T Nation

Bill Cosby - Black Conservative

Very interesting article in the Atlantic, read the whole thing:

Last summer, in Detroit’s St. Paul Church of God in Christ, I watched Bill Cosby summon his inner Malcolm X. It was a hot July evening. Cosby was speaking to an audience of black men dressed in everything from Enyce T-shirts or polos to blazers and ties. Some were there with their sons.

Some were there in wheelchairs. The audience was packed tight, rows of folding chairs extended beyond the wooden pews to capture the overflow. But the chairs were not enough, and late arrivals stood against the long shotgun walls, or out in the small lobby, where they hoped to catch a snatch of Cosby’s oratory.

Clutching a cordless mic, Cosby paced the front of the church, shifting between prepared remarks and comic ad-libs. A row of old black men, community elders, sat behind him, nodding and grunting throaty affirmations. The rest of the church was in full call-and-response mode, punctuating Cosby’s punch lines with laughter, applause, or cries of “Teach, black man! Teach!”

He began with the story of a black girl who’d risen to become valedictorian of his old high school, despite having been abandoned by her father. “She spoke to the graduating class and her speech started like this,” Cosby said. “‘I was 5 years old. It was Saturday and I stood looking out the window, waiting for him.’ She never said what helped turn her around. She never mentioned her mother, grandmother, or great-grandmother.”

“Understand me,” Cosby said, his face contorted and clenched like a fist. “Men? Men? Men! Where are you, men?”

Audience: “Right here!”

From Birmingham to Cleveland and Baltimore, at churches and colleges, Cosby has been telling thousands of black Americans that racism in America is omnipresent but that it can’t be an excuse to stop striving.

As Cosby sees it, the antidote to racism is not rallies, protests, or pleas, but strong families and communities. Instead of focusing on some abstract notion of equality, he argues, blacks need to cleanse their culture, embrace personal responsibility, and reclaim the traditions that fortified them in the past.

Driving Cosby’s tough talk about values and responsibility is a vision starkly different from Martin Luther King’s gauzy, all-inclusive dream: it’s an America of competing powers, and a black America that is no longer content to be the weakest of the lot.

But Cosby’s rhetoric played well in black barbershops, churches, and backyard barbecues, where a unique brand of conservatism still runs strong. Outsiders may have heard haranguing in Cosby’s language and tone.

But much of black America heard instead the possibility of changing their communities without having to wait on the consciences and attention spans of policy makers who might not have their interests at heart. Shortly after Cosby took his Pound Cake message on the road, I wrote an article denouncing him as an elitist.

When my father, a former Black Panther, read it, he upbraided me for attacking what he saw as a message of black empowerment. Cosby’s argument has resonated with the black mainstream for just that reason.

The notion of the Great Fall, and the attendant theory that segregation gave rise to some “good things,” are the stock-in-trade of what Christopher Alan Bracey, a law professor at Washington University, calls (in his book, Saviors or Sellouts) the “organic” black conservative tradition: conservatives who favor hard work and moral reform over protests and government intervention, but whose black-nationalist leanings make them anathema to the Heritage Foundation and Rush Limbaugh.

When political strategists argue that the Republican Party is missing a huge chance to court the black community, they are thinking of this mostly male bloc - the old guy in the barbershop, the grizzled Pop Warner coach, the retired Vietnam vet, the drunk uncle at the family reunion.

He votes Democratic, not out of any love for abortion rights or progressive taxation, but because he feels - in fact, he knows - that the modern-day GOP draws on the support of people who hate him. This is the audience that flocks to Cosby: culturally conservative black Americans who are convinced that integration, and to some extent the entire liberal dream, robbed them of their natural defenses.

“There are things that we did not see coming,” Cosby told me over lunch in Manhattan last year. “Like, you could see the Klan, but because these things were not on a horse, because there was no white sheet, and the people doing the deed were not white, we saw things in the light of family and forgiveness…We didn’t pay attention to the dropout rate. We didn’t pay attention to the fathers, to the self-esteem of our boys.”

