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June 04, 2005

Karenga, Elijah Muhammed and Bill Cosby

Americans seem to have lost the belly for creating the new man. Anytime we try to determine the value of Emmitt Till's remains or the integrity of a story leaked a generation ago, it means we are more conservative than progressive. It's not a bad idea this conservatism, but it's also not exciting.

What was exciting was the creation of the Black Man and the Black Woman, beyond the age of the Negro and out of the Negro Problem. It shouldn't be surprising that at the base of the radicalism that help create that consciousness is the root of a new vision for African America. What is surprising is the direction it is coming from.

Elijah Muhammed, founder and high priest of the Nation of Islam asked in his 'Message to the Blackman' one fundamental, disturbing and radical question. It boils down to this. What has Christianity done for Africans in America? He provoked every Negro to ask himself whether or not Christianity was truly liberating or did it stand in the way of the Negro's freedom. It upset the status quo by begging a question. If you want to get from here to there, you need to analyze the value of your current position with the Christian Church.

Elijah wasn't the only one pulling back the covers of Negro identity in search of a new existential model. Atheist, communist and socialist intellectuals were all about that too. Somewhere in that bucket fell the founder of United Slaves, Ron Karenga. As far as his group was concerned religion itself was in the way, not just the Christian Church, but all churches, mosques and synagogues. Culture had to rule with a capital C. African culture goosed along with celebrations gleaned, improvised, recast and refined for the Negro was to be the vehicle. Was American bougie culture liberating? Evaluate your current position, said Karenga.

If these can be seen as two legs of a stool, clearly what's left is politics. I say today's black conservatives are the only ones who are boldly and fundamentally challenging the status quo of the majority of today's African Americans.

It might seem odd to suggest that conservatives are radical. After all, conservatism means perservering against chaos, instability and wishful thinking. But Islam and West African culture weren't invented by Elijah Muhammed or Ron Karenga. They were merely appropriated and tweaked to be oriented to the lives of African Americans in order to move them out of their positions of comfort into a vision of a new order.

Whether or not anyone wants it to be, Bill Cosby is the lightning rod of this new provocation. What he has started, like John the Baptist, is now a permanent part of our history. All the debate for the future of African American politics and identity starts with Cosby. This is something I perceived even before his fateful comments, and it is why early on in my quest to sharpen the focus of black conservative politics, I reached out to Joseph C. Phillips. It is why I very seriously considered calling what I refer to as the 'Old School Republicans' the 'Cosby Show Republicans'.

The die is cast. It is not a simple matter of 'black' any longer. You must decidedly speak to culture, class and politics. Cosby is henceforth embedded as a talking point, someone on whose attitude and opinion credible thinkers must give the thumbs up or down. His opinion is not new, nor groundbreaking, but it is seminal and it is exposed. The exposure is new and it must be reckoned with in all public discussions from here foreward. We owe something of that to Michael Eric Dyson, but from here on out he has sealed the fate that black liberals and progressives cannot and will not have the last word.

Cosby is Old School. He is conservative and traditional. He exemplifies our own paleoconservatism with regard to his dubious escapades with women. The dirty laundry on Cos is that there is something irresistable about knockout women. That is why he is alleged to have used a lot of knockout drops on them in the past. Be all that as it may, he drops the hammer on his political foes with regard to this one undeniable set of values. He updates our sense of the integrity of the politics and ideology of racial integration. Cosby is taking the high bourgie road. More power to him.

When Cosby excoriates on the matter of self-respect and what it is that the unwashed Forty Percent do to bring themselves down, he is not being irresponsible. He is personifying the very thing that blacks with middle class values all claim, which is the value of higher education and the character of the collegian.

Today, what most (middle class) Americans respect about blackfolks is the degree to which we share (middle class) values. These issues and values are undeniably central because whether you are a black liberal, black progressive or black conservative, you still talk about the same issues. Education, Work, Family, Crime, Health Care. Cosby put his money where his mouth is, and sent many millions to the traditional black colleges in Atlanta. Nobody on any side of the debate expects those 'who weren't holding up their end of the bargain' to waltz into college. Cosby represents the sentinel at the gateway to the American college educated middle class. No foul mouths. No teenage parents. No drug addicts. No thugs. No thieves. No dropouts. No slackers. No exceptions. Everyone, black, white, foreign and domestic knows those rules and very few question them. It's no more assimilationist than any foreign exchange student's visa. It's Old School and it's right.

At some point in the future, there may be a Michele Wallace to put the undeniable mojo on the fatal flaws of Karenga, Muhammend and Cosby. Somebody has to have the last academic word on the effects these clear shortcomings have on the acceptability of their respective messages. But that will not the center of gravity of their legacies, but what they provoked us all to consider.

As one on the progressive end of the Old School, I have my differences with Cosby, but I consider him fundamentally right. His ideological attitude will be found in greater and louder numbers in the future as conservative blacks come out of the closet. All the laundry is out folks. Have at it.

Note to Dyson: The black middle class hasn't lost its mind. The black liberal elite has simply lost its monopoly.

Posted by mbowen at June 4, 2005 12:09 PM

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Funny how you want to "claim" him as being a conservative, yet when his wife said the killer of their son learned American style racism, it was the conservative commentators who went to town on her and him. Remember when he supported Tawana Brawley?

Or his support of the Rainbow Coalition? Or the NAACP?

Posted by: DarkStar at June 4, 2005 01:35 PM

Man your are right on point!

Posted by: WestCoastGOP at June 4, 2005 01:56 PM

Brawley isn't policy. You could be anywhere you want to be on that issue and it doesn't mean anything.

It's perfectly predictable that Cosby was supportive of the Rainbow Coalition and the NAACP. They are both pro-integrationist and all about middle class college educated values. Sure both have fallen off, but the real points on Cosby are not focused on that. I could be wrong because I'm not reading from Dyson's playbook, but we could go through this point by point.

