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| | |-+  Was Bill Cosby right about race in America?
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Author Topic: Was Bill Cosby right about race in America?  (Read 22477 times)
Posts: 1788


« on: May 05, 2005, 09:40:25 AM »

Last year, comedian Bill Cosby sparked a heated debate about low-income blacks in America after a speech he gave at the NAACP awards dinner. His words criticizing poor blacks for their spending habits, speech patterns and parenting were the topic of countless newspaper editorials and conversations on TV and radio talk shows. Professor Michael Eric Dyson recently published a written response to Cosby's remarks. He was invited on the "Today" show to discuss his new book, "Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?" Read an excerpt.

Introduction: An Afristocrat in Winter  
“Do you view Bill Cosby as a race traitor?” journalist Paula Zahn bluntly asked me on her nighttime television show.

Zahn was referring to the broadside the entertainer had launched against irresponsible black parents who are poor and their delinquent children. Cosby’s rebuke came in a May 2004 speech on the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. Not content with a one-off tirade, Cosby since then has bitterly and visibly crusaded against the declining morality and bad behavior of poor blacks. Six months into his battle, Zahn snagged the comic legend turned cultural warrior for his first in-depth interview. Cosby clarified his comments and reinforced his position. No, he wasn’t wrong to air the black community’s dirty laundry. Yes, he would ratchet up the noise and pace of his racial offensive. And he surely didn’t give a damn about what white folk thought about his campaign or what nefarious uses they might make of his public diatribe. One could see it on Cosby’s face: This is war, the stakes are high and being polite or politically correct simply won’t do.

Since I was one of the few blacks to publicly disagree with Cosby, I ended up in numerous media outlets arguing in snippets, sound bites, or ripostes to contrary points of view. In the New York Times a few days after his remarks, I offered that Cosby’s comments “betray classist, elitist viewpoints rooted in generational warfare,” that he was “ill-informed on the critical and complex issues that shape people’s lives,” and that his words only “reinforce suspicions about black humanity.”

Still, I don’t consider Cosby a traitor, and I said so to Zahn. In fact, I defended his right to speak his mind in full public view. After all, I’d been similarly stung by claims of racial disloyalty when I wrote my controversial book on Martin Luther King, Jr. I also said that while Cosby is right to emphasize personal behavior (a lesson, by the way, that many wealthy people should bone up on), we must never lose sight of the big social forces that make it difficult for poor parents to do their best jobs and for poor children to prosper. Before going on Zahn’s show, I’d already decided to write a book in response to Cosby’s relentless assault. But my appearances in the media, and the frustrating fragmentation of voice that one risks in such venues, pushed me to gain a bigger say in the issues Cosby has desperately if clumsily grabbed hold of. This book is my attempt to unpack those issues with the clarity and complexity they demand.

Of course, the ink and applause Cosby has won rest largely on a faulty assumption: that he is the first black figure to stare down the “pathology” that plagues poor blacks. But to believe that ignores how figures from black intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois to civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, in varying contexts, with differing results, have spoken controversially about the black poor. Equally intriguing is the leap of faith one must make in granting Cosby revered status as a racial spokesman and critic. He has famously demurred in his duties as a racial representative. He has flatly refused over the years to deal with blackness and color in his comedy. Cosby was defensive, even defiant, in his views, as prickly a racial avoider as one might imagine for a man who traded so brilliantly on dimensions of black culture in his comedy. While Cosby took full advantage of the civil rights struggle, he resolutely denied it a seat at his artistic table. Thus it’s hard to swallow Cosby’s flailing away at youth for neglecting their history, and overlooking the gains paid for by the blood of their ancestors, when he reneged on its service when it beckoned at his door. It is ironic that Cosby has finally answered the call to racial leadership forty years after it might have made a constructive difference. But it is downright tragic that he should use his perch to lob rhetorical bombs at the poor.

For those who overlook the uneven history of black engagement with the race’s social dislocations and moral struggles — and who conveniently ignore Cosby’s Johnny-come-lately standing as a racial critic — Cosby is an ethical pioneer, a racial hero. In this view, Cosby is brave to admit that “lower economic people” are “not parenting” and are failing the civil rights movement by “not holding up their end in this deal.” Single mothers are no longer “embarrassed because they’re pregnant without a husband.” A single father is no longer “considered an embarrassment if he tries to run away from being the father” of his child. And what do we make of their criminal children? Cosby’s “courage” does not fail. “In our own neighborhood, we have men in prison ... I’m talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was two? Where were you when he was twelve? Where were you when he was eighteen, and how come you don’t know he had a pistol?” Before he is finished, Cosby beats up on the black poor for their horrible education, their style of dress, the names they give their children, their backward speech and their consumptive habits. As a cruel coda, Cosby even suggests to the black poor that “God is tired of you.”

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Full Member
Posts: 254


« Reply #1 on: May 05, 2005, 12:28:07 PM »

I look forward to reading the book, and the discussions that will follow. The one thing that I find impressive about this whole ordeal is that the major focus is/was on his gall and not the real issues.

