Saturday, October 13, 2007

Come on People, No, Come on Cosby
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Comedian Bill Cosby is the walking and now writing proof of the ancient adage that good intentions can go terribly awry. That’s never been more painfully true than in Cosby’s latest tome, Come on People. Cosby and his publisher boast that the book is a big, brash, and provocative challenge to black folk to get their act together. That’s got him ga ga raves, and an unprecedented one hour spin job on Meet the Press. In the book, Cosby harangues and lectures, cobbles together a mesh of his trademark anecdotes, homilies, and personal tales of woe and success, juggles and massages facts to bolster his self-designated black morals crusade. Stripped away it’s the same stock claim that blacks can't read, write or speak coherent English, and are social and educational cripples and failures.

Since Cosby’s much touted tirade at the NAACP confab a few years back, and on countless talk shows, and at community gatherings, he has succeeded marvelously in getting the tongues of blacks wagging furiously and their fingers jabbing relentlessly at each other’s alleged mountainous defects. They stumble over themselves to hail Cosby as the ultimate truth-giver.

He isn’t. While Cosby is entitled to publicly air black America's alleged dirty laundry, there's more myth than dirt in that laundry. Some knuckleheads in black neighborhoods do kill, mug, peddle dope, are jobless untouchables, and educational wastrels. They, and only they, should be the target of wrath. But Cosby makes a Grand Canyon size leap from them to paint a half-truth, skewed, picture of the plight of poor blacks and the reasons and prescriptions for their plight. The cornerstone of Cosby mythmaking is that they are crime prone, educational losers, and teen baby making machines.

The heart wrenching and much played up news shots and specials of black-on-black blood letting in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and a handful of other big cities and the admission that blacks do have a much higher kill rate than young whites tell a tale of out-of-control, lawless blacks. The truth: homicides and physical assaults have plunged among black teens to the lowest levels in the past two decades. The rate of drug use among young blacks is no higher than among young whites. Blacks are more likely to be arrested, convicted and imprisoned than young whites who if arrested at all are more likely to get drug rehab, counseling, and treatment referrals, probation or community service. This horribly distorts the racial crime picture.

Then there is the black teen girls as baby making machine myth. The truth: The teen pregnancy rate among black girls has sharply dropped during the past decade. And they continue to fall.

The biggest myth that young blacks empty out the public schools, fill up the jails and cemeteries, and ridicule learning as acting white has risen to urban legend rank. The truth: The U.S. Dept. of Education found that in the decades since 1975, more blacks had enrolled in school, had improved their SAT scores by nearly 200 points and had lowered their dropout rate significantly. It also found that one in three blacks attended college, and that the number of blacks receiving bachelors and masters degrees had nearly doubled. A survey of student attitudes by the Minority Student Achievement Network, an Illinois-based educational advocacy group in 2002 and confirmed in other surveys, found that black students were as motivated, studied as hard, and were as serious about graduating as whites.

Cosby publicly bristles at criticism that he takes the worst of the worst behavior of some blacks and publicly hurls that out as the warped standard of black America. Cosby says that he does not mean to slander all, or even most blacks, as derelict, laggards and slackers. Yet that’s precisely the impression he gives and the criticism of him for it is more than justified. Even the book title, Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors (a hint they’re all losers) conveys that smear.
He did not qualify or provide a complete factual context for his blanket indictment of poor blacks. He made the negative behavior of some blacks a racial rather than an endemic social problem. In doing so, he did more than break the alleged taboo against publicly airing racial dirty laundry; he fanned dangerous and destructive stereotypes.

This is hardly the call to action that can inspire and motivate underachieving blacks to improve their lives. Instead, it further demoralizes those poor blacks who are doing the best to keep their children and themselves out of harm’s way, often against towering odds, while still being hammered for their alleged failures by the Cosby’s within and without their communities. Worse, Cosby’s blame the victim slam does nothing to encourage government officials and business leaders to provide greater resources and opportunities to aid those blacks that need help.
Come on People, intended or not, continues to tar the black communities and the black poor as dysfunctional, chronic whiners, and eternally searching for a government hand-out. Come on Cosby.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press).


lest we forget said...

Since mediocrity, thugism, apathy, a lack of accountability and a general state of denial are envogue in our community, we can't really dispute what Cosby says. These are the most visible images in the media and in our communities from coast to coast.

Anonymous said...

