Is Cosby Right About the Black Underclass?

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In summary, this conversation discusses Michael Eric Dyson's book "Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?" which responds to Bill Cosby's scathing criticisms of the contemporary black underclass in his speech at the NAACP. The book examines Cosby's remarks and their reception by the black community, particularly the middle class or "Afristocracy." The conversation also includes a link to an upcoming NPR interview with the author and some additional thoughts on the topic.
  • #1
Jason
Cosby and the "Afristocracy"

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/features/booksmags/sfl-bkmabecosbymay01,0,7701556.column

Rejecting Cosby as a social critic

Professor debunks entertainer's criticisms of the black underclass.
Published May 1, 2005


Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind? Michael Eric Dyson. Basic Civitas Books. $23. 304 pp.

It would be easy to shrug off this curious little book, with its bulky and confusing title, as a celebrity mugging. A lesser-known black personality, most often described as "a hip-hop intellectual" (whatever that is), attempts to elevate his public profile by trashing an infinitely more famous black personality -- no less than "America's dad," Bill Cosby.

Easy to shrug off, that is, if you don't actually read the book. Because if you do, you'll find that Michael Eric Dyson has paid Cosby the ultimate compliment one social critic can pay another. He has taken Cosby seriously and mounted a closely reasoned rebuttal.

Dyson, a prolific writer and professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of a number of well-regarded books, among them Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur (hence the "hip-hop intellectual" tag) and I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr.

The current volume is provoked by Cosby's speech on May 17, 2004, when the erstwhile Cliff Huxtable accepted an award from the NAACP. Cosby took the occasion to deliver a scorching indictment of the contemporary black underclass. In mocking terms that would have been blasted as racist coming, say, from a white Republican, Cosby excoriated poor blacks for bad parenting, promiscuity, insufficient emphasis on education, abysmal language skills and general pride in being ignorant, lazy and self-defeatist.

The current volume is provoked by Cosby's speech on May 17, 2004, when the erstwhile Cliff Huxtable accepted an award from the NAACP. Cosby took the occasion to deliver a scorching indictment of the contemporary black underclass. In mocking terms that would have been blasted as racist coming, say, from a white Republican, Cosby excoriated poor blacks for bad parenting, promiscuity, insufficient emphasis on education, abysmal language skills and general pride in being ignorant, lazy and self-defeatist.

"Are you not paying attention, people with the hat on backwards, pants down around the crack," Cosby said at one point. "Isn't that a sign of sometin', or you waitin' for Jesus to pull his pants up? Isn't it a sign of sometin' when she's got her dress all the way up into the crack ... and got all kinds of needles and things going through her body. What part of Africa did this come from? We are not Africans. These people are not Africans, they don't know a damned thing about Africa. Wit' names like Shaniqua, Taliqua, and Muhammed and all that crap, and all of them are in jail."

At another point: "We cannot blame white people ... white people don't live over there. They close up the shop early. The Korean ones still don't know us as well ... they stay open 24 hours."

At least as shocking as the speech and its tone was the reaction to it. Many in the black community -- or at least the middle class black community called by Dyson, a man with a knack for coinages, the "Afristocracy" -- loved Cosby's remarks. They saw him as a black celebrity using his stature to call for personal responsibility on the part of what Dyson calls the "Ghettocracy:" single mothers on welfare, the working poor, impoverished children with little opportunity, black men in jail.
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  • #3
I've read this over a few times and I still don't understand what this author is exactly getting at.
 
  • #4
I don't know, I kind of agree with his statements in the sense that it's the bold truth of what's happening in the ghettoes. In the 1960s, you could blame whites for denying basic human rights, but nowadays the Africans living in America have all the freedom they can have, but the ones that live in the ghettoes still choose to degrade themselves and live in conditions full of poverty. Ignorance breeds poverty, and ignorance is caused by a lack of education. I have heard that inter city schools in America are one of the worst in the world, so maybe there are some things that the larger society can still do. I mean if you go to a housing project in Harlem, how many dictionaries or thesaurus, or even any book (Playboys are not included ;) ) will you find? Actually, I just last rephrased the last sentence from something that Malcolm X said, but it says a lot when the conditions in the ghettoes are still as bad as they were in the 1960s. But some of the fault also lies with the Bourgeois element of black society, because they have not done any practical thing, nothing to help their brothers down in the ghettoes. They live in their suburbs, driving their immigrated cars, working in those white-collar jobs and criticize their brethren in the cities, yet they do nothing, they are modern day Uncle Toms.
 
