What Black People Like (JUST KIDDING)
April 11, 2008 6:23 PM   Subscribe

The Cosby Conservatism Conundrum Proving that the new "dialogue" on race has five, six, maybe seven sides. No more pudding pops for you...
posted by wendell (26 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Statistically related.
posted by wendell at 6:24 PM on April 11, 2008

Good article, I read it just last week in the good ole' fashioned paper version.
That, and...Go Cosby.
posted by tgrundke at 6:45 PM on April 11, 2008

Michael Eric Dyson's Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost its Mind? is an excellent book on this subject.
posted by box at 6:49 PM on April 11, 2008

wendell writes "Statistically related."

That's a lot of stats for an article, but none did impress me much.

For instance, take the graph of unemployement among dropouts ; the increase un employment could be easily caused by circumstance that have zilch to do about being black; or in a parallel, if we were to find out that black people indeed live into "ghettos" , in the sense that their familiar relationships or income guided or forced them over the time to live in some area, then we could explain the relative increase of unemployement with circumstantial factors such as closing of factories/employement.

The unfortunate way these article are usually written tends to suggest some people that color of skin causes problems, whereas it is obvious that in a population in which the population is predominantly of one color (regardless of which one) the effect of some trouble may affect an entire minority, making it look as if the whole minory has a problem because of being a minority.
posted by elpapacito at 7:07 PM on April 11, 2008

I was talking about the problem of black success with my wife a few days ago. I'm white, she's black. She teaches English at a local high school, and is often frusturated. There is a subculture within the black community that rejects education, that considers it to be a form of submission, that classifies any black person who dilligently seeks education and intellectual development as an Oreo [1]. To the people who subscribe to that subculture, education, success, etc are symbols of insufficient blackness and therefore rejects the whole thing.

The competing subculture is the one espoused by Cosby, one which says "no, damnit, being black doesn't mean being ignorant; education isn't white!"

We cannot ignore the role of economy and history in the formation of the rejectionist subculture. Because racism isn't dead, rather it lives on in everyone, and that produces a racist superculture. This fact, that everyone contains racism, is often difficult to talk about because the accusation being racist has, in an amazingly short time, gone from being perfectly acceptable to being one of the ultimate social slurs.

I argue that containing racism and being racist are two separate things. We absorb racism from infancy onward becuase it continues to persist in our culture, we cannot avoid it. Those of us who wish to be good people attempt to exorcise it, to surpress it, to cure ourselves of it, but to speak honestly about race requires us to acknowledge the existence of racism, and how we have internalized it. Subconsious racism often influences people who are not consiously racist, and indeed, who consider racism repugnant.

I should mention that internalized racism is by no means limited to white people. Blacks absorb it as well, of course. Worse, blacks get at least two mutually conflicting doses of racism: racism against blacks and racism against whites. One of the most common causes of death among black men is other black men, a fact which contributes greatly to problems within the black community, and has direct bearing on the split between the Cosby endorsed subculture and the rejectionist subculture.

To return to the two competing subcultures in the black community, I think it is important to realize that the rejectionist subculture did not evolve in a vacuum. It is a response to the reality of racial strife in America. The fact is that it is *harder* for a black person to succeed. The economic opportunities available to black Americans are more rare than those available to white Americans, especially in the inner city. Worse, especially following the civil rights movement though continuing today, even those blacks who have fought for success in the white man's world [2] often do not get acceptance in that world.

Therefore one possible response is to simply say fuck it, and declare that success, as defined by the majority white society, simply isn't worth persuing. Not only do black folks have to work harder to get that success when they succeed they're still jerked around, so why bother? Better to show your contempt for the whole game, and for any black person stupid enough to try to please whitey.

I don't argue that the above argument is the only cause for the rise of the rejectionist subculture, but I think it is greatly contributory. Why be a burgerflipper when you can make much more money in the illegal pharmaceutical trade? The fact that a low level person in the drug trade actually makes quite a bit less than minimum wage gets obscured by the glamor of those at the top, or even in middle management positions.

I don't like the embrace of patriarchy and homophobia among the Cosby crowd, the none too subtle death threat against homosexuals in the first few paragraphs does not leave me feeling warm and fuzzy towards Mr. Cosby. Still, its better than the nihilism of the rejectionist subculture, and its hardly as if the rejectionists are any less misogynist and homophobic. In either subculture being a woman or homosexual is to immediately be not only undervalued, but often see as having negative value.