Given the state of black America, it is hard to quarrel with that analysis. Blacks are 13 percent of the population, yet black men account for 49 percent of America’s murder victims and 41 percent of the prison population. The teen birth rate for blacks is 63 per 1,000, more than double the rate for whites. In 2005, black families had the lowest median income of any ethnic group measured by the Census, making only 61 percent of the median income of white families.

In May 2004, just one day before Cosby’s Pound Cake speech, The New York Times visited Louisville, Kentucky, once ground zero in the fight to integrate schools. But TheTimes found that sides had switched, and that black parents were more interested in educational progress than in racial parity. “Integration? What was it good for?” one parent asked. “They were just setting up our babies to fail.”

Black conservatives have been dipping into this well of lost black honor since the turn of the 20th century. On the one hand, vintage black nationalists have harked back to a golden age of black Africa, where mighty empires sprawled and everyone was a king.

Meanwhile, populist black conservatives like Cosby point to pre-1968 black America as an era when blacks were united in the struggle: men were men, and a girl who got pregnant without getting married would find herself bundled off to Grandpa’s farm.

What both visions share is a sense that black culture in its present form is bastardized and pathological. What they also share is a foundation in myth. Black people are not the descendants of kings. We are - and I say this with big pride - the progeny of slaves. If there’s any majesty in our struggle, it lies not in fairy tales but in those humble origins and the great distance we’ve traveled since.

Ditto for the dreams of a separate but noble past. Cosby’s, and much of black America’s, conservative analysis flattens history and smooths over the wrinkles that have characterized black America since its inception.

At times, Cosby seems willfully blind to the parallels between his arguments and those made in the presumably glorious past. Consider his problems with rap. How could an avowed jazz fanatic be oblivious to the similar plaints once sparked by the music of his youth?

“The tired longshoreman, the porter, the housemaid and the poor elevator boy in search of recreation, seeking in jazz the tonic for weary nerves and muscles,” wrote the lay historian J. A. Rogers, “are only too apt to find the bootlegger, the gambler and the demi-monde who have come there for victims and to escape the eyes of the police.”

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. His historical amnesia - his assertion that many of the problems that pervade black America are of a recent vintage - is simply wrong, as is his contention that today’s young African Americans are somehow weaker, that they’ve dropped the ball.

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. I’d take my son to see Bill Cosby, to hear his message, to revel in its promise and optimism. But afterward, he and I would have a very long talk.


In your face Sharpton!

The author’s critique can be summed thusly: Pretty good, and more liberal than you’d think, right-wingers, but not liberal enough for me (the author).

Separately, complaining about the younger generation is an old passtime: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/columnists/columnists.html?in_article_id=510196&in_page_id=1772&in_author_id=248

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[quote]BostonBarrister wrote:
The author’s critique can be summed thusly: Pretty good, and more liberal than you’d think, right-wingers, but not liberal enough for me (the author).

Separately, complaining about the younger generation is an old passtime: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/columnists/columnists.html?in_article_id=510196&in_page_id=1772&in_author_id=248[/quote]

It is old hat. Every old man seems to view his own youth as involving much more respect and glory than is likely the reality.

What gets me are the ones who are not black Americans who claim there is something wrong with those of us who are black AND successful AND young for not agreeing with everything the man says. That has to be the most blind point of view on the face of the planet.

The point made about jazz music was a direct hit.

[quote]Professor X wrote:
The point made about jazz music was a direct hit.[/quote]

I don’t think jazz musicians were aggressively promoting and idealizing the gangster lifestyle. Emphasizing the benefits of “dealin’ drugs, shootin’ niggaz, and slappin’ bitches” to young people.

There weren’t shootouts in the streets of Toronto in the jazz and early hip-hop days.

Garbage-in, garbage-out.

ElbowStrike

[quote]ElbowStrike wrote:
Professor X wrote:
The point made about jazz music was a direct hit.

I don’t think jazz musicians were aggressively promoting and idealizing the gangster lifestyle. Emphasizing the benefits of “dealin’ drugs, shootin’ niggaz, and slappin’ bitches” to young people.

There weren’t shootouts in the streets of Toronto in the jazz and early hip-hop days.

Garbage-in, garbage-out.

ElbowStrike[/quote]

It was hated by many in society and blamed for being one of the sources of society’s ills. It matches perfectly, regardless of whether pop culture at the time matched up equally.