Cosby is right and are black politicians are the blame. Black America is becoming the "black sheep" of American society. As a black male, I have to deliver 200% more than my white counterparts just to obtain 80% of the desired results. Why? Because most of energy is spent trying to wipe away the stereotype that people have of Blacks. I even have to convince Black people that I'm okay to do business with, let alone with White, Asian and Hispanics. I'm 46. I think destruction really creeped into our society when this gansta rap crap emerged in Los Angeles. I will never forget driving around Sepulveda on the west side and heard on KDYA NWA'S song "Fuck the Police". At the same time, a LAPD squad car stopped next to me at the light. I had to turn the radio down. I was embarrassed. My in-laws are LAPD officers and my uncle retired from the Tampa Police Department. Black America is going backward and everytime someone like Cosby cries out for change, he is strung up and hanged in a virtual black media noose.

Harold Davis said...

Exactly how bad should it get before you think there is a problem. Cosby is right on with the perception of most right thinking folks out there. We have created a socially dysfunctional underclass, and it'll take a generation or more to undo the damage.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your commentary. It's on point. While some of what was said on Meet the Press was true, much of it did not apply to the majority of us. The implied fingerpointing by Cosby to the lower socio-economic Blacks was a slam. I speak from experience. As a mother of four and grandmother of seven, I was forced to raise my children as a single mom when I lost my husband. I was in the lower socio-economic bracket and worked, sometimes two jobs when both of my parents were alive. I finished college after nine years of going to school part time and working full time. Of my four now grown children, one has a master's degree and teaches, one has a bachelor's and is an accountant, one is a general contractor with a Black crew, refurbishing homes and building downtown lofts while making loads of money, and the youngest is a third year Communicative Disorders major and scheduled to graduate on time. Three of my four children are married and providing a two-parent home environment to my grandchildren. I've lived in Compton all my life (childhood and adult) in the so-called worst area of town, and I could not relate to the blanket indictments Cosby issued. I know many, many people from the area where I grew up and they who would be considered successful in anyone's book. While indeed some of his info is unfortunate and true, his generalizations served, in my opinion, as one-sided half-truths to the viewers who rely on the Cosby-type people who, in this case, paint distorted images of all of us. He set us back

Christopher Chambers said...

Not only is he entitled to "air dirty laundry," I say God bless him. We have to draw a line and start calling folks out--including essayist and academics (and yeah I sound like I'm channeling ole toad eyes himself, Stanley Crouch, but hey...) who seem more concerned with tap dancing out excuses and pseudo-policy, pseudo-intellictual support for utter nonsense. For nihilism. For the excuse that "gettin' paid" is some sort of absolution. For ignoring the fundamental truth that behavior and attitude and culture are just as impactive as structural racism. Hell for a lot things. Oh you got me so steamed! I even heard a bunch of idiots on NPR trying to refute the non-insane part of Terry McMillan's rant against "ghetto fiction" and stripper books, etc. What's next Earl--are you and Prof. Dyson preparing a stunning defense of "I love New York 2?" Jesus...

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hutchinson,

I found your commentary to be, overall, a bit defensive. The Black, educated, relatively well-off middle class appear to be more interested in proving that Cosby is not talking about "them" instead of dealing with reality of what he's saying. Indeed, many seem to be more "embarrassed" by the whole thing for the most self-serving of reasons.

Truth is we "do" have a tremendous amount of dysfunction in the Black community - and it's time to call it out. Looking the other way certainly hasn't helped. Blaming White folks hasn't helped, either.

What's to be done about that portion of the Black community that's just "trifling"? And we all know some trifling Black folks - some of them in our own families!

I wonder if that part of the Black community Cosby is talking about "hears" what he's saying? Do they care? Probably not - that's one of the definitions of trifling.

I have some issues with Mr. Cosby but he's doing what Black leadership - from Congress, to the pulpit, and the Black press - has failed to do - get Black folks to "own-up" for conditions of life that are very much in our power to change.

Yes, the problem is complex (and we let it get so complex from years of inaction and finger pointing) that there's no easy "fix" - but let's not blame/kill the messenger.

I say "Right On" Mr. Cosby.

Anonymous said...

I think Bill Cosby is correct in his thinking, even if as was stated, it is old news. The important question to be posed is...why is it that the African American, after so many generations out of slavery, is still faced with the same problems? What must be also examined is what is occuring in other countries, even in those places where Blacks are in the main Governmental positions.i.e. Haiti and the Caribbean.Solutions must come from within. We cannot constantly blame other groups and the evils of the past.The Black community have got to come together and DO Better!

TK said...

Saw your segment about Cosby on The O'Reilly Factor. I'll agree that Cosby only paints one side of the story, but, since he is the only one who can get away with painting that side, he needs to keep his energy there.

