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May 24, 2004

The 'Black' Problem

I've had a little time to reflect on what I think manifested itself this week in the controversy over Cosby. Professor Kim has the most detailed analysis I've seen.

As I've said before, there is a battle for the soul of blackness itself. There is no singular black leadership, and no particular need for one. So into that vacuum are a number of contingent groups trying to own black. I'm certainly a partisan in that representing what I call the Old School. There are many ways of breaking out the groups of African Americans, and I'm not the first to suggest that our class boundaries are somewhat different that those of the mainstream. Still, I tend to think class, as it's generally understood, is an adequate explaination. Nevertheless I am also compelled to note the way a form of anti-black prejudice takes in these battles.

By any standard Bill Cosby is an extraordinary man. People tend to forget that his book, Fatherhood, was a huge success. Cosby stood in the late 80s as one of the lone exemplars of the urban professional who was not just an old ex-yuppie. A man with his share of triumphs and tragedies, Cosby was America's Dad. He was the man who famously told Eddie Murphy to chill on the profanity, even when the whole country was laughing along with Eddie. He's a great promoter of college education and has been, for as long as I can remember, a big patron of the Penn Relays. I could go on, but I'll let AARP do some talking. Notably:

Cosby has also been a major contributor to education over the years. In 1989, he set a philanthropy record by awarding $20 million to Spelman College, an African-American liberal arts school for women outside Atlanta. The majority of the gift was used for construction of the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Academic Center, in honor of his wife of nearly 40 years, who also holds a doctorate in education and continues to support the cause. The remainder funded a Cosby-endowed professorship in the arts.

So what is it that causes ordinary blackfolks to take umbrage at the statements of this extraordinary man? Beyond the partisan fight, I believe that there is a prejudice that this black man cannot be that correct. By what authority does any black man tell others how to live?

I am reacting, of course, to some black liberal reactions I have seen on the 'net calling Cosby a sellout and worse. Dyson calling him ignorant is piece of unreality I find hard to swallow, but I'm sure Dyson can figure a way to fast-talk his way out of that. But I'm also reacting to the white conservative reactions which have popped up. They are two sides of the same coin. Black liberals are astonished at the nerve of a black man who dares to criticize dysfunctional blacks. White conservatives are astonished at the nerve of a black man who dares criticize dysfunctional blacks. The fundamental agreement between these groups is disbelief, both undercutting Cosby with anti-black prejudice. One from the perspective that he can't be trusted from now on the other from the perspective that he couldn't be trusted until now. And yet, from the perspective of conservative and successful black families, there's nothing new in Cosby's utterances. Indeed one black blogger noted that the only interesting thing about the whole dustup was that Cosby said it and not his mom.

Of course none of this would matter if it weren't for the fact that Dr. Cosby is right. But it is a significant indicator of the political difficulties conservative, well educated and economically successful African Americans will have simply speaking the truth they know, as shifting political opinions to the left and right stare in disbelief. Be that as it may, we in the Old School can once again take comfort in the words of DuBois.

Posted by mbowen at May 24, 2004 07:22 AM

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Cobb, Dyson and the Black Class Divide from Professor Kim's News Notes
Cobb continues the discussion about the flap over Bill Cosby's call for a return to old-time black values at last week's Brown v. Board of Education Gala in Washington D.C. with a rejoinder to Prof. Michael Eric Dyson's criticism of the Cos, quoted i... [Read More]

Tracked on May 26, 2004 09:36 AM

Bill Cosby on Tavis Smiley's TV Show Tonight from Move the Crowd
Another 'set your TiVo' alert. Bill Cosby will be on Tavis Smiley's show tonight (it also airs tomorrow afternoon here in Atlanta) discussing his recent comments that got everybody up in arms: The legendary Bill Cosby addresses the controversy over... [Read More]

Tracked on May 26, 2004 11:37 AM

Cobb Calls Cosby Correctly from American Digest
A rare image of Booker T. Washington speaking in 1881. Found at: Cobb. Click to enlarge. NOT ONLY HAS MICHAEL BOWEN got good insights into Iraq (see below), he's also got the best wrap-up on the Bill Cosby speech of last week in :Cobb: The 'Black' Pro... [Read More]

Tracked on May 27, 2004 09:47 AM