Commentary: What are the Folks Who Criticize Bill Cosby Doing to Help Uplift Poor Blacks?
Date: Thursday, June 08, 2006
By: Gregory Kane, BlackAmericaWeb.com
OOOOHHHH! Can you believe Bill Cosby "went there" on Michael Eric Dyson?
It happened around the middle of May. You may have heard about it.
Cosby was in the nation's capital, holding a forum at the University of the District of Columbia. The forum is one of nearly a couple of dozen Cosby has held with black audiences since 2004, when he supposedly went off on poor black folks during a speech "celebrating" the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling.
Actually, Cosby didn't go off on poor black folks in general. He went off, specifically, on the ones he clearly identified as "not holding up their end of the bargain" when it comes to taking advantage of educational opportunities.
This was more than some black liberals could bear. Dyson, a professor a the University of Pennsylvania, is one of them. Dyson rushed a book into print called "Is Bill Cosby Right? (Or Has The Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?)" "” in which the author finds Cosby guilty of insufficient genuflection when the words "poor black folks" are mentioned.
Since then, there has been a clash of ideas between Cosby and Dyson not seen since W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey went at it back in the 1920s (Except that neither Cosby nor Dyson has called the other a traitor to the race yet, which DuBois and Garvey did with gleeful regularity.). Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page described what happened last month at UDC in what was the latest clash of ideas between Cosby and Dyson.
"(A) heckler ... started shouting from the audience. He derided Mr. Cosby's ˜watered-down dialogue' and demanded answers to ... Dyson's highly publicized book ... That's when Mr. Cosby lost his cool. (He) jumped off the stage ... and raced up the aisle to loom over his somewhat astonished questioner."
Page wrote that Cosby said he was sick of people like the heckler and Dyson.
Later, according to Page, Cosby "went there" on Dyson by questioning the latter's choice to teach at a ritzy, predominantly white, Ivy League school as opposed to, say, the more working-class, predominantly black UDC.
"And how much does it cost to go there?" Page quoted Cosby as asking about the University of Pennsylvania. "How many black students do they have at Penn?" Page said Cosby told him and another journalist he'd start listening to Dyson when Dyson starts teaching at UDC or a similar school.
I'll go Cosby one better: why isn't Dyson teaching in one of the inner-city black high schools across the nation that desperately need good black male teachers?
In his book, Dyson lamented the absence of resources, funding and good teachers at predominantly black schools in poor black neighborhoods throughout the country. I'll assume Dyson is a good teacher. So why's he teaching at Penn and not at a predominantly black inner-city school in Philadelphia? Or at Baltimore's Frederick Douglass High School, which is failing so miserably that state officials wanted to take it over?
I guess Cosby's saying that if Dyson wants to start talking the talk, he'd better start walking the walk. Cosby didn't say anything in 2004 that black folks hadn't said previously. According to Benjamin Karim, a former assistant to Malcolm X, his mentor said it back in the 1960s.
In his book "Remembering Malcolm," Karim said that one day he, Malcolm and some others were standing outside a black housing project. Malcolm asked how many reference books and dictionaries they'd expect to find if they went to each apartment in the project.
"Enough to fill the trunk of this car?" Malcolm asked. "How about a suitcase?"
Malcolm was saying, long before Cosby said it, that being black and poor didn't absolve poor black folks of their responsibility to "hold up their end of the bargain" in education. If there are no reference books, dictionaries and other reading material in poor black homes, then who's to blame?
What's to stop the poorest black parents from reading to their pre-school children every day? What's to stop poor black parents from sending their kids to free public libraries and having them read a book per week? And writing a book report on it?
The answer is, "Not a darned thing." Saying you can't is an excuse.
Cosby and I were both in the service, so we may remember what our basic training drill sergeants had to say about excuses.
Everybody has one, and they all stink.