I also agree that the good side of the story needs to be told, often and everywhere. Not a focus on the rare and extraordinary like Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan, but everyday greatness like the guy who starts with a neighborhood bakery and turns it into a major corporation. Think along the lines of Tom Peters and his "evangelizing" business success, but focus on success stories in the black community.

Just as the business community learned from Peters, so to can the black community learn from its own success stories.

Keep Cosby doing what he's doing, but find a black Tom Peters to tell the other side of the story.

Anonymous said...

He can harangue all he wants as long as he continues to shell out money to Black educational institutions.He does put his money where his mouth is.
to shirt and tie, were you just as embarrassed when 'I Shot The Sheriff', went off the Billboard charts?

Anonymous said...

Is Cosby saying anything different than Farakkhan? I don't think so, Farakkhan is just more fiery.

Anonymous said...

It's still shameful that as long as blacks aren't sticking it to whites when it comes to the plights of those in the black community, they are seen as the enemy.

Cosby's "viewpoints" are stated on factual information, as well as adages of what many in his generation (i.e. our parents/grandparents) would say and do to ensure success in the lives of their offspring.

I am currently reading the book, as well as seen his interview, along with Dr. Poussaint, on Meet the Press earlier this week. There is virtually nothing he is saying that was incorrect in his assertions on the state of the people, neighborhoods and schools. The authors of the book did an excellent job in noting the plight of Jim Crow, the slavery era and institutional racism have factored into our lives. However, there is simply no justification in thwarting personal responsibility.

Hutchinson bitches that the negative assertions made are too far sweeping. Any person with eyes can move through any major city, in primarily black neighborhoods, to see what is plainly in front of us...if the fathers/husbands are in the homes, where in the hell would the numbers for incarceration come from?! Their not in corporate America, where I am. Their not in the colleges and unversities, where I was over 12 years ago (and the numbers were sparse then!).

Come on, people, stop being offended by the obvious! The best way to be a productive citizen in this country is stop being a parasite constantly sucking the life blood of those that make the sacrifices to get where they are today!

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with you and Cosby, although for personal reasons, I'm leaning towards Cosby more. Why you may ask, look at these facts . . . of my life:

o I'm a 30ish, unmarried, childless, educated black female still not able to nab a black man that's not gay, have intimidation issues, insecure or have "white man got me down syndrome"
o Most black men I meet have 2-3 kids, by 2-3 different women – all of which they have never married
o Out of my graduating class (MA) there were 33 students; 1 black male. He was gay
o Majority of my friends with kids, the father is no where in sight -upset because he's "made" to pay child support. All my white friends are married and seem to be content. But then, you know, a white couple will stay together, unhappy, live separate lives, in the same house, for their kids
o 4 black male family members have been incarcerated; 0 have attended college
o Did I tell you my "real" biological father has over 15 kids, with over 20 different women? A lot of us born around the same time

There are some truths to Cosby's book. I'm living it, by the way, you know any single black men that want to get married?

Alexandria, va

sandra m said...

The troublemakers in my Los Angeles neighborhood are not black. Therefore, we need multiracial voices of authority to address the problems we face. However, Bill Cosby should not be among those voices. Not since People magazine featured a string of women who've accused Mr. Cosby of sexual assault. The magazine even suggested that Mr. Cosby might be a "serial rapist". Nothing has come from the charges (Were the women paid off?) and the press has since been silent. But, even if life has gone on, Bill Cosby is no moral police for anybody.

Anonymous said...

Now I'm starting to believe that Nobel Pize winning scientist who said, "Blacks are just not as smart." The average person can comprehend that Cosby, is in no way, talking about "all" poor Blacks, or even all Blacks. If the message you get form Cosby is he is downing Blacks, either you are purposely trying to provide dissent to garner attention, keep your victim status, or you're just dumb.

Anonymous said...

Just saw you on Fox News (here in Hong Kong) and loved it. I think both you and Cosby make great points and the reality is that it should not be an either or situation. This is just another example of a situation where we all gain from the marketplace of ideas.

Keep up the great work.

rikyrah said...

Dr. Hutchinson,

Before there was an Oprah Winfrey, there was Bill Cosby, who was THE Philanthropist in the Black Community. The Black Arts Scene from Coast to Coast owes a great deal to Mr. Cosby. And, let's not even begin to talk about Mr. Cosby's dedication to education in the Black community.

He walked the walk WITH HIS MONEY.

He didn't yap and talk feelgood, all the while shrugging when someone asked to put up funds to help someone else.

