchisement from voting and employment rights after they’ve been released and a horrifically bad inner city educational system that provides no options.

That’s what a real man does. You don’t just beat up on those who have less power than you, you go after those who might kick your ass.

I have never been one to say that either Bill Cosby or Judge Marvin Arrington hate the black community. I feel they both love African-Americans very much, and that is what distinguishes them from professional black bashers like Juan Williams at Fox News. But one thing Cosby might want to learn is this: given that all human beings are fundamentally equal and equally rational, individuals engaging in behavior that makes no sense to you are probably responding to factors that you have not taken the time to fully understand.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Inequality released a report citing that the United States has a horrific habit of incarcerating black men, giving them longer sentences for the same crimes, pushing them out of society and leaving them uneducated. It is hard to earn my respect when you accept rewards for attacking those who respond to the disparities, but you do not have the courage to address the disparities themselves.
If a husband is beating his wife because she talks too much, any man can come into the house and tell his wife to stop talking so the beatings will stop. Many men will not have the courage to confront the husband responsible for the abuse. America, according to the United Nations, has abused black families for the past 400 years and continues to do so until this day. Anyone can tell black people to stop misbehaving so the abuse will stop. But it is fear of losing stature with the oppressive majority that leads us to avoid taking further steps to actually deal with the abuse itself. Black people have survived this long by being AFRAID. There is the added opportunity to gain favor with the majority by allowing oneself to be used as an additional distributor of racial tyranny, hypocrisy and condemnation. That’s how you get invited to Fox News and Meet the Press, Cosby knows this.
Bill Cosby and Judge Marvin Arrington should learn that it’s time to stop being scared. If you are tough enough to yell at a poor single mother about how she raises her kids, then please be strong enough to yell at a court system that incarcerates black men 7 times more than it incarcerates white men. Be strong enough to address a public education system that puts black boys in special education 5 times more than white boys. Be complete with your boldness, and don’t feel that you are strong just because you can continue to pile onto the weakest members of our society. The same is true for any black man who is strong in “the hood” but afraid to go to the other side of town.

I had a friend who grew up in terrible conditions, went to a terrible school, was shot at on the bus stop and had a high school counselor that put her in special education. In spite of all this, she went on to college and had a great life. Her story would surely serve as a source of inspiration for one of Bill Cosby’s speeches. But my question is this: What if this girl had not been strong enough to overcome a situation that would have destroyed 90% of us? What if she’d shot a drug dealer, slept with a strange man to get money or became a prostitute to feed herself? Would that make her a terrible person or simply an individual who responded to a world that the adults around her have not had the courage to confront? Cosby’s argument that the little girl should “just behave herself” is not likely to be enough to help millions of children manage such dramatic racial inequality.

Barack Obama had it right. We must honestly talk about racial inequality, and we must begin the conversation with the correct assumptions. Mathematics teaches us that if you solve a problem using incorrect assumptions, this will lead to incorrect methods and ultimately, an incorrect conclusion. The simple-minded presumption that “black youth are simply screwed up” is not only incorrect, it’s what we’ve been hearing for the past 400 years.

To Bill Cosby and Judge Marvin Arrington, I say this: Come on people, we’ve got to have more personal responsibility than that. The same courage you command from youth to overcome the system must be the courage you possess when confronting the system. That’s REALLY how you keep it real.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is an Assistant Professor of Finance and author of “What if George Bush were a Black Man?” For more information, please visit Please join our coalition at

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