AfricaSpeaks Member
Posts: 278


« Reply #2 on: March 12, 2006, 11:32:33 AM »

Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster by Michael Eric Dyson

Editorial Reviews
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The first major book to be released about Hurricane Katrina, Dyson's volume not only chronicles what happened when, it also argues that the nation's failure to offer timely aid to Katrina's victims indicates deeper problems in race and class relations. Dyson's time lines will surely be disputed, his indictments of specific New Orleans failures defended or whitewashed. But these points are secondary. More important are the larger questions Dyson (Between God and Gangsta Rap, etc.) poses, such as "What do politicians sold on the idea of limited governance offer to folk who need, and deserve, the government to come to their aid?" "Does George Bush care about black people?" and "Do well-off black people care about poor black people?" With its abundance of buzz-worthy coinages, like "Aframnesia" and "Afristocracy," Dyson's populist style sometimes gets too cute. But his contention that Katrina exposed a dominant culture pervaded not only by "active malice" toward poor blacks but also by a long history of "passive indifference" to their problems is both powerful and unsettling. Through this history of neglect, Dyson suggests, America has broken its social contract with poor blacks who, since Emancipation, have assumed that government will protect all its citizens. Yet when disaster struck the poor, the cavalry arrived four days late. (Jan. 16)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com
The horrors endured by mostly poor, mostly black New Orleanians -- trapped in deadly floodwaters or left to rot for days on end in the Superdome -- are now well established. And so Michael Eric Dyson might seem to be arguing a closed case: that the drowning of a Southern city and the Bush administration's lethally botched response to Hurricane Katrina reeked of race and class bias. In this scorching iteration of that argument, Dyson visits all the stations of the cross: the disproportionate number of poor blacks who were placed in extremis or killed outright by Katrina and the levee failures that followed; the rapper Kanye West's cri de coeur -- "George Bush doesn't care about black people" -- during an NBC telethon; former first lady Barbara Bush's infuriating comment about things "working very well" for evacuees in the Houston Astrodome since they were "underprivileged" anyway; the racial inequities built into the economy of both New Orleans and the nation overall; the exuberant haste with which media outlets embraced stereotypes that cast African Americans as rampaging looters and rapists. The aggregate effect may not be powerful enough to win converts from among those who think the catastrophe didn't expose ugly fault lines, but it should at least spur an exchange of prisoners from the camps now deeply entrenched on both sides of the question about what Katrina told us about race and racism in America. There's less original reporting here than analysis; Come Hell or High Water draws heavily on press accounts of the Katrina debacle. But the annotation is thorough, and Dyson -- the University of Pennsylvania professor who wrote Is Bill Cosby Right? -- weaves it all together with prose that is resonant and rightly angry. The book's account of FEMA's stunning ineptitude is especially well detailed. And a more original chapter that parses popular culture for insights into America's current racial and cultural climate is an agreeable digression, f lawed only by Dyson's inclination to treat rap jingles -- some transcribed at length -- as oracular. Dyson's lapses are mostly minor ones. His long diatribe against the syndicated columnist Cynthia Tucker seems like filler, a settling of accounts run up over his Cosby book, in which Dyson chided the comedian for seeming to blame blacks for not standing up to social problems associated with poverty and disempowerment. Dyson repeats the now discredited notion that a loose barge caused the Industrial Canal's flood walls to fail. And had New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin not recently declared that Katrina was partially the product of God's wrath against President Bush for occupying Iraq "under false pretenses," Dyson might be accused of going on a bit about religion. But his conclusion is a sound one: that it would be great to see the "prophetic anger" of the black church recommitted to the struggle against poverty. A more serious gripe is that, to make his portrayal of racist oppression all the more compelling, Dyson himself warms to some false and unintentionally demeaning stereotypes about the hurricane's victims. For one thing, the equation between poverty and immobility in the face of the approaching storm isn't nearly as neat as he implies. A lot of the people who stayed behind to ride out Katrina -- rich and poor, black and white -- turned down rides out of town or had cars of their own, making the city's low rate of vehicles per capita a less reliable tool for analyzing the debacle than Dyson suggests. Dyson elsewhere speaks glibly of "the sheer social misery of much of postindustrial urban Southern life." That won't play well in many New Orleans neighborhoods, least of all the storied Lower Ninth Ward, a proud, mostly low-income enclave that witnessed some of the worst flooding. It may be true in a physical sense that the Lower Ninth "crouches behind a pile of dirt" (to quote a Washington Post article that Dyson stitches into his text), but that dirt is the levee that the residents of the Lower Ninth wish had been piled higher. Rich whites in Lakeview, another flooded area, lived behind similar earthworks. And the ugly overtones of this image are off the mark. The Lower Ninth was not a crouching dog in a junkyard part of town, though some parts of New Orleans might have fit that description. Dyson is on firmer ground when he remembers the Lower Ninth's rich cultural and racial pedigree, its "'second-line' parades, characterized by churning rhythms and kinetic, high-stepping funk grooves." The reality of the pre-Katrina Lower Ninth lies somewhere between a dirt-pile dirge and high-stepping funk. The community is, or was, a complex weave of homeowners and destitution, of social pathologies -- also to be found in rich parts of town -- and proud churches, Mardi Gras Indian tribes and other less formal but deeply embracing kinds of camaraderie. Neighborhoods such as that answer a question that must baffle people who have watched New Orleans's ordeal from a distance: Why would anyone be fighting, as many are, to return and rebuild such a place? In fact, the traditions and culture of the Lower Ninth Ward are a reason why the agents of Disneyfication will have a harder time gentrifying New Orleans than post-Katrina developers might hope. Those traditions and culture are also a reason why New Orleans is worth saving. -- Jed Horne is a metro editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. His book about Hurricane Katrina will be published in August.
Reviewed by Jed Horne
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