I think that one of the ways that the rejectionist subculture can be defeated is to continue as we have, to keep chipping away at institutional racism, to make it easier for blacks to succeed, and to make successful blacks more accepted and welcome in the majority culture. To do that we have to address our own internalized, subconsious, racism, because institutional racism only exists when individuals allow it to.

[1] For any international readers, Oreo brand cookies are made of two black chocolate flavored cookies with a white frosting filling in between. Oreo, therefore is a racial slur exclusively directed at black Americans by other black Americans: "black on the outside, white on the inside".

[2] And I use "man's" deliberately, black women not only get institutional racism, but also institutional sexism working against them.
posted by sotonohito at 7:19 PM on April 11, 2008 [31 favorites]

What'chu talkin' 'bout Wendell?
posted by Balisong at 7:30 PM on April 11, 2008

I don't think any of what Cosby talks about is especially unique to African-American, although is expression may be unique. It's just that the repercussions are greater. The percentage of blacks in prison is not the result of rap music. It is because poor people tend to commit violent street crime, and tend toward dealing and using street drugs, which are popular targets for police and tend to have higher sentences. And black are disproportionately poor. It's the legacy of institutionalized racism, and this message that Cosby preaches has leaked out into the white community in a really disturbing way.

You'd be amazed at the number of whites who show up on message boards any time there is a crime committed by an African-American, demanding that the black community, collectively, bear responsibility, and complaining about gangster rap, baby's mommas, absent fathers, and a get-mine-now philosophy that they claim is endemic to the black community. In the meanwhile, when whites commit crime, nobody shows up and demands that whites in general take responsibility. Nobody says it is white culture at fault, with its love of Chuck Norris jokes, it's obsession with violent video games, and its love of death metal. Cosby's comments are directed at a segment of the black community, and they are fair; whites use those comments as a club against the entire black community, and twist it into simply more racist code.

I do agree with Cosby that a lot of solutions for problems faced by the black community need to be addressed by the community itself. I just don't see the government really having any impetus to tackle the enormous issues that race presents, especially when so many white Americans are blind to any racism at all and earnestly believe we live in a post-racism society (I think that's why Cosby's message is so appealing to them; it gives them the chance to lay the fault for endemic and institutionalized racism at the feet of black people.) People are barely willing to commit tax money to things we need, or that they think we need. Try to talk them into supporting tax expenditures on things they don't even believe exists.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:52 PM on April 11, 2008 [7 favorites]

The Cosby stuff really bothers me. I don't think he's aware enough of his audience (for example, the entire world, not just the black men sitting before him). I lived with Fox News watching (nay, TiVoing) Republicans for a few years and they love that shit.

They have a log cabin republican friend that serves the purpose of reinforcing that gays are bad. Sure, he is gay, but he tells them all about bug chasers and so they act as if bug chasers represent some real majority among gay people. Same with this Cosby speech. Black guy saying it reinforces that it's okay to say what they already think and say. Which, don't get me wrong, is not the same tone or message Cosby is striking, but close enough to act as reinforcement.

Very sad making.
posted by birdie birdington at 7:55 PM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I can't even reach the question as to whether Cosby is "right" because he annoys me so much. Here's the thing about Bill Cosby - Bill Cosby didn't follow one single rule of success, and he is so especially and gloriously gifted that he has become successful despite every choice he made as a young man. Bill Cosby did not "stay in school". Cosby dropped out of high school. Later, when he got 'round to it, he was admitted to college on an athletic scholarship. He dropped out again. He then pursued a career as a stand up comic - the longest shot ever, right? He succeeded there, too. And then acting, and more degrees, and eventually he became a household name with a gold house and a rocket car.
Maybe if he phrased things differently, I would, at core, have no disagreement with him. I certainly admire the man. But for him to give lecture after lecture mocking young men for dreaming that they can be professional athletes and rappers is... well, it's factually correct, but it's profoundly unfair because he is the worst possible example. It's the exact equivalent of someone winning the lottery, and then returning to the old neighborhood to say "you know why you're poor? you buy lottery tickets! Don't you get that that's an idiot tax?"
Yes it's true. But coming from someone who won the lottery, it's loathsome.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:28 PM on April 11, 2008 [9 favorites]

sotonohito, my wife, a 10th-grade history teacher, tells much the same story.

