Cosby's ideas are not that different from Farrakhan's
By JAMES T. CAMPBELL
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
DARRELL Bruines has the kind of rÃ©sumÃ© that is the rule for many black men in low-income communities. Bruines began hustling at five, riding the bus alone at the same age. He is an ex-con and a former gang member and drug dealer. He also lost a leg to a gunshot wound. But Bruines had an epiphany: Change his life or die young. Bruines recently graduated with honors with an associate degree from the Houston Community College. Marylynn Harris is a single mother of two. She served in the first Gulf War and is pursuing an MBA. She works hard raising her two kids and takes responsibility for her life.
Bruines and Harris are examples of people who overcame long odds. Bill Cosby, the comedian turned social commentator, will point to them when he appears tonight at Texas Southern University.
Cosby has been touring the country holding what he terms "call-outs." ("I'm calling people out of their houses to come to a certain point and listen to what is going to be said.")
Cosby is not under any illusion that presenting examples of people rising above their condition will bring instant change to low-income communities. He believes that the real power of the "call-outs" is telling the underclass that they are strong, and that they can change their lives with sustained effort, education and resourcefulness.
He's not saying it will be easy. There are obstacles, such as institutionalized discrimination ("yes, racism still exists"), that must be overcome. "Sustainability is very important, especially for people who are abandoned, because they really don't feel that anything is going to be sustained except pain and trouble," Cosby said in a recent phone interview. "We've got to build on our people."
Some, notably professor and author Michael Eric Dyson, have blithely labeled Cosby's call-outs "The Blame the Poor Tour." While criticizing Cosby may sell books and bring the attention Dyson seems to crave, it does nothing to change the condition of poor blacks. What Dyson and other critics fail to acknowledge in their ad hominem attacks is that Cosby's conversation about self-empowerment is not unlike the one espoused by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Elijah Muhammad before him.
"We were brought to work. We have worked! We are still the workers. Some of us say, 'What will we do if we do not work for the white man? How will we live?' I'd say, when you are free and independent you have a job. You have a tremendous task of doing something for yourself. You have the job of building a civilization for yourself as other free and independent people are doing," Elijah Muhammad wrote in Message to the Blackman in America, 1965.
"If the people rise up, if the people begin to really learn their history about being who you are, I don't care if you are Mexican, Native American or African-American and you're lower economic, you learn the bravery of your people, then you look at the success stories of people," Cosby said. "Slaves had worst lives ... [as a slave] you had to be someplace to work for free, and be whipped and be fed the worst food. The thing we're doing is self-inflicted. ... People in the neighborhood have to teach people where they're self-inflicting, and you do this through word of mouth and through example."
Thus the call-outs.
Regarding his critics, Cosby said, "You can get anybody to stand and say where the wrong is coming from and how the wrong is doing us wrong. Bill Cosby is saying we are a strong people. We need to stop it."
And I'm saying, we need to start it. We need to start being embarrassed about what is happening in our communities. We need to start valuing our families, our children, our neighborhoods and our schools so they don't become prizes that go to the lowest bidder with the best proposal.
"I care," Cosby said. "I love [my people], but I'm embarrassed about these numbers, these failures. We could be worth more. Our neighborhoods could be worth more, our houses could be worth more, but we've got to take care of our own temples first. When I leave Houston I don't want to hear hearts and minds slamming shut and going back to the same old same old. I want them to begin to talk to each other gently."
We start talking gently tonight with Cosby's conversation at TSU. I'm listening, but I know the answer lies with the people in the communities, not with Cosby.