Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"I'm sick of you and your Dyson," Mr. Cosby declared. "Dyson is not a truthful man."

Re-affirming his "G" status, Bill Cosby demonstrated that he "can be a very funny guy, but he does not suffer fools gladly."

Case in point: at a recent "Call Out with Bill Cosby" symposium he responded to a heckler by doing his best G-Unit impression, hovering over the stunned badgerer while calling out University of Pennsylvania Professor Michael Eric Dyson. As background, Dyson's heralded critique of Cosby in his book "Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?" has given Cosby haters a common rallying point, with calls for the two to face off in a celebrity-intellectual critique of the black community.

High drama for sure, but Cosby made it clear that its not something that's likely to happen anytime soon:

That's when Mr. Cosby lost his cool. The 68-year-old former college athlete jumped off the stage, wireless microphone in hand, and raced up the aisle to loom over his somewhat astonished questioner. "I'm sick of you and your Dyson," Mr. Cosby declared. "Dyson is not a truthful man."

In a backstage interview with me and another journalist, Mr. Cosby scoffed at the "elitist" charge coming from Mr. Dyson, a black professor at the ritzy University of Pennsylvania.

"And how much does it cost to go there [to Penn]?" taunted Mr. Cosby, who attended Philadelphia's less-elite-but-still-proud Temple University on a track-and-field scholarship.

"How many black students do they have at Penn?" he continued. If Mr. Dyson taught at a school like the University of the District of Columbia that serves mostly lower-income nonwhites, Mr. Cosby said, "then maybe he could talk."

I find Cosby's comments suspect for a few reasons, primarily because he calls the presence of black academics in "ivory towers" into question. While Cosby's advocacy of higher education among blacks cannot be denied, what do his comments reveal about his attitude toward these ivory towers and the black professors and students who strive to succeed in such competitive academic environments?

Are these students and professors any less "truthful"?

2 comments:

Brother Afrocan said...

Lightness I have to step in and defend Dr. Huxtable. I dont think he is calling black academics into question but he does raise the valid question about whether their perspective is truly representative of the community Bill Cosby was berating.

That said, his arguement can easily be turned against him, if he feels black academics in Ivory towers dont know "whats going down in the streets" then Bill Cosby with his hundreds of millions knows painfully less.

Brother Spotless said...

And in Response:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bal-op.cosby25may25,0,2536599.story?coll=bal-oped-headlines

From the Baltimore Sun

Standing up to Cosby's harsh attacks on poor blacks



By Marc Lamont Hill

May 25, 2006

PHILADELPHIA -- Like the start of baseball season and the end of the school year, Bill Cosby's rants against the black poor are becoming a perennial feature of the impending summer. On the most recent stops along his 18-city "Call Out" tour, Mr. Cosby has reignited controversy by publicly attacking young black men.

While I don't question his love for black people, his recent actions have appeared more venomous than valuable, more condescending than caring and more hateful than helpful.

During a recent speech at the commencement ceremony at the historically black Spelman College in Atlanta, Mr. Cosby further demonized black men by labeling them as people who "send their sperm" but run from being fathers.

In a recent CNN interview, Mr. Cosby criticized black men who would rather "sell drugs than flip burgers."

He completely lost it at the University of the District of Columbia.

According to The Washington Post, Mr. Cosby fielded a question from a disabled man who promptly criticized the "watered-down" nature of the dialogue and invoked the name of Penn State professor Michael Eric Dyson, whose book Is Bill Cosby Right? provided a principled and thorough response to Mr. Cosby's public statements. Mr. Cosby responded by leaving the stage and hovering over the man's wheelchair, haughtily retorting, "You don't deserve an audience with me." He then added, "I'm not afraid of any Mr. Dyson."

Perhaps he should be.

Unlike many black leaders who praised Mr. Cosby's comments, Mr. Dyson has rightly pointed out that Mr. Cosby's claims were both mean-spirited and lacking in nuance.
Unfortunately, Mr. Cosby has not been willing to engage in a public forum with Mr. Dyson or any other leaders who could offer legitimate rejoinders to Mr. Cosby's critically impoverished analysis of the plight of the black poor.
What makes Mr. Cosby's claims so seductive is that they are lightly dipped in truth. Of course, there are black (and white!) men who won't work, who father multiple children and devalue education. To be certain, they should not merely play the "blame game" but should work hard to improve and ultimately overcome their social circumstances.

The problem, however, is that Mr. Cosby's incessant citations of black men's failings, in addition to being overstated, do not acknowledge the structural issues that undermine his gospel of individual responsibility.

In fact, they largely serve to reinforce a public indifference and outright animus toward the black poor that make it more difficult to enact self-help projects.

Instead of merely exhorting poor black men to do better, Mr. Cosby must also identify the social obstructions to individual betterment. Differential prison sentencing, draconian child support policies and subpar schools are just a few of the factors that undermine the life chances of even the most industrious poor black men. Again, this is not an abdication of responsibility but an acknowledgment of reality.
While one could certainly point to Mr. Cosby's extraordinary philanthropy as evidence of his commitment to young black men, such generosity must be accompanied by a critical and equally public analysis of America's own culpability in our social plight. Otherwise, as other scholars have pointed out, we are allowing his monetary donations to serve as intellectual hush money.
One hopes that more black leaders will have the courage and vision to begin standing up and challenging Mr. Cosby. More important, I hope Mr. Cosby and his supporters will begin to listen.