Strangely enough, she seems to get good response out of some of the students that other teachers have the most problems with. She is VERY strict and disciplined, but compassionate. Once they fall in line with the discipline (and some never do), they are often wowed that a small pastie-white woman actually believes in them... and not in a dumbed-down way. She somehow figures out how to relate to them person to person, and that is something they are just not used to getting from an authority figure. Unfortunately, her method is one of constant adjustment- reading and responding to her students, and adjusting constantly to the learning style that works the best for the greatest number. Although she's a lead teacher, she cannot train others in her method; the best she can do is coach them to find their own style that works for them.
posted by Doohickie at 8:40 PM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh. I assumed this was about a reunion between Bill Cosby and George Bush.
posted by homunculus at 9:31 PM on April 11, 2008

being a cranky, out-of-touch, hypocritical old man doesn't really have that much to do with race or class.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:40 PM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I guess I don't see how these two things have to oppose each other. Can't it be both. Yes, ripping people away from their families, neighbors, and culture into a horrible life of slavery, followed by poverty and racism just might have something to do with the resulting culture of resignation and rejection.

But that doesn't mean that creating and encouraging a culture of education, self-worth, and self-determination, in addition to combatting racism and inequality of education and employment isn't a good solution.

I'm with Cosby on this one. The author clearly doesn't get it.
posted by eye of newt at 11:07 PM on April 11, 2008

I liked his earlier stuff better.
posted by hal9k at 6:48 AM on April 12, 2008

Too many people are mired in victim-hood, some of them black. When it takes on a life of its own as described by sotonohito, with peer pressure to conform to the victim-hood, it damages the community. Cosby is right. There is a real basis for the victim-hood, but even if you are a victim you have to fight to overcome that. An individual may fight, lose and give up. That's sad but that's life. But when they conspire to prevent others from fighting, almost as if the success of those others would even further depress them, then that is beyond sad. None of this is saying the broader society does not bear a responsibility to help pull the black community out of poverty, they do. The unfortunate truth about the anti-education theme in many black youth, that it is a fool's game, is that so often they are right. Even with the education you can be so screwed. The other kids know this and the theme gains traction. That doesn't mean that Cos' is wrong though. This is also not a new message for him. He was giving the be black, be proud, be educated talks back in the early seventies. God bless him.
posted by caddis at 6:55 AM on April 12, 2008

bugchasing? jeebus fark.
posted by quonsar at 7:23 AM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

The author clearly doesn't get it.

eye of newt, did you read the article? The author clearly does get the point you're making and addresses it explicitly, for example here:

"If Cosby’s call-outs simply ended at that—a personal and communal creed—there’d be little to oppose. But Cosby often pits the rhetoric of personal responsibility against the legitimate claims of American citizens for their rights. He chides activists for pushing to reform the criminal-justice system, despite solid evidence that the criminal-justice system needs reform."
posted by creasy boy at 8:25 AM on April 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

We tax-paying whities don't have the right to say "Cosby is right" until blacks in this country have equal if not superior public infrastructure -- hospitals, community centers, preschools, elementary schools, middle schools, vocational schools, high schools, and community colleges.

Cosby may be right but so the fuck what. Talk is cheap. Action is required. I'm not holding my breath.
posted by tachikaze at 10:02 AM on April 12, 2008

There is a subculture within the black community that rejects education, that considers it to be a form of submission, that classifies any black person who dilligently seeks education and intellectual development as an Oreo

Anti-intellectualism and rejection of anyone who actually tries to learn anything as some kind of kiss-up or traitor is hardly unique to black teenagers, believe me. The particular manifestation of anti-intellectualism among black youth may have its own unique characteristics, but at its core, it's the same "well look here folks, we got ourselves a READER!" idiocy.

The Cosby stuff really bothers me. I don't think he's aware enough of his audience (for example, the entire world, not just the black men sitting before him).

That's one of the main reasons he was so widely pilloried for his "pound cake" speech. Many black people didn't necessarily disagree with what he was saying, but rather that he said it in a public way that could be, and has been, used by white racists to reinforce their prejudices. Cosby is now #2 on the list after Chris Rock as the go-to guys to use to justify racism in polite company.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:46 PM on April 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Great article, thanks.