There are two points to be made here which is Cosby and his end of the black middle class are going to continue to get more press and the ideological divide between him and Dyson is real. It's not going to be a carbon copy of mainstream liberal vs conservative but it is liberal vs conservative nonetheless, especially when it comes down to the terms of the Culture Wars.

I know that there are basically three pieces to black politics, progressive, liberal and conservative and I think people should come correct from their direction when criticizing Cosby. Dyson sets up a false dichotomy of the Black Middle Class vs the unwashed Forty Percenters when he presents Cosby as wrong. That's because Dyson's point of view, decidedly liberal-left is not being up front about that. Dyson expects to be THE black elite, and he can't afford us all. That's what I'm trying to set straight here.

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 4, 2005 03:13 PM

Part of Coz's criticism was that the Black middle class wasn't doing its part, as well as the Black lower class. That seems to get missed in the mix.

I'm still trying to get a handle on the "progressive" stuff, so I can't say a thing about the three components you listed. I agree that Dyson set up a false dichotomy. He's been doing it for a bit.

I'm a bit tired of it all really.

Posted by: DarkStar at June 4, 2005 03:32 PM

Ever notice that it is only the liberal, intellectual negroes who come out to refute any criticism that attacks black people who engage in irresponsible behavior? If it isn't someone citing white people's fear of genetic annihilation as a cause of racist oppression then its another who says that the black middle class "has lost its mind." You never hear anyone from among the group of black folks that are being criticized. For once I'd like to hear a gangbanger publicly explain why he committed that drive by near a middle school or why that 17 year old girl who lives in the projects just had to have that second child with a different father. Thank you Bill Cosby for finally saying the things that many black folks of all social strata say among themselves. Oh yeah, and thank you Michael Eric Dyson for being yet another negro intellectual who is out of step and out of touch with the practical reality of most black people.

Posted by: Al from Bay Shore at June 4, 2005 06:22 PM

You never hear anyone from among the group of black folks that are being criticized.

Because no media ever goes to them.

Think about this: the popular Black conservative pundits have as much in stake in "Black pathologies" as does the "Black liberal race and poverty pimps".

To date, I haven't read any media attacks on Dyson that have stood up for the Black middle class.

Not one. If I'm wrong, show me and I'll retract.

But, to me, that says something, especially when the data is out there that shows the Black middle class "gives back".

Posted by: DarkStar at June 5, 2005 08:14 AM

My opinion about Mr. Cosby's comments has "flip flopped" for some time now. At first I nodded my head in agreement. Then I took a deeper look into the way Cosby delivered his speech and his possible motivations. Although I still agree with his words, I am not longer so sure that he meant well. What strikes me, and I think you pointed this out in your post, is that he made it a class-based attack. He was not speaking to "blacks" he was talking to "poor blacks". He didn't send his message in a stern yet compassionate tone, he was talking down like a parent to a child. I couldn't put my finger on it for the longest time until I came across Mr. Dyson being interviewed on a news station. I believe Cosby, at that moment, was more concerned with dissassociating himself from poor blacks than helping poor blacks. It's the "Im not like those blacks over there" mentality. That is why the delivery does not sit well with me. I don't believe we have come this far by being divided along class lines. It use to be "our" problems that "we" needed to fix. However, Cosby made it a middle class v. lower class battle and the media loved it. Who wins when we are divided like this? Those who stand up to become black leaders should work with the communities to come up with solutions that all blacks can be a part of but I don't think we will get far turning our backs on one another according to who makes more money and who has less. Who are middle class black people trying to prove themselves to when they dissassociate themselves from poor blacks?

Posted by: Black Ambition at June 5, 2005 04:10 PM

What other people on the planet have given us the example of demonstrating their morality by sacrificing their wealth to placate their poor? In other words, why is it that black middle class people have this unique and special burden placed on them to spend all of their time helping out the poor, criminal and dysfunctional just because they have the same skin color?

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 5, 2005 04:17 PM

Mike, Jewish people.

Posted by: DarkStar at June 5, 2005 05:47 PM

What Jewish people where?

Posted by: Cobb [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 5, 2005 07:23 PM

Let me be more specific. The American Civil Rights Movement was a gift to the world. It essentially allowed everyone who was willing to sell out, to sell out. Not only here but in every constitutional democracy. We raised the standard. But the Civil Rights movement was never designed to raised a criminal class, or an untouchable class to social equality. I am being extreme here, but at some level you have to admit that there is some class of people that Civil Rights cannot help. Some segment of the population falls exactly where Cosby says they do, and I say he has a valid class gripe.

Posted by: Anonymous at June 5, 2005 09:35 PM

Jewish people in the U.S., especially during the time when they were fighting for Soviet Jewery. I think that was the phrase I saw a lot in the late 70s, early 80s in heavily populated Jewish areas in and around Baltimore.

Posted by: DarkStar at June 6, 2005 03:15 PM

I'm not suggesting middle class blacks must help the poor. Nor did I say anything about sacrificing wealth. There is no obligation at all Cobb.

There are those who want to help and those who do not want to help. For those who *want* to help, dividing us up among class won't solve any problems. The reality is that there will always be a certain amount of poverty in each group. This is the way of capitalism. However, there is a greater amount of poverty and an abundance of social issues in our community because historical and current socioeconomic variables.

With that said, black people must solve their own problems regardless of where the problems derived, because we can't hold our breath waiting for justice.

But talking down to poor blacks will lead no where. It only allows the black middle class to feel better about themselves and raise their standing in the eyes of those white people who are equally inclined to chastise blacks. Where is the solution in that?

Posted by: Black Ambition at June 8, 2005 11:52 AM