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March 27, 2005

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Brendan - Dyson used to be on the faculty up the road at Chapel Hill, and I had the misfortune of seeing him speak at my wife's graduation. His speech was nothing more than shock value, as if he was reveling in the notion of dropping the f-bomb in front of a bunch of grandmas from Fayetteville and Fuquay-Varina.

What bothered me most is that he didn't even have his facts right about what he supposedly knows best -- pop culture. The one example (of many) that I remember was his reference to Alanis Morissette singing about "fellatio in the back seat of an automobile." If you've heard that song even once, you know that's not the venue of which she sings. That's a bit like a philosophy professor attributing the "Republic" to David Hume.

And then he lands an Ivy League post. Sickening, really.

I never trust these types of interviews. Mainly because the context of the Q&A doesn't always reflect the intentions of the interviewer or the interviewee. I like the fact that Michael Eric Dyson is challenging Cosby's rant against lower class black America. Cosby has some legitimate points, but his approach in my opinion is neither productive, nor conducive to any real solutions.

I think that we are a simplistic society. We seek simple explanations to problems that are far from simplistic. This is the reason why Cosby's comments were so appealing to so many blacks. He is a well known comedian, who summed up the problems in the black community with a few lines. In reality, the root causes of these problems are very complicated, and have been debated by scholars and intellectuals for decades. Cosby only presented a small part of a much bigger picture. I hope that Michael's book show just how limited and short sighted Cosby's comments were.

From personal experience, I am a white member of the "Ghettocracy" that Dyson speaks of. I grew up in a mixed race housing projects, and no, I didn't have a Rich White Uncle to pay my way through. Contrary to Mr. Dyson, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and put my nose to the grindstone. I joined the Navy, learned a trade and got out of there. Does Mr. Dyson mean to tell us that there are not enough minority scholarships or jobs programs or other ways such as mine (joining the military to pick up a trade), or even enough societal mechanisms to counter racism, such as the ACLU and the EEOC? It is bad enough when a so-called civil rights activist tries to perpetuate discord between the races as a means of keeping his job, one he knows he will lose when all men are equal. It is even worse to stir up discord within your own race by using terms such as Ghettocracy and Afristocracy (I personally believe that there is, at least, an Oprahstocricy). ANY MAN CAN MAKE IN THIS COUNTRY WITH ENOUGH HARD WORK. Get to work and shut up. Quit whining and trying to stir up shit.

I love forums like this, because it brings out, in this politically correct society, the true thoughts and feelings of people from all different races, economical and social backgrounds. Cosby's comments and Dyson's rebuttal opens up a dialogue that most of us would feel uncomfortable talking about openly. Thus, the power and importance of blogs are significant. Comments like ANY MAN CAN MAKE IT IN THIS COUNTRY WITH HARD WORK, pull yourself up by the bootstrap, and become successful, and if I made it, anyone can, sounds good but it is only true from an egocentric perspective.

For example, how in the world does one define "MAKING IT"? Making it for one person, doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as making it for someone else. To me, this is where this argument stops and ends. From your perspective, you have made it, but someone else with a different idea of making it could feel that you have not done anything significant in your life, or vise versa. From my perspective I am a very successful man, who in my opinion has made it. In order to gain my success I worked hard, but more importantly I worked smart. I know for a fact however, that anyone can not be where I am, and do what I do, regardless of how hard or smart they work, because it is very limited. There are probably thousands of people in my city alone, who would want to be where I am, but this is not possible because there are only a few available positions for one, and for two, everyone does not possess the necessary talent that I have. So I would be a fool to say that if I made it, anyone can. This would simply be ignoring reality. But, again this seems to be the norm in our simplistic society. God help us.

To follow up on this running commentary, I would make the following suggestions in order to remedy the high jobless and crime rates in many urban zones, which in many cases are minority: Economic zone targeting and investment, job training and placement programs, increasing scholarships for inner city low-income students, assistance particularly for single mothers in day care, health care and sustaining the basics of life, as well as providing for the homeless and the addicted (The fact is, many of these programs have existed for years, and we spend billions on them in both tax and charitable dollars). On the flip side, law enforcement should become much tougher on violent criminals and drug dealers, and parents and community leaders must speak out and act to stem the tidal wave of drugs, gangsterism and unwanted pregnancies. It cannot be all carrot and no stick. That it what led us to where we are today. People who act in violation of community laws and standards must be held responsible for their actions. It is time to stop excusing the inexcuseable. I had two brothers that were in and out of prison for years who finally straightened out, and now lead successful lives. For them, MAKING IT is staying away from booze and drugs, working a steady job, and being able to live and breathe free. The resources in this country are unimaginably benevolent and plentiful, even to the poorest. There are millions around the world strugging to scrounge food and water to survive another day. Count your blessings that you were born and live in a country that, despite all of its myriad social problems, is still the best place on earth for free men to live. And that's all I have to say about that. PS As a mother on welfare with two kids, J.K. Rowling struggled to make ends meet, and wrote in her spare time. This lower-class unknown, who went on to pen the Harry Potter series, is now richer than the Queen of England. Hope springs eternal, and hard work makes it all possible.