It would be the same idea as your parents hating Marylin Manson but hiding their KISS ticket stubs when you walk in the room.

Edit: Further, did you just blame random shoot outs on music? If you are to be consistent, shouldn’t random murders be blamed on movies?

Shoot-outs are hardly random. They happen because two gangs are warring over territory.

Shoot-outs are an indicator that gangsterism has spread and prospered where once it was a rarity.

You take 100 adolescents who feel vulnerable, crave power and control in their lives, and consistently feed them the message that joining a gang will give them those things, you’re going to yield some new gang recruits who otherwise might have found another solution.

Their choice but humans, adolescents especially, are hardly “rational” creatures. If people were rational we wouldn’t have terrorists and cults.

ElbowStrike

[quote]ElbowStrike wrote:
Shoot-outs are hardly random. They happen because two gangs are warring over territory.

Shoot-outs are an indicator that gangsterism has spread and prospered where once it was a rarity.[/quote]

Yet, you are blaming Hip Hop music for this?

Do you blame Scarface or The Sopranos for people getting shot in other neighborhoods?

Do you honestly think listening to 90’s “Gangsta Rap” promotes violence? I grew up listening to the same music. I never shot anyone and don’t hang around anyone who did.

Do you ever even question some of your own beliefs?

[quote]Professor X wrote:
Do you blame Scarface or The Sopranos for people getting shot in other neighborhoods?[/quote]

Not directly, but it did seem like every Punjab and Arabic gang-member back in high school had some sort of paraphernalia with Pacino’s mug on it.

We have disclaimers and warning labels on things like alcohol and cigarettes. Why not on albums where the artist condones violence, misogyny, drug use/abuse, and everything that goes with it?

That’s great, but you’re an experimental group of one under uncontrolled conditions. We have no way of knowing for sure, but I propose you raise 10,000 kids in an environment where lyrics promoting the gangster lifestyle are censored and 10,000 in an identical environment where lyrics like “slashed the bitch’s throat” and tossing her out 'da car door are available, and you’ll get a significant difference in the rate of gangsterism and violence between them.

It’s like taking a supplement and saying, “it didn’t work on me, therefore it doesn’t work.” Take a larger sample and let’s see.

That’s exactly how I got to this point. I used to firmly believe that music, television, and video games had absolutely no effect whatsoever.

Then MRI studies began showing that the human brain cannot discern between real-life violence and “screen” violence in movies and video games.

The stretch to listening to rap lyrics describing violence and the brain interpreting it as listening to peers describing true violent events (narratives people easily internalize) isn’t that far off.

ElbowStrike

[quote]ElbowStrike wrote:
Professor X wrote:
Do you blame Scarface or The Sopranos for people getting shot in other neighborhoods?

Not directly, but it did seem like every Punjab and Arabic gang-member back in high school had some sort of paraphernalia with Pacino’s mug on it.

We have disclaimers and warning labels on things like alcohol and cigarettes. Why not on albums where the artist condones violence, misogyny, drug use/abuse, and everything that goes with it?[/quote]

You’ve never heard of parental advisory stickers?

The only rap that even comes close to what you just described is that from one WHITE rapper named Eminem. To take the stance you are on this, you would have to do the same to all media promoting any type of violence. Why such a focus on only one genre?

[quote]That’s exactly how I got to this point. I used to firmly believe that music, television, and video games had absolutely no effect whatsoever.

Then MRI studies began showing that the human brain cannot discern between real-life violence and “screen” violence in movies and video games.

The stretch to listening to rap lyrics describing violence and the brain interpreting it as listening to peers describing true violent events (narratives people easily internalize) isn’t that far off.

ElbowStrike[/quote]

It is far off. You are attempting to take away my freedom of choice based on some lame notion that the human brain can’t tell reality from fiction. That would mean ALL MEDIA promoting violence should be targeted by your attempt at censorship. It is funny where you choose to focus your sight.

[quote]Professor X wrote:
It is funny where you choose to focus your sight.[/quote]

Not really. Rap is the topic because it was mentioned in the Cosby article.

“Slayer” and other hard-core metal types should be under the same scrutiny for a lot of their lyrics.