I was the lone white guy in a course called Rap and African-American Culture when Cosby gave the "Pound Cake" speech, and it was really kind of an odd experience seeing the range of responses. The teacher, Melvin Peters, was a fiery Last-Poets style orator who espoused many of the same arguments that Cosby had made, especially regarding the role of black men (and much to the chagrin of more than a few classmates who had taken the class for an easy A), but rather viciously mocked Cosby's knowledge of rap or the archetypes of black oral culture. Peters fell much further onto the black nationalist side, though he wanted to embrace the socialism of the left too.

At the same time, I was taking my Editorial Writing class with a guy that we called Pudding Pops because he was a muddled old black man who sounded like Cosby-as-Cliff-Huxtable, though he was a total socialist too. But his class was weird because he wanted to lecture us on how the media was ignoring Cosby, even though he disagreed with Cosby and the media (it seemed to me) was pretty actively reporting Cosby's speeches.

I was such a race tourist that term.
posted by klangklangston at 4:30 PM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like to imagine what America would look like if black and Hispanic cultures valued educational achievement as much as Jewish and Asian cultures. The fact that there's no stereotype of the pushy black mother insisting that her black son become a doctor or a lawyer is an interesting anecdote to ponder.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:20 PM on April 12, 2008

What bothers me about Cosby is that he mixes sane, rational ideas (stay in school, don't do drugs, take responsability for your life) with some pretty backwards, old-fashioned conservative bigoted ideas, like criticizing people for their names (and then he throws Mohammed in there as a name black people shouldn't use because they don't know anything about Africa), or that sex outside of wedlock is bad, or that single parents are inherently failures, or any number of other things that should have been left in the 50s.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:29 PM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Because racism isn't dead, rather it lives on in everyone, and that produces a racist superculture.

This sounds like a fallacy of composition. Another example is here. It seems at least conceptually possible to me that every member of a society could be racist and that the society itself might not be racist (whatever that would actually come to) or rather that there be no "racist superculture". For instance, there might be anti-racist laws very much like the one in the USA which protect voting rights among other things. It could be the case that everyone were (personally) racist and didn't want to allow a certain minority voting rights, but, the laws, if enforced, would guarantee that voting rights were protected.

I've been puzzled for a long time now about what exactly is claimed when one says that there is still pervasive "structural racism" in the USA. There are laws which guarantee equal opportunity in housing, employment, laws against discrimination along racial line in voting and laws meant to guarantee civil rights. At least when we consider these sorts of laws, there is no room for structural racism in the USA that is codified in law. What am I missing here?

On the other hand, one might point to the actual economic situation in the USA -- there is a disparity between average members of different racial groups -- and claim that the difference between these average members results from a pervasive structural racism, a pervasive personal racism had by everyone, or is the result of some residue of the racist society that obtained in the past. On that approach, is there a possible redress for the underlying racist nature of the society, its members or the racist residue of the USA's past society?

Well, if the problem is that the inequality results from a pervasive structural racism or the racist residue of our past, then, since there's no legal basis for this structural racism in the present, it seems that the only remedy is to focus on particular economic outcomes which would indicate that there were no longer this sort of problem. In other words, if we want the economic situation of different minority groups to reflect a lack of racism, then we, as a society, could simply do whatever it took to make average members of these minority groups economically equal. Doing so might involve a redistribution of wealth of some sort.

If, on the other hand, the economic disparity if the result of the "summing together" of all the individual personal racism of every (?) member of the USA, then the situation seems harder to remedy. I'm tempted to say that there has been fairly good "awareness raising" over this issue in the last 30 years in the form of Saturday morning cartoons, ABC After School Specials, anti-racist stands taken in textbooks used in public schools, etc. Could it possibly be that people under the age of 40 in the USA haven't been so bombarded with anti-racist messages in these venues that they are still comfortable making racist claims or overtly discriminating against minorities in the workplace? It seems unlikely to me. Admittedly, I'm basing this claim on a hunch.

Walter Benn Michaels has written a book entitled The Trouble With Diversity in which he deals with some of these issues. One of his theses is that the problems of racism have largely been solved (as well as they can be given that we don't want to focus explicitly on outcomes) and that by continuing to focus on them, we lose sight of the more important issue which is the widening gap between the rich and the poor. I'm tempted to agree with this particular thesis.
posted by Wash Jones at 8:39 PM on April 12, 2008

Much pop psychology has been devoted to Cosby’s transformation into such a high-octane, high-profile activist. His nemesis Dyson says that Cosby, in his later years, is following in the dishonorable tradition of upper-class African Americans who denounce their less fortunate brethren. Others have suggested more-sinister motivations...