  • #5
that guy doesn't need to do anything except cross his eyes.. off topic, but when he played shaq some months back in that skit with the kobe character, he was hilarious man..
 
  • #6
Kluesener,

This is a very complex subject, and not one any of us are going to be able to tackle in even a reasonably lengthy post.

Despite being a life-long liberal, I must observe that in my experience with Blacks, it has struck me that they often confuse pride with bull-headedness, as if every action taken by a Black person were prima facia evidence of some innate rootedness of cultural descent, when the facts speak otherwise. White Americans, for instance, don't slavishly emulate outdated, and foolish European behaviors as a paean to "traditions" or "cultural roots." Part of what being human in the modern age means is taking responsibility for the truths that science, democracy and freedom has given us. It is a little naive to insist on, for instance, not bathing, not washing your hair, not brushing your teeth, not cleaning your house and car, not attending school, not finding and keeping work, not being responsible parents, not following the law, not respecting your neighbors, etc., because/or as if these were somehow expressions of one's superior, separate, historical cultural identity. That's just nonsense.

American Black or Negro or African so-called "culture" is NOT African, or Caribbean, or something "other". American jazz, for instance, belongs to, and has been produced by, people of many different races, but it is American music. It is one aspect of OUR nation's history, it belongs to us, in America. It didn't begin or grow in Africa, it began and developed HERE. Just as the American professional sports and entertainment and the business world belongs also to "Blacks." To constantly insist on separateness and exclusivity--ironically, when that exclusive class is bankrupted by a culture of failure and malingering and crime--does no service to anyone.

Cosby had the courage to say it. Whites cannot say it. Not only because we will not be believed, but because those voices of responsibility and conviction MUST COME from the Black community. It is the only way. The Black professor's attempts to defend the status quo against Cosby's provocative challenge constitutes a sad retreat from reality, back into the culture of excuses, dependence and futile anger.
 
  • #7
but nowadays, it's not a question of heritage or african traditions, it is a question of survival. What can be done to lift these people in the ghettoes up from poverty, from drug addictions, from welfare, that's the question that society must try to answer. My problem is that the bourgeois element of black society is doing nothing, they have the money, they have the ability to help the people down in the cities. But they don't do anything, they write books, they make speeches criticizing their brethren, but they haven't done anything practical, they haven't lived among them, they don't understand them. When push comes to shove, they disappear.
 
  • #8
Bill Cosby and Chris Rock seem to me to be about the only black celebrities even talking about the problem in those terms, which earns them my respect. And while actions speak louder than words, klusener - what do you think they could be doing?
 
  • #9
A caller in yesterdays interview made an interesting point.

He was a Black man from California (I think) with a teenage son.
His son had been getting straight A's for several years and had just recently begun to be teased about it by his peers.
He was mocked for acting "white" and as a result his last report card included 2 D's and an F.

This is a root problem in the black community and I think Dyson missed the mark with his response.
His reply was that society (as a whole) victimizes and mocks intellectuals, and I think that couldn't be farther from the truth.

I think this unwillingness to succeed (or eagerness to self destruct), along with negative self image that plagues many Black people plays a maor role in the problems discussed by Cosby.
 
  • #10
misskitty said:
I've read this over a few times and I still don't understand what this author is exactly getting at.

The core of his message yesterday seemed to be that these are not "black" problems, that they are problems for society as a whole.

I believe the statistics would prove him wrong.
However, stats can always be easily dismissed. I.E. Increased percentages of blacks in prison relates to biased juries.

(I would be interested to hear an explanation for the overwhelmingly unproportionate numbers of fatherless familys in the black community.)
 
  • #11
Tarheel said:
He was a Black man from California (I think) with a teenage son.
His son had been getting straight A's for several years and had just recently begun to be teased about it by his peers.
He was mocked for acting "white" and as a result his last report card included 2 D's and an F.

