� Welcoming Seal | Main | Visualize Industrial Collapse �

June 07, 2004

'Ist Bombs' to Swallow

There are three words that dainty and sophisticated folks are able to use which putatively disable practically every movement since the Stone Age. You've heard them. They are the unholy trinity of evil ascribed to everyone from Thomas Jefferson on down. Racism. Classism. Sexism.

I would include Colonialism, but that's just a kind of clumping of the other three. Colonialism, in the newspeak is predicated on the arrogance of rich, white men who want to advance upon and possess the bodies, minds and spirits of the poor, the brown and the female. Or so I hear all the time.

This morning Jelani Cobb comments on Cos again over in Africana. His is an interesting piece that makes the last minute concession to the universality of uppityness. It would have been a damn sight better had he thrown in some other characters besides Jerry Springer. After all, not everyone white got cleaned up at the same time. Some of them needed Christ, others of them needed to get off Booze. There have been all kinds of temperance movements in American history and a decent comparison of the many could have given us access to a bit more literature from which to measure the effectiveness of Cosby's career. Instead all we get is the narrow context.

From the Old School perspective, as should be clear by now, Cosby was and is correct. But if the bomb of Classism is to be thrown at his feet, the question is whether it should be absorbed, deflected or disarmed. Me personally, I'm ready to swallow the Classist bomb as part of a daily meal. By now it causes little indigestion. But to do so begs the question of what uplift is all about. I take a simple approach, and say that integration is sufficient to give us the view of the benefits of American life. After that, pursue happiness.

I am as proud of the Civil Rights Movement as anyone. But despite the fact that every playing field hasn't been pressed flat, there are still leg muscles to develop and sprinting to be done. Those of us who are lucky enough (The harder you prepare, the luckier you get) to have legs which can help us bound hurdles (if not tall buildings) should not be ashamed of our progress nor our attitude towards it. But is it inevitable that black progress will entail use of the 'master tools' which brand their users Racist, Sexist & Classist? Well that's the message implied in criticisms of Cosby and of most movements outside of the aegis of the black left.

But specifically to Classist. Yeah, we're Classist. We participate in a system that treats different people different ways. But the very mobility of African Americans demonstrates that the system is open, and whether or not you believe that all blacks who move up a class are tokens or not, their existence cannot be denied. African Americans are graduating from highschool in astounding numbers as compared with 50 years ago, and I take that as absolute proof. Those who crab over black success in the American system need to think more carefully about what they suggest if only because they make fools of themselves by not recognizing those blacks who have passed the bars. Black highschool graduates are not an insignificant minority. We are the majority. And yet to take the Classist criticism to its logical conclusion, there is something wrong with those who have a highschool diploma when they act superior to those without. But what is the left saying about Cosby? He's wrong because the highschool dropout rate is not 50% among all blacks. It's clearly not, we're all doing better. So it is insulting to those blacks who are not dysfunctional.

Let me repeat that in bold: Cosby is insulting to those blacks who are not dysfunctional. So to dismiss Cos you have to assert that most blackfolks are actually possessed of some class mobility - that we're doing better than all that. Well of course we are. But who considers black highschool graduates uppity? Nobody, which is as I said, evidence of the fact that blackfolks are making their own legs work no matter what the angle of the playing field. This is the exact same recognition which will come in every aspect of black life by the ethnic champions. But they need (estimated) numbers not principles.

For those of us who stand on principle and have our uppity aims, we are certain to be targeted with the Classist bomb. Eat it with pride. It's an acquired taste, but you'll eventually find yourself in broad African American company. Those ethnic champions will sing your praises eventually, in the abstract of course. They don't know you, just the statistics.

Posted by mbowen at June 7, 2004 10:19 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


glad to know you read my piece on africana.com. i actually agree with your assertion re: additional context for white disfunctionality (ah, but i'm left with grist for another column down the line.) but i got to call you for your glib dismissal of the ism trinity. ultimately, the point of that piece was not cosby's critique of dysfunctionality, but rather the fact that he was incapable of seeing anyone not precisely like himself as anything BUT dysfunctional.

whatever other points he may have made (most of which were vastly inaccurate anyway) his comments regarding the police were incredibly irresponsible given the long-standing, enduring issue of police violence directed at black people.

but, what the hell. i've been critiqued by a whole lot of people. not many as engaged & eloquent as your riff on the ism game.

jelani c.

Posted by: jelani cobb at June 30, 2004 11:55 AM

I am trying to establish a well-recognized black politics of social power which builds on but remains largely independent from those of civil rights and human rights. I wouldn't say that battles for rights are insignificant, but I do think black attention to it is overburdened.

So Cosby is not, by my lights, irresponsible for not taking up the politics of the oppressed. In fact, I think he would be hypocritical to engage them, for he's not oppressed.

There is a difference, I think, between standing for principles of fairness and minimal standards, and being an activist for specific criminals. I wouldn't begrudge Cos for being against the death penalty but to stand up for Mumia would be a mistake.

Racism, Classism and Sexism are obstacles to middleclass success in America. But if one is to engage a politcs whose aims are raising the socioeconomic status of the race, there are certainly other avenues. I think it is wise for us to continue this debate and open up black politics from the narrow paths it has traditionally taken.

I can't ignore a Cobb, now can I?

Posted by: Cobb at June 30, 2004 12:26 PM