I’m a vocal and proud news junkie, and to quench my thirst for knowledge, every Sunday it’s Meet The Press. I’ve come to expect a weathered roster of shifty-eyed politicos to slide into the seat across from Tim Russert every week — so imagine my surprise this Sunday when none other than Bill Cosby was in the hot seat.
The Cos was presenting his latest book, Come On, People: On the Path from Victims to Victors. The book is co-written by Harvard Medical School Professor of Psychiatry, Dr. Alvin Poussaint, who appeared alongside Cosby on the program. The book firmly tackles the issues that Mr. Cosby has been honing in on for the last decade or so — his concerns about the direction that the African American community seems to be heading in.
Let me give you a taste of the discussion, via those transcripts.
Mr. Cosby declares: “I cannot fully tell you how disappointing it is to hear philosophies come from peopleâ€”and the only way I can describe it is a friend of mine who says peopleâ€”some people are, are, are acting with abnormal behavior, trying to make it normal, and thatâ€™s insane. And thatâ€™s, thatâ€™s what he said. I hear things coming out of the mouths of babes, things that they believeâ€”example, and whatâ€”one of the most old-fashioned things. Kid is studying, and so they say to the kid, â€œYouâ€™re acting white,â€ which is a put-down to make this kid stop studying. Well, letâ€™s examine this. If youâ€™re black and you say to me, because you see me studying, â€œYouâ€™re acting white,â€ what is it youâ€™re saying about black people? You see, these are things that have to be discussed with, withâ€”and nobodyâ€”people arenâ€™t coming up enough to challenge these statements, to, to, to do character corrections on these things.”
He continues, “If a young girl says, â€œI want to have a baby because I want something that, that loves me,â€ that young lady is saying something. And weâ€™ve got to talk to her about herself and her idea of love. She hasnâ€™t graduated from high school, sheâ€™s willing to, to have a child. All of these character corrections are not being done while record companies are putting out records inviting people to continue that kind of behavior, to, to not talk about get an education. Itâ€™s just as easy to put that to a rhythm.”
Of course the discussion then segued into gangsta rap and questionable lyrics, which has been one of Bill Cosby’s peeves for years now — anyone remember that episode of the Cosby Show when Rudy’s singing a song, “do it to me all night long?” And her dad asks her, “what do you think “it” is?” Same thing, except the lyrics have become ten times more explicit. And now Cosby’s advocating having a “shakedown” in his kids’ bedrooms.
Cosby and Poussaint touched on the key issues that they believe are plaguing black America — education and the “acting white” phenomenon, the desperate need for two-parent family structures, the scary statistics of black on black violence, the fact that so many in the black community don’t vote, and the need for personal responsibility within the community itself. It could take me a month to really delve into his statements topic by topic and debate them. And besides, Michael Eric Dyson already did that in his book Is Bill Cosby Right (Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?).
On Meet the Press, Cosby dismisses the arguments of his critics as the “yeah buts.” His rebuttal has validity — “If you really understand what Bill Cosby is saying, if you really listen, heâ€™s saying, â€œGet an education. Drive your children with love and care, and they will feel confidence when they go to school. Build a confidence about yourself and what you can control, and then you will be able to fight the systemic and the institutional. You will care more about what you do and what is done to you.â€ Iâ€™ve said that over and over,” he declared in response. But there were many moments where Cosby and Poussaint’s discussion devolved into “I met a young lady who” discussions that weakened the power of the statistics they were presenting, and many of their points resounded with out-of-touch sentiments. Dr. Poussaint mentions “white kids who were into some of this rap and so on started calling themselves â€œwiggersâ€.” Um, I’ve never met a white rap fan who calls themself a “wigger,” Mr. Poussaint. If I were a young person who you might be trying to reach, I just laughed at what you were saying, and you just lost me.
There is so much to consider in Cosby and Poussaint’s discussion, so much to unpack and explore. But throughout the show, one thought kept coming back to me. Why Meet the Press? Why was this iconic figure of black fatherhood appearing on a political Sunday morning talk show that (I’m supposing) a primarily Caucasian audience watches? It was hardly a case of pitching to the key demographic — I suspect that many of Meet the Press’s most regular viewers are of the age and status that they would resoundingly agree with Cosby’s assertions that lay so much blame directly at the feet of poor black people in America.
Mr. Cosby has already been accused of being ill-informed on the current realities of black community life, and having classist, elitist perspectives. He’s boldly defended accusations of airing so-called “dirty laundry” in inappropriate venues. So once again he invites criticism by the very location of the discussion, which in my opinion, defeats his largest and most valid points.
Personally, I’d love to see Bill Cosby go head-to-head on one of the Hip Hop vs. America debates on BET, where the actual rappers and people most affected by the conditions he so vividly describes could gain from his viewpoint. Michael Eric Dyson, Stanley Crouch, and Farai Chideya all appeared on those debates, and raised their points to rappers like Nelly and the freshly-arrested TI. Even though Bill Cosby is a huge celebrity who probably has issues with BET and may not deign to appear on a panel, wouldn’t it make more sense to reach out to the people who are most interested, and possibly need to hear what you’re saying the most? If you want to deliver a message, why not send it in the most direct manner possible?
Did you catch Cosby on Meet the Press this weekend? What is your opinion on his views? Does his approach make you want to listen more closely, or not? I’d love to hear what you think, bellas and fellas!