I'm surprised that the murder of his son doesn't get more play when analyzing his perplexing views.
posted by MillMan at 8:41 PM on April 12, 2008

Wash Jones Its purely anecdotal, but the racist-against-black-Americans comments I've heard in my various came mostly from older people (60+). The most common being the use of the term "nigger rigged" [1], which I've heard just once from someone under 30, but dozens of times from people over 60.

Racism against people percieved to be Arab Americans is so common among my coworkers that I've actually become somewhat numb to it.... Anytime a person who looks vaguely middle-eastern enters the shop [2] there will inevitably be "jokes" about them being suicide bombers at the very least, generally there will also be "jokes" about what a great idea it would be to change their password to "eatmorepork" or "jesusislord" or something similar as well. Naturally this racist crap by my coworkers impacts not just Muslims, or even just Arabs, but also Sikhs, Indians, Arab Christians, etc.

As far as structural racism and people who are not consiously racist, I will cite a couple of studies by the National Bureau of Economic Research, based out of Cambridge. [3] The first you may have read about back in '03, it showed that when identical resumes were submitted under both steriotypically white names and stereotypically black names those with stereotypically black names got 50% fewer responses. I doubt that the people in the HR departments of the companies studied were wearing hoods and attending KKK rallies, in fact I'll bet that most of the people who rejected the black resumes would be horrified if they learned that's what they were doing, that most consider racism repugnant, etc. However, regardless of the intent of the HR people, the result was that black Americans wind up having a more difficult time of it. Subconsious racism leading to structural racism.

This sort of subconsious racism leads to structural racism in early education. Teachers tend to expect students with names that are percieved as being given by uneducated parents, which naturally includes any distinctively black names, to perform poorly, and this often becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. The research there suggests this also impacts whites and hispanics with names percieved to be given by uneducated or poor parents.

Again, I doubt many, if any, of the teachers who do that are deliberately or consiously behaving in a racist fashion, but the result is structural racism.

[1] For the international readers, or those not familiar with the term, it refers to a sloppy, or hasty, but functonal fix using substandard or scavanged parts. Apparently first seen in the early 1960's as a racist adaptation of the term jury rigged.

[2] I work at a locally owned computer sales/repair place.

[3] Unfortunately neither study is available in its entireity for free online. The abstract is available, and if you want to get into the meat of it you must pay them $5, sorry about that. The first one I cite is: http://papers.nber.org/papers/w9873, the second is http://www.nber.org/papers/w11195
posted by sotonohito at 5:58 AM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by creasy boy
eye of newt, did you read the article? The author clearly does get the point you're making and addresses it explicitly, for example here:

"If Cosby’s call-outs simply ended at that—a personal and communal creed—there’d be little to oppose. But Cosby often pits the rhetoric of personal responsibility against the legitimate claims of American citizens for their rights. He chides activists for pushing to reform the criminal-justice system, despite solid evidence that the criminal-justice system needs reform."
Yes, but further down he says:
And for all its positive energy, his language of uplift has its limitations. After the Million Man March, black men embraced a sense of hope and promise. We were supposed to return to our communities and families inspired by a new feeling of responsibility. Yet here we are again, almost 15 years later, with seemingly little tangible change.
It is not an embrace of a new cultural direction if it is a momentary inspiration.

Have you ever seen the 'real behind the scenes' shows about family sitcoms? They always involve kids on drugs, ruined lives, etc. They had one on the Cosby Show. Bill Cosby acted as a father to the young stars, pushing his concepts of education and responsibility, even when, like Lisa Bonet, they bridled against his interference in their lives. But the results speak for themselves. There were no stories of crime and drugs. The young actors went on to graduate from college. Bill Cosby walked the talk--and not just some one day 'feel good' walk.

The author lost me when he did this:
When Larry King asked him whether he supported Obama, he bristled: “Do you ask white people this question? …
The exchange ended with Cosby professing admiration for Dennis Kucinich. Months later, he rebuffed my requests for his views on Obama’s candidacy.

Did the author get Cosby's point with Larry King, then just completely ignore it? Or did he not agree with Cosby's point? Either way, it made me read the rest of the article with a more critical eye.
posted by eye of newt at 9:47 AM on April 13, 2008

« Older Modern "Utopias" or Modern..Communism?   |   The master of black and white Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments