Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cosby is Right Again

Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint have come out with Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors. I have not read the book yet. I did, though, see Cosby and Poussaint's presentation on "Meet the Press." Cosby says that the terrible condition of African-Americans today is due to black family failures at least as much as it is due to systemic racism. In fact, I think the logic of his position means that black family weaknesses have more to do with African-American troubles than racism does.

Cosby has been criticized for not putting most of the blame on structural racism. Cosby's reply is that in the past -- the 1950s for example -- institutional racism was much worse, yet black families were stronger and the self-inflicted wounds of the black community were not as bad as they are now.

Cosby's argument on this point seems to me unassailable.

12 comments:

Andy said...

I wish more like Cosby would speak out.

benny said...

He is like a black Serpico. We need more Muslim Serpicos too.

Paul said...

An interesting story related to this...

Back in 2004 Michael Newby, a 19 year old African-American man, was shot by Metro Louisville Police officer McKenzie Mattingly during a botched drug deal touching off serious issues in Louisville regarding race.

In the tense weeks after the shooting, Bill Cosby came to Louisville as a stop on a national tour (I can't remember if it was stand-up comedy or a spoken-word presentation). Local African-American leaders asked Dr. Cosby to speak about the shooting while he was in town. I don't know exactly what everyone expected him to say, but he certainly did not say anything near what was expected.

Cosby completely side-stepped the entire issue of whether Newby was shot because of his race (the question which local media was drilling and, I assumed, the question he was expected to address) and asked why a 19 year-old was in front of a liquor store at 3am buying drugs with a gun in his waist band and "where were his parents?" He went on to give a 30-45 minute speech about the decline of the family unit in black America and how it has lead to events like this one.

I don't think ANYONE in the audience was ready for that... and (strangely) I never heard anything about it on the news.

Carla said...

It is never wrong to point out and criticize self-destructive behaviors. What's interesting about Cosby and those in his a-men corner though, is that most do not live in the neighborhoods of which they speak. Many have never interacted with the people of whom they speak. Yet they are 100% sure, not only of their critique but their right to take part in the conversation. Why is that? Cosby is not saying anything new. Walk into any black barbershop, church or salon and hear the same complaints but you'd only know this if you lived in a black neighborhood or had black friends. Cosby's crusade leaves me with many questions, in particular, Why include mainstream white America in his conversation re: destructive behavior among lower income blacks? Why not show the lower-income men or women who are, in Cosby's eyes, doing the right thing? (I live in Brooklyn; they exist) Folks at every income level partake in self-destructive behavior. The difference is in how quickly you'll fall and how much more difficult it is to right oneself if you are poor, regardless of your race. At the end of Cosby's and Poussaint's media run, here's how lower-income blacks will be helped--not at all. Comment is free though.

Gruntled said...

Paul: You are right that the Louisville Cosby story got no press -- I certainly would have remembered it. Thanks for passing it on.

Carla: I don't know Alvin Poussaint's story, but Bill Cosby "do not live in the neighborhoods of which they speak" because he worked his way out of it, by education, by work, and especially by a solid marriage. You are right that folks at every income level partake of destructive behavior. Cosby and Poussaint are pointing out the distinctive form of self-destructive behavior of African Americans. Most importantly, they start from the fact that 70% of black children are born out of wedlock. No other group in America comes close to that number.

Carla said...

What's distinctive, really, about the self-destructive behaviors of lower-income African-Americans when compared to the self-destructive behaviors of other lower-income populations?

Cosby never worked his way out of a neighborhood like Compton in the 1980s or the South Bronx or Houston's 5th Ward in the 1990s. The conditions of Cosby's youth and the conditions of mine, even my parents', are very different. Learned behavior varies according to the environment in which you're raised, live and aspire to. Cosby and those of his generation were most certainly not raised in the same environment as the blacks that he complains about.

