Wednesday, December 29, 2004

One of the things I'm always struck by in the "culture wars" (which are really always ongoing, it's just sometimes the blasts are more civil or lowkey than they are right now) is how conservatives and right wingers will jump all over liberal celebrities for using their celebrity status to send out a message that they don't agree with. But then someone like Bill Cosby comes along and you never hear those conservatives bitching that he's using his celebrity status to send out a message, because lo and behold, it's a message they agree with. Idiots. In this case, Cosby is running around the U.S. holding revival-like auditorium-sized congregations where he gets all over the case of lower income black people for not acting, well, for not acting middle class. I say "middle class" whereas many people would say "white", but that's not the case. There are lots of working class and poor white folks I know back home whose behaviors are often very similar to that of lower income black folks. Income and social status are huge factors in shaping a person's perceptions of the world and what kind of future they can see for themselves, and in the case of poor people, that future sucks. They see the structures that pin them down because they're at the bottom, and when you're at the bottom you get a good look at the fat (often white) ass that's sitting on you. And after a while you start thinking, hey, this fucking stinks (in more ways than one) and I'm going to do whatever the hell I want to. I don't have a future anyway. People tell me get a job, but the only jobs I can get are at fast food restaurants. Why the hell not make money some other way, even if it *is* illegal. I'm going to be put in jail someday just like everyone else I know, so I might as well live how I want now.

Sure, there's a false logic to it, but at the same time, it does make a sort of sense. And then you have well-intentioned people like Bill Cosby running around in a suit telling these kids and their parents that they're dirty trash and need to shape up. Thanks Bill. That's really going to change things. There's a REAL problem here, sure, but it's not going to change by yelling at people. If you want to really help, you'd give some of your hard-earned cash to a good program that actually does help poor people. They need real educations, not the social jail system that so many inner city public schools are. They need money to buy the clothes that they can actually go to interviews in where they won't be turned away because of the fact that they're poor and can't afford a damned suit, you stupid ass. They need A LOT of things that you've had the luxury and benefit of having, and you can't expect them to act like you when they can't AFFORD to act like you. And why SHOULD they act like you? You're one of the people keeping them down, in their minds, and perhaps a little bit in reality. Racism occurs every day, no matter what anyone says. It occurs even within the communities of african americans, where the racism is turned on themselves. I have a black friend back home who told me how even in the black community, the lighter skinned you are, the snobbier you are. The blacker you are, the worse you get treated. White people like to think all this racism stuff is over and done with, but in reality they're perpetrating it everyday while saying it no longer exists. It just looks different nowadays, and it's easier to cover up if you don't want to see it.

I am not surprised in the least that someone like Cosby has risen up in these recent days to rail on about the things he's railing about. I am not surprised that this is happening right now, in the midst of the Bush Adminstration's war on civil rights and social progression and education. And there's Cosby himself, being their puppet, spouting their ignorance because he got a piece of their pie by acting like them. Mr. Jello fucking Pudding Pops himself. The thing is, these kids aren't going to want to change for a number of reasons. And one of the biggest ones is that they don't want their identities assimilated into something else in exchange for another step up the economic ladder. They're proud, and I don't blame them. You shouldn't have to give up certain aspects of your identity to have an equal share in the pie. You should just have it, damn it. That's fair. That's equality. If you want to determine who gets what and how much of it, find something to base it on beyond the markings of someone's humanity. Not race, not gender, not class, and not sexuality. And for god's sake, leave religion at the damned door. One of the things this country was supposedly founded on was freedom of religion, and here our government is trying to make it a Christian country.

Well I'm with Cosby's "trashy black kids". If that's who I have to be to get anywhere in this world, they can all just go to hell.


Blogger Elad said...

damn straight, yo. black and low-income people have a culture, no matter how "strange" or "wrong" it may be. you can't go in there and say, "idiot. change the way you speak and dress and act cause it ain't proper." what the fuck is the right way to "act" or speak, anyway? i don't think i've ever gotten that straight.

(not that i care.)

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Don't you think it's racist to attribute criminality and ignorance to culture? Isn't having low expectations another type of racism? I don't see that what Bill Cosby is doing is wrong at all. It may not be effective. But I don't think it's wrong, and I don't think it's insensitive. If people really have hurt feelings because they think 15 is a good age to become a single mom, they need their heads examined.

Catherine Shaffer

9:20 PM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...


If you'd read my post carefully, you'd see I never said anything about having low expectations, and I also mentioned how Bill Cosby was well-intentioned, and how I also said this is a real problem. What my point about this was is that Cosby is going about it in a stupid and yes very insensitive way. He has no understanding of what the reality of what being black and poor actually is, as many of us have no clue about it. And as for his yelling at women about having babies at fifteen years old, he is doing that in gatherins of hundreds and thousands of people and acting as if they are all doing that. I think it's shocking to gather a group of people together, people you DON'T know, only to berate them for things you ASSUME about them.


9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did read it carefully, Chris. I think the real problem is that Cosby's message is not getting through, not that it's wrong or insensitive. It sounds like he's speaking to selected audiences, such as juvenile offenders, teens-at-risk, etc. If they really have robbed convenience stores and had several children by several different fathers by the age of sixteen, the scolding is not undeserved. That's not culture, that's just bad behavior. Probably what would help more is providing the kids (which I think is mostly what they are) with examples and role models of people who have been just as poor as they, and who have been successful in life without resorting to crime. We've all known people like that. Sure, these are poor people who have had a lot of bad luck in their young lives, but the choices they make still matter. They deserve to know that. I agree that the message should probably be delivered in a more affirming way, but I haven't heard one of these speeches. I have a hard time believing that Bill Cosby would be completely negative and humorless. The comment about the $500 shoes especially sounds like it was meant to be a joke. It's hard to tell. Sometimes people get very serious when talking about racial issues.

10:49 AM  
Blogger Christopher Barzak said...

From what I've been reading, some of the audiences are specific, and some are just anyone who comes can come. To me that's a bit sloppy, and I agree, I think he would do better to provide a role model instead of a scolding. Those never ever work. Never. And I honestly don't think that being critical alone will solve anything. There was this church I used to live beside in Youngstown that had a sign up that said, "Lead in Faith, Follow in Action" or something like that, and it makes sense. Without actions, the good intentions aren't much good. Criticizing won't do much of anything without someone actually providing services to help people who want and need it. I'm not sure where you've got the information that he's speaking to specially selected audiences, but I've not been able to find anything that remotely suggest anything other than open to the public speeches in public community places. So I'm not so willing to go with it, like. And people get serious about racial issues because they are serious. At least I think so.

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right, Chris. He's talking high school audiences and the general public. I got the idea it was juvenile offenders from a focus group formed by Newsweek to analyze Cosby's message. It's really pretty hard to tell from the article if he's being irreverant or just offensive, if there's any humor or exaggeration, or if he really thinks that poor people buy $500 shoes. It will be interesting to see if he continues to pack auditoriums or if people turn off to him.

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

He started this schtick about eight months ago with his speech to the NAACP on the fiftieth anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, in which he came up with gems like, "And these parents are [neglecting their kids], and when little Shenique-Muhammad steals a piece of pound cake and gets shot in the back of the head, and then the parents go screaming, 'Police Brutality!' Well, What Was He Doin' With The Pound Cake?" Also statistics about a "fifty percent drop-out rate," which are blatantly
false, but which he repeated angrily when challenged by Tavis Smiley and other interviewers, whom he proceeded creatively to insult. He really doesn't know his audience: he told the incoming freshman class here at Temple to not become pimps and hos and beat their women. Ishmael Reed came up with an essay recently, not available online to my knowledge, called "Whites need their own Bill Cosby," which made some points about how, with soaring rates of teen pregnancy and corporate crime, white Americans are suffering severe cultural pathologies that they will surely stop once someone has ridiculed them.

There were nice take-downs of the Cos in Barbara Ehrenreich's New York Times column and the Village Voice. I think the most consistent with yours, though, CB, is this lively bit by the fearless African American blogger Steve Gilliard.

I will indeed send you an email, Chris.

6:24 AM  

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