All Grown Up And Through The Gantlet
By Donna Britt
Sunday, May 30, 2004; Page C01
We didn't know that Bill Cosby was speaking at our son's graduation. And we had no idea about the magna cum laude thing, either.
Hamani had spent his last college semester in Rome studying art history and cinema -- his major -- in a Temple University overseas program. For three months, he was perpetually amazed: By his yellow Pumas traversing stone streets once trod by Marcus Aurelius's sandals. By sipping espresso in a building whose shell was a thousand years older than he was because Italians "keep beautiful old buildings rather than tear them down."
Mani barely knew the date of his graduation ceremony, let alone its speaker or his grade-point average. So when my husband opened his program at the Philadelphia event and found two stars by Mani's name -- indicating that he was graduating "with high honors" -- we were ecstatic.
Our middle son, 18, was unimpressed. Darrell said that he, too, would graduate from college holding a "magnum crème latte." With soy.
Cosby was nearly as funny during his brief Temple appearance, suggesting that what graduating seniors really learned was how to get drunk -- and how to sober up. The comic was apparently less hilarious earlier this month when, at a Brown v. Board of Education celebration in Washington, he castigated "lower-economic people" -- meaning poor blacks -- for "buying things for kids -- $500 sneakers for what? And won't spend $200 for 'Hooked on Phonics.' . . . Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads."
Then Cos lambasted "the incarcerated" who aren't "political criminals. These are people going around stealing Coca-Cola. . . . People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake and then we run out and we are outraged, [saying,] 'The cops shouldn't have shot him.' "
Cue media firestorm -- and the comedian's statement that his remarks specifically addressed the epidemic of inner-city African American males who are dropping out of school. In fact, Cosby -- despite cruelly oversimplifying things -- had a point.
So did NAACP Legal Defense Fund head Theodore Shaw, who reminded the audience that the black community's problems aren't all self-inflicted. Cosby's rant reflected a frustration felt by many hardworking, accomplished black folks about some of their less successful brothers and sisters.
I've felt it. But a more universal anxiety has pecked at me since Mani's graduation: the unease felt by countless parents of every hue whose sons and daughters are graduating from the nation's universities. Last week it hit me:
My son -- like millions of other parents' wide-eyed boys and mischievous girls -- is grown.
Moments later came a more comforting thought:
So far, so good.
Ten years ago, I wrote about Mani turning 12 and teetering on the edge of young black manhood. I was terrified of what I knew, and couldn't know, about his future.
Hamani, I knew, was becoming a black teenage male. "As such," I wrote, "his politeness, numerous 'Citizen of the Month' awards . . . and extensive knowledge of all things cinematic won't matter a damn."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company