I hope that this commentary continues, because I believe that it is really starting to get good. First, I personally believe that the notion that hard work makes all things possible is partially true at best. If you do not plan properly, make good decisions, gain or possess the appropriate set of skills, it doesn’t matter how hard you work, chances are you are not getting very far. Mrs. Rowling was poor, but she was also very talented. Not only did she have a million dollar story in her head, she had the writing skills to put it on paper for all of us to read. This is the reason why she is richer than the Queen of England. If her story weren’t good, her hard work wouldn’t have made up for it. The same can be said for Mr. Cosby. He was and some would say still is an exceptionably funny comedian, who appealed to a mass audience. This “ability” created a number of opportunities for him. I’m sure that he worked hard, but if he weren’t funny, he would have ended up like all of the other defunct black comedians of his time.

Second, one would be a fool to deny that there are criminals, drug dealers, drug users, broken families, poor spoken adults, and out of control children all over America. There are of course more instances of these things in the inner city than in the suburbs, but mathematically that makes perfect sense, especially when you compare a population of 40,000 people to 440,000 people. I challenge anyone to research the number of criminals, and drug addicts in any inner city, and compare it with the population. Surely you will see that they are in the extreme minority. This is one of the facts that make Cosby's comments so fallacious. The mass majority of people in the inner city are as hard working, and law abiding as any other community.

Finally, the assumption regarding inner-city programs is that they are there for the masses. When in fact, most of these programs are only capable of helping the few. I know, because I am employed by one of the organizations that administer such programs. While I am proud of the work we do, I understand that my organization can never be a remedy to such a complicated set of problems, nor do we claim to be. I think that the only people who would make such claims are people who do not work with or in these organizations. Yes, America is a country with many resources, but it has never distributed these resources equally. Anyone who would deny this is simply ignorant of American history. For some groups, the resources that are available had to be fought for through years of brutality, and struggle, and even these resources are in jeopardy of being taken back or dismantled. I love this country, but in my opinion, equality is no more than an ideal.

I heard Mr. Dyson at my church on Sunday June 5, 2005 deliver the message to our congregation about Mr. Cosby's remarks about black people.

Yes I agreed with Mr. Cosby. But I don't anymore.

George E. Walker
Los Angeles, California

This is such a complex issue and one that is very sensitive in nature. When you exist outside the problem it is very easy to castigate those who "represent" the problem. I agree that we must accept responsibility for our actions, but I also know that we learn responsibility, values, behavior from our environment, social network, and family. If we are not exposed to positive elements, we won't learn the essential skills necessary to survive. For young people to be successful, they must have powerful influences and positive examples in their lives. In many inner city communities, those examples are dwindling, or if children grow up in positive home environments, there are the outside elements to contend with that parents can not avoid. The black middle-class can perpetuate itself and its values because children are brought up in environments, both inside and outside the home that will positively influence them in life. Think about it, most middle-class kids are exposed to parents in prosperous professions who extol higher education and social behaviors that will guarantee "success" in America. "Inner-city" youth don't have those examples. They see their parents struggle with hourly wage jobs that don't pay enough or afford a decent quality of living. What influences are they left with? Hmm...their immediate environment or this horrible materialistic consumer pop culture we live in, none of which embrace education or "acceptable" social behavior as the path toward success. In my opinion, Cosby and Dyson both make valid points....but at this juncture, they are just demagogues. In order for their theories to come to fruition, they need to stop talking and start doing. Maybe, instead of lecturing or teaching college kids, they should teach in urban high schools like I do. This is where the real activism takes place and where they can make positive change.

Please visit the URL in my profile for a recent debate I had with a few friends on this same subject after recently hearing Dyson speak in San Francisco and buying his Cosby book. Add your comments as well!

I'm a fan of free speech and all, but there's responsible free speech and irresponsible free speech. Bill Cosby, a wealthy, famous, and admired black entertainer irresponsibly used his public influence to speak in a derogatory manner about an entire group of people - poor blacks. His analysis was simple and one-sided, while the problems facing the poor are complex and multi-dimensional. I think Dyson's point is that anybody can speak about anything they choose, but not everyone is intellectually capable of exploring a nuanced view of the many issues keeping the poor in poverty. Regardless of Cosby's intentions, being black does not give you the expertise or free reign to pass judgment on black people and being in the middle or upper class, gives you no special rights in the doing the same to those in lower classes.