Maybe not government censorship, but certainly better education than a tiny “PA” sticker in the corner is warranted.

[quote]Professor X wrote:
That would mean ALL MEDIA promoting violence should be targeted by your attempt at censorship.[/quote]

Well we arrest people for making underground snuff films and child pornography because of the effect they have.

We also arrest people for “inciting hatred towards an identifiable group”.

Why can’t we have laws restricting the practice of “inciting minors to criminal activity”?

[quote]ElbowStrike wrote:
Professor X wrote:
That would mean ALL MEDIA promoting violence should be targeted by your attempt at censorship.

Well we arrest people for making underground snuff films and child pornography because of the effect they have.

We also arrest people for “inciting hatred towards an identifiable group”.

Why can’t we have laws restricting the practice of “inciting minors to criminal activity”?[/quote]

Wow. We arrest makers of snuff films because of the people watching them? I thought it was because of the DEATH. It is a PARENT’S responsibility to monitor what their kids watch, not the government’s.

Why are you trying to take the responsibility away from where it belongs?

My parents didn’t allow ANY consecutive music in the house when I was growing up. They were extremely religious back then. They eased up when I was about in the 11th grade. I guess it was clear by then what type of person I was.

Why are you claiming parents today can’t do the same?

[quote]ElbowStrike wrote:

Maybe not government censorship, but certainly better education than a tiny “PA” sticker in the corner is warranted.[/quote]

To your point, I agree, it is fair to criticize the message of music/art without suggesting the solution is censorship. I am not sure “better education” will help much - if bad influences are getting into the hands of impressionable young people via pop culture and music reinforcing the wrong priorities, I suspect it has less to do with discerning, involved parents just being less informed on the music than being bad, uninvolved parents who don’t give a damn what their kids are listening to. Or worse - parents who listen to it themselves and share it with their kids.

ElbowStrike,you’re taking what was said out of context…and besides all hip-hop/rap is not the same…stop generalizing. Also,“gangsta” rap was an effect of a society that was in play years before…not a cause.

Now its just a marketing gimmick to sell records…but its more about lavish lifestyles than drugs or violence now. There are numerous issues that have a bigger impact that “violent” lyrics or rap music in general.

[quote]ElbowStrike wrote:
Professor X wrote:
It is funny where you choose to focus your sight.

Not really. Rap is the topic because it was mentioned in the Cosby article.

“Slayer” and other hard-core metal types should be under the same scrutiny for a lot of their lyrics.

Maybe not government censorship, but certainly better education than a tiny “PA” sticker in the corner is warranted.[/quote]

I listen to Eminem, Slayer, and have played and beaten every currently available GTA game on the market. I occasionally dress “gangsta” if I’m going to a hood-party, and can code switch decently into ebonics, and though I usually choose not to, I definitely use some of the slang and accents. When I was ten years old, my favorite band was Limp Bizkit, and my favorite single artist was Eminem. I play football too, a “violent” sport. I love action packed comics and graphic novels, and I watch a lot of heavily violent anime, some of whcih glorifies a life of criminality.

I’m going to Cornell University next fall.

It has less to do with the media, and more to do with individual communities and families.

For every couple of gangster rappers who get famous for one song and are never heard of again, there are dozens upon dozens of poets and talented rappers whose lyrics may occasionally be violent, but are more often than not meaningful. I suggest you check out rappers like Nas, Tupac (of course), and more currently, Lupe Fiasco.

[quote]Beowolf wrote:

I suggest you check out …Tupac (of course).[/quote]

I’ll assume you were joking.

[quote]thunderbolt23 wrote:
Beowolf wrote:

I suggest you check out …Tupac (of course).

I’ll assume you were joking.

[/quote]

You… have a problem with Tupac? Yes, he has some violent songs, no, not all of them are violent. Just like not all of The Beatles music is trippy as all hell and only enjoyable under the influence of Acid.

[quote]Beowolf wrote:

You… have a problem with Tupac? Yes, he has some violent songs, no, not all of them are violent. Just like not all of The Beatles music is trippy as all hell and only enjoyable under the influence of Acid.[/quote]

I…do have a problem with Tupac and those in his category.

The Beatles comparison makes no sense.