He's given MILLIONS to the Black community over the past 4 decades.

You know it. I know it.

So, IF ONLY for that reason, Mr. Cosby is allowed to say whatever the hell he wants.

That he's speaking THE TRUTH is only a bonus.

I keep on hearing complaints about ' his tone'.

Who the hell cares about ' his tone'?

Either what he says is the truth or it is not.

And, you know it's the truth.

Uigei said...

Earl, it's you that pains me most with this report. Are you awake? Can you really believe that Dr. Cosby is wrong. We must be responsible individuals, and when the news reports constantly show the perpetrator as a Black individual, you gotta take note. So many of our communities, and families are in self destruct mode. As long as you deny the truth the easier you make it for the negativity to reach your door. Would you allow destructive and vile behavior to come from your home, from your children ?.......I don't and never will. Keep it real, if you were a human who spewed ignorance, and negativity you would not have the following that you have. Dr. Cosby is right....again.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that Blacks, such as Bill Cosby are hard on each other??........... Other ethnics don't bad mouth their own.
You never hear a Hispanic say about each other, "We have children like rabbits! We are illegal immigrants in America! We are undermining the labor force! We do not want to integrate into the American system, just take away from it!"......You never hear a Chinese in America say, "We eat rodents! Our China made items have flaws! China's human rights stinks!"
.you never hear Jews say,"We are money grabbers! " You never hear a Japanese say, "We bombed Pearl Harbor! We smell like fish!" You never hear a gay say, "God made Adam and Eve, not Eve and Evelyn!"

If a group needs to be educated it should be an inhouse operation. Yelling about internal faults across the nation is not a rational solution.

Anonymous said...

Amen and Ditto to Anonymous @ 8:37am & TK's comments. And right on Sandra, that was the first thing that came to my mind as well. Who indeed appointed Cosby as moral authority? He can definitely stand some inhouse cleaning based on previous reports. Just because he drops dollars does not give him license to be spew venom. Can we just keep it real y'all? This is all about selling a book! Hope he donates the proceeds to a progressive educational institute for young Black children!

Anonymous said...

Speak the truth Hutch. Perhaps the death of his son (at the hands of a white person) applied another layer of bitterness to Cosby's personality, but in political terms he has always been a backward naysayer when it comes to organized resistance to racial oppression. He's from the school that believes progress can only be achieved when The Race convinces white folks of its worthiness. How sad. By definition, this approach puts African American's fates in the hands of an historically hostile people who hate them. It's the furthest thing from "self-help," although the Cosby crowd tries to monopolize the term.

Nicolas R. said...

I'm a 46-year old white male. I've spent a lot of time in large cities around the U.S., working as a community development consultant, and I've seen a lot of what Dr. Cosby has commented about firsthand.

I have a number of African-American colleagues, and every one of them is a terrific, hard working professional. Blacks have no intrinsic intellectual shortcomings that I've ever experienced; their challenges come from the culture. We need many more leaders in the black community to step up and decry behaviors that hold that certain segment of African Americans back, and insist that they finish school, support the kids they father, treat each other with respect, and contribute to society in productive ways. Until that happens, and the culture changes, we'll never be able to achieve racial harmony in this country, because it depends so much on mutual respect.

Here's hoping that we get this all figured out by the time I'm on Social Security, my brothers and sisters.

Anonymous said...

Well, as a Latina... all I can say is "At least you have a Cosby." Our community is plagued with similar problems, and we don't even have a de facto spokesperson like this getting us to address these issues. While I haven't read his book and can't comment on his latest rantings, I think that he at least gets you guys talking and moving forward.

I addressed this on my own blog a few weeks ago when the statistic came out that more Latinos live in prison than in college housing. We have baggy pants wearing, trash talking knuckleheads too, and we play into our own negative stereotypes, yet nobody in our community has the authority or ability to get people agitated like Cosby is doing for black America.

Anonymous said...

KUDOS to the a high school counselor in the greater los angeles area, many days i do not think there is much great about los angeles, my students, their families, my job and more! i'm tired of excuses students and their parents give for not attending tutoring, doing HW, attending meetings, coming to school on a regular and timely basis and more! parents need to show their children their vested interest in them and their lives, while students need to figure out that their future is at stake. with a demeanor and attitude that is full of indifference and laziness, i am truly concerned and disturbed for and by them.
i wish the best to my students and all students of colour who are able to make the best of opportunities presented to them and to make something of themselves. fight the good fight!

Anonymous said...

Not only do I agree with Bill Cosby whole-heartedly, I would go further and say that the problems he describes afflict not only Black Americans, but the entire "African diaspora". We are imploding as a people. We are eating each other alive. We despise success in each other. We revile those among us who think the solution is to play the game and play it not only well, but exceedingly so. Somewhere along the line we Black people have internalized the definition of "blackness" as one of under-achievement, coarseness, loose morals, self-hate, self-murder and an all pervasive negativity. We know where the poison came from and we know the cure yet we wallow in this morass of self-righteous, self-pity, elevating failure and dysfunction to some mythical, heroic status. Poor us? Come on people! Black backs built a whole nation under the whip. Do we not think ourselves of our own effort. Work it out. Key word: work!

Anonymous said...

Mr Hutchinson,

What ever conclusion Mr. Cosby and Poussiant reach, any reader of their book can check the FACTS they use as the basis for their conclusions and and ask themselves

" is it reasonable for the authors of the book to reach the conclusions that the authors reach based on the FACTS that they CITE?"

Question : is there any FACT that Mr Cosby and Poussaint cite that you dispute?

You assert that Mr. Cosby has a State of Mind

i.e "The cornerstone of Cosby mythmaking is that they are crime prone, educational losers, and teen baby making machines"

Question: What are the Facts that You base your conclusion of how Mr. Cosby think?

Have you met and spoken to Mr. Cosby or Poussaint about their "mythmaking" characteristic?, or

Do you just have a mind reading skill?

alicia banks said...

i admire and agree with every word bill cosby is saying...

talk to some educators of young children, and you will come to see that he is actually being far too reticent and kind...

wounds heal best in open air...

kudos to cosby for his his courage and honesty!!!

alicia banks
eloquent fury

Anonymous said...

Hey Hutch


Boston High School Student

Anonymous said...

Whats good Hutch?
My name is Daycia Brown from Another Course To Collgeg High School In Boston Ma.I so agree With Bill Cosby,Because there is alot of true facts in this book that i think all boy need to read about.They are growing up thinking life is all about guns and thats the only way to slove a problem but there is more to life then just that.We need to get these boys of the streets NOE!!

Anonymous said...

This book iis wacked out i think that Bill Cosby seriously needs too get an life and see since all black ppl isnt rich he should see what we are goiin though...

Sad story Bill you shouldnt put all use poor ppl though this...

Anonymous said...

well, well, well... I am a high school teacher in Boston and I am actually using the book as a texbook; yes, you heard me, I am using the Come On People in my classroom as a textbook because I believe the information and the way it is presented is vital to the well-being and future of our community. Yes, the picture that is being painted is not a pretty one, but it is what it is. We have to acknowledge the problems and stop ignoring them or acting as if they weren't as bad as they were. And for all the middle class black people who "made it" or are doing ok (like me for example), please don't be offended. No Bill Cosby and Dr. Poussaint are not talking about you; but still, they're talking about us, us as a community responsible for the whole village. Just because we're doing alright doesn't mean we should ignore our brothers and sisters who still need help. I see a lot of what they talk about in the book, in my school. When we first started it, the kids were kind of mad (well, we started with Cosby's 1994 speech!), but the more they read and discuss the content of the book, the more they realize that although the truth is ugly, the truth is true and it is time we all wake up and take responsability for our own lives. There was a time when I blamed white people a lot. Of course I still think they played and are still playing a role in our dysfunction, however, we can't waste anymore time pointing the fingers at them and trying to change them. We can't change other people, we can only change ourselves. The black community is like a child that was mentally, verbally, physically abused for centuries and never went to therapy. People who go through therapy know that at some point they'll have to look at themselves and take their healing in their own hands because they can't control or change what the abuser has done and is still doing. I know we can do it, my students want to do it and they need us, the grown-ups, to guide them in the right direction. We can't keep doing the same thing over and over if that thing is not working. I don't remember who said this but think about it "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different results".

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Rashid said...

I find myself somewhere in between your comments and the words of Bill Cosby. While much has been written about Cosby's views let me comment on yours. You point out numerous positive statistics; unfortuantely, they are not good enough. Consider the following, a child comes to a parent and proudly proclaims that he or she has just earned a "passing" grade in English. Well depending on one's goals and ambitions passing may be acceptable or a disaster. As far as I am concerned, my community, African Americans can and deserve to achieve excellent marks on everything we pursue, but first we have to dump the attitude that PASSING is acceptable. Thus your positive statistics only reinforce accepting a lower standard. A famous Irish poet once said, "those who settle for less, often get it".
Cosby wins this argument.

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