Although there are problems with the implied conclusion that marriage--never mind what kind--equals stable children, I would never defend a 70% out of wedlock birthrate. Stats without context, as that one frequently appears, don't make sense to me though. So here's some: Marriage rates for all Americans are down and out of wedlock births are up across the board. America is moving toward the European model of "shacking up," as my mother would say. Why is not relevant to our conversation. What is relevant is that social trends always skew worse among the worse off. Why is Cosby (or other invested party) not talking about lower income black issues in this context? Why speak about that out of wedlock figure devoid of context? Unless the context is that poor black people are continual F-ups, look how they can't get it together? (As an aside, did you know that teen births among blacks have dropped significantly? I don't know why though.)

The self-destructive behaviors of poor blacks are of special interest to me because of my background. And I can guess that there're a special case to Cosby because of his Civil Rights past, continued support of education among blacks, the responsibility he feels as an elder, etc. What I don't understand is why the self-destructive behaviors of poor blacks are a special case to the rest of America.

I just had a thought... wouldn't it be great to form a national elder committee? Or a Teach for America for aging Americans? Great way to tap the wisdom and energy of these aging boomers. Problem is: does our culture have enough respect for the aging to listen?

Gruntled said...

Sure, all social trends skew worse among the worst off. The marriage rate is low, and the out-of-wedlock rate is high, among all poor people. But both are much worse now among African Americans than they are among other poor people. And they did not used to be much worse -- the black marriage rate was the same as the white rate in the '50s (though the non-marital birth rate was already higher). And the out-of-wedlock birth rate for non-poor African Americans is also much higher than it is for other groups.

Cosby is talking about a cultural change specific to black Americans that can only be undone by another cultural change specific to black Americans.

Carla said...

A cultural change specific to black Americans.... Hmm, I'm not sure what to do with that. What does that mean?

Gruntled said...

Carla: As you rightly note, the marriage rate is down in America in general. Among African Americans, though, it seems to have passed a tipping point, where having children without marriage is now the norm. This is what Cosby and Poussaint are trying to reverse.

Anonymous said...

Carla' attitude is part of the problem. If white's talk about "black" problems they are called racist. I blacks talk about "black" problems they are called Oreos or are said to be out of touch with real black people.That attitude leads to throwing money at the problems but never really addressing them.

Carla said...

Anonymous, ask questions before assuming that's my attitude. I'll demand the same of myself too. People have been talking about what poor black folk need for decades but here's why I think the conversation always devolves, and I'll speak for me alone. Blacks do not trust whites to talk about so-called "black" problems, nor do they trust each other. Neither, in my opinion, have learned to distinguish when something is a "black" problem and when it is an "American" problem. Young black men have been languishing for decades, such that 1/3 of YBMs of my generation (I'm 30)has a criminal record, but that is defined by both blacks and whites as a "black" problem. Huh? From my vantage point, whites are selective about which so-called "black" issues peak their interest... so all the culture stuff, yes. But, mass incarceration, lack of employment, poor schooling, no. There's choice going on here, on both sides of that fault line. For those speaking from the supposed liberal and conservative positions, Why choose one set of issues over the other when *both* are valid? Why is it so difficult to merge the two? Bill Cosby speaks to America as though it's on the same page as he, as though it's also invested--and I use that word on purpose--in what happens to the black poor. America doesn't particularly care about the poor, period, so forgive my doubt when I hear it talking about the black poor. And I have to ask questions because this "black poor conversation" necessitates a constant definition of terms. For example, while I agree with gruntled's call for a cultural revolution from within black America, what does he mean? If he is a white man, is his call for a cultural revolution within black America the same as my own? I ask the same of other blacks so I have to ask the same of a non-black. I'm frustrated because I've watched people who look like me, who are as smart, have as much to offer, succumbing to their circumstances. I feel urgency. Does the rest of America feel that urgency? If not, I'd rather it not offer an opinion and keep it movin'. These are not mere talking points nor pontificating. If you're genuinely interested, better yet, invested, then ask questions. I disagree with how he makes his points, but I think Cosby is invested. I think a lot of people who're talking in the wake of his TV book tour, are not.

Anonymous said...

Carla,
It looks as if you are guilty of assuming things too. You say that America doesn't particularily care about the poor. Again you assume that many talking about the Cosby tour are not invested. You are playing the race card and that's not fair. Consider the amount of our tax dollars go to the poor. Add to that the enormous amount that churches spend on the poor. You might well get off of you high horse and show at least a little appreciation.