Sadly, this is not an isolated problem either. 15 years ago, I was hearing the same thing from my African-American classmates about their experiences in high school. Because they got good grades, spoke with proper sentences and good diction, aspired to go to college, they were called "too white" as a derogatory term. When one friend shared this, I was surprised, and then when a group of other black women who were a part of the discussion also chimed in, each with their own example of very similar experiences, I was simply dismayed. How does one overcome a culture where students are mocked for displaying intelligence? Racism in the communities where these women grew up runs deep, so not only are they mocked by their black classmates, they also were discriminated against by their white classmates for being black, so really were quite isolated and alone while in school. They couldn't find a social group where they could fit in, and we all know how important social groups are in high school.

I think people like Bill Cosby should be commended for being bold enough to speak the truth, but also because he is a role model for the black community, someone who can tell the youth that you don't have to be ignorant to be black, and that wherever that aspect of the culture came from, it's time to ditch it and get back on track.

So, what do these students need? They need role models. Throwing money at the schools isn't going to change the culture (though of course some schools could use money, too, to buy more books and update facilities, bring in more teachers, etc.), they need to be exposed to successful members of the black community who can show them that they should be proud of their accomplishments and should strive to succeed, that there's nothing "black" or "white" about getting an education.
 
  • #12
Jazz is "BLACK"

I wanted to address my statement about jazz; while with its multicultural influences, its origins are most certainly in Africa, and its greatest innovators have been "Black" (Louis Armstrong, Lady Day, Miles Davis, Charlie Christian, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, Mc Coy Tyner, Wayne Shorter, Dizzy Gillespie, Wes Montgomery, Ron Carter, Ray Brown, Wynton and Brandford Marsalis, et al). I am a guitarist. In addition to my editing and writing tasks at my production company, I am an in-house session musician (soundtracks).

I do not take away from any of the "White' greats, such qas Bix Biderbeck (sp) or Joe Pass, Barney Kessle, Herb Ellis, Bill Evans, et al. But in their extensive interviews, they too note without any hesitation the "Black" roots of and tributaries of jazz, which such esteemed anthropologists as Zora Neal Hurston have traced back to Africa, particularly the West (Benin, Côte d'ivorie, etc.)

On Jazz history: I would recommend anything by Stanley Crouch (a friend and a grouch, too) or Albert Murray, brilliant intellectuals and deeply versed in Jazz history. The Jazz archives at Lincoln Center and the Schoenberg here in New York (mid-town and Harlem respectively) provide excellent research and scholarly archivalists (with assistance from Columbia, CUNY, NYU, and Fordham).
 
  • #13
Random anecdote - I went to Mardi Gras this past year. On a street corner was a group of black teens -- playing jazz (good jazz). They were dressed like any other inner-city black teens (in Philly, they would have been holding squeegies), but they were playing jazz. It was pretty neat.

edit: another random thought...
They need role models.
I was watching ER last night, and the young, black doctor (who'se name escapes me) went to a party where there were a lot of well dressed (professional looking), young black guys in a nice house. I kinda snickered to myself that it was unrealistic, but then I thought - hey, so what if that isn't the norm. At least it'll provide some positive role models. Maybe some kids will choose to be the rich, young, black doctor instead of the cracked-smoking, jail-hopping gangster rapper that seems to be the typical role model these days.
 
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1. What is "Cosby and the Afristocracy"?

"Cosby and the Afristocracy" is a book written by Dr. Maya Angelou that explores the complexities of race and class within the African American community. It follows the story of a wealthy and influential black family, the Cosbys, as they navigate through their privileged life and confront the harsh realities of racism and discrimination.

2. Is "Cosby and the Afristocracy" based on a true story?

No, "Cosby and the Afristocracy" is a work of fiction. While it may draw inspiration from real-life experiences and societal issues, the characters and events depicted in the book are not based on any specific individuals or events.

3. What themes are explored in "Cosby and the Afristocracy"?

The book delves into themes of race, class, privilege, identity, and the complexities of relationships within the African American community. It also touches on issues such as colorism, internalized racism, and the impact of systemic oppression.

4. How does "Cosby and the Afristocracy" contribute to discussions about race and class?

Through its thought-provoking narrative and well-developed characters, "Cosby and the Afristocracy" sheds light on the nuances and complexities of race and class within the African American community. It encourages readers to critically examine their own biases and perceptions, and to have open and honest discussions about these important issues.

5. What audience is "Cosby and the Afristocracy" intended for?

The book is intended for a wide audience, but particularly for those interested in exploring issues of race, class, and identity. It can also be a valuable read for anyone looking to gain a deeper understanding of the African American experience and the impact of societal structures on individuals and communities.

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