Book Description
What Hurricane Katrina reveals about the fault lines of race and poverty in America-and what lessons we must take from the flood-from best-selling "hip-hop intellectual" Michael Eric Dyson
Does George W. Bush care about black people?
Does the rest of America?
When Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, hundreds of thousands were left behind to suffer the ravages of destruction, disease, and even death. The majority of these people were black; nearly all were poor. The federal government's slow response to local appeals for help is by now notorious. Yet despite the cries of outrage that have mounted since the levees broke, we have failed to confront the disaster's true lesson: to be poor, or black, in today's ownership society, is to be left behind.
Displaying the intellectual rigor, political passion, and personal empathy that have won him fans across the color line, Michael Eric Dyson offers a searing assessment of the meaning of Hurricane Katrina. Combining interviews with survivors of the disaster with his deep knowledge of black migrations and government policy over decades, Dyson provides the historical context that has been sorely missing from public conversation. He explores the legacy of black suffering in America since slavery, including the shocking ways that black people are framed in the national consciousness even today.
With this call-to-action, Dyson warns us that we can only find redemption as a society if we acknowledge that Katrina was more than an engineering or emergency response failure. From the TV newsroom to the Capitol Building to the backyard, we must change the ways we relate to the black and the poor among us. What's at stake is no less than the future of democracy.

About the Author

Michael Eric Dyson is the author of many books, including the best-selling Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves, and Demons of Marvin Gaye; Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur; Why I Love Black Women; and I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr. Now the Avalon Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, he lives in Philadelphia.

 Lips Sealed

Posts: 5

« Reply #3 on: April 25, 2006, 04:04:44 PM »

I would have to say no.

The Blaque collective is where is it for far deeper reasons.  It is obvious that he has not read "Black Labor, White Wealth" -- copyright 1989 by Dr. Claud Anderson.

Dr. Eric Dyson wrote an entire book addressing this topic and a very great read, I might add!

Q. Have you read this book?       
Full Member
Posts: 417


« Reply #4 on: April 26, 2006, 11:09:55 AM »

"Ay yo chill with the feedback, yo black I don't need that, it's ten o'clock ho, where the---- yo seed at?"- RZA
"You can't drink your life away, smoke your life away, party your life away, ---- your life away, cos your seeds grow up the same way"- Wu-Tang
"Black women more than a$$es and breasts, I'll test any nigga disagreeing..."- Paris
It seems that "lower economic people" (or former LEPs, in the case of the above) in the Black community and the "hip hop generationS" (there's three hip hop generations now already, DJ Kool Herc brought the sound system from JA to the Bronx back in 1976, and lotsa LEPs (amongst others) have babies at a young age... at 34 I'm already an "old head" in hip hop and there is a generational divide between me and, say, Lil Wayne's fan base)... are quite capable of looking hard at themselves and the problems with their attitudes and behavior, without the need for patronizing (and in my view self-hating) "higher economic people" to "point it out" to them.
I wonder what Bill Cosby would make of dead prez. "All y'all high class niggaz with yo nose up in the air cos we talkin how we talkin... *!%! y'all, we gon speak for ourselves. Cos see, they schools ain't teaching us nothing. They ain't teaching us nothing but how to be slaves and hard workers for white people, to make they businesses succesful. They ain't teaching us how to get crack out the ghetto, they ain't teaching our families how to interact better with one another... THEY SCHOOLS CAN'T TEACH US ----, MY PEOPLE NEED FREEDOM, WE TRYINA GET ALL WE COULD GET, ALL MY HIGH SCHOOL TEACHERS COULD SUCK MY ----, TELLIN ME WHITEMAN LIES, STRAIGHT B--- S---."
natural blacks
Junior Member
Posts: 143

Blackheart Man

« Reply #5 on: April 26, 2006, 01:03:13 PM »

Malcolm X has a speech named "I'm a Field Negro" ...very nice speech, u should listen.

History has shown that it is the inaction of those who could’ve acted; the indifference of those who should’ve known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most that has made it possible for evil to triumph. - EMPEROR HAILE SELASSIE I
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