To fully solve a problem, you have to first clearly define it. When it's defined incorrectly, the solution is more than likely incorrect as well. When you define the problem of the poor as a simple one of lack of personal responsibility, then the simple solution and overemphasis of personal responsibility is incomplete and unfair. Poverty is not a black problem. There are more white people in poverty than blacks. But poverty is not a white problem either. When you start stripping the racial biases out of the picture, you can properly define the problem. When you take the time to realize and acknowledge the many things keeping people in poverty including lack of neighboorhood jobs, inadequate child care service assistance, lack of affordable housing, insufficient wages and availability of full time jobs, etc., then you're able to start working towards a solution that can be tailored towards individual needs and effective in combatting poverty.

It's dangerous to pass judgment on and shame an entire group of people based on the highly publicized actions of a few. It's also dangerous to look at a class of people and assign specific negative charactics to them. Saying all poor people are lazy is like saying all rich people are crooks. Prominent leaders criticize the poor for not being financially responsible, being poor parents that keep their children in poverty, failing to resist consumerism, etc. Why is it ok for these people to require more from the poor than they do of themselves? Why can'tleaders call for personal responsibility from the poor, middle class, and upper class? The majority of middle class consumers spend irresponsibly and are saddled with credit card debt and increasingly considering declaring bankruptcy. 70% of Americans don't attend college. Why is it only poor parents who are held to this strict standard of perfection to produce college-attending children when many other families are unable to do so, with way more intellectual, environmental, social, financial and emotional resources to do so? Poor pareting plagues all classes. Lack of educational resources plague all of America. Until we define the problem appropriately and fairly instead of targeting vulnerable and specific groups of people, we will never work towards a comprehensive and fair solution.

I heard arguments from people saying that the poor are lazy and not working/trying hard enough. There's an article I read that said 58% of those living below poverty are working full time during the year. An additional 33% work part time during the year. The article went on to demonstrate an analysis that even if all persons below the poverty line obtained full time jobs (assuming those jobs were available), 68% would still be living in poverty. That statistic alone speaks volumes as to the need for public policy to step in where personal responsibility cannot possibly be enough.

http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1093/is_n3_v41/ai_20809843

I heard Mr. Dyson's Commonwealth Club speech on the radio yesterday.
Complete Bullshit.
Let me repeat: utter eloquent, charismatic, bullshit.

I am ashamed on behalf of Mr. Cosby that he is being used as a footstool by an academic/preacher who could never make it without an institution to delude, i mean, be supported by.
If he said even one thing that was either constructive or beneficail to anyone one whatsoever, regardless of creed ,sex or race, i missed it.
Shame on the commonwealth for raising this b.s. to the national level and tarnishing mr. Cosby as well.
They should be tarred and featherred.

George Hofgren

FIRST OF ALL DYSON,HAS'NT DONE ANYTHING ,BUT GIVE LIP SERVICE VIA HIS BOOK'S.HE IS NOTHING MORE THEN AN OPPORTUNITIST CAPITALIZING ON ANYTHING POPULAR WITH BLACK FOLK'S,INCLUDING HIS BOOK ON TUPAC,THIS GUY DID'NT KNOW TUPAC(HE'S DECEPTIVE CRAP).HE NEVER ASK'S THE POOR BLACK COMMUNITY TO BE RESPONSIBLE FOR ITSELF.HE REALLY SHOULD STOP DOGGING COSBY,UNTIL HE HAS WALKED IN COSBY'S SHOE'S.I DON'T SEE DYSON GIVING FINANCIAL HELP TO POOR BLACK'S FOR ANYTHING, WHY HAS'NT HE SENT SEVERAL CHILDREN TO COLLEGE.DYSON IS NOTHING MORE THAN A PULPIT HOPHIP EXPLOITOLOGIST.HIS REMARK'S ARE OFTEN LAME AND DONE IN THE PHILOSOPHICAL JESSE JACKSON BUFFONIST STYLE.DYSON SUCK'S.

LaShanda Greene went too far by saying "They (commonwealth) should be tarred and feathered."
Nobody should be tarred and feathered. That phrase shouldn't even be in your vocabulary. I've read books about blacks going through that experience and that phrase is not to be said as a figure of speech. Remember the power of the tongue.

But anyway, yes, I agree that Dyson is an "academic/preacher" but when fallacies need to be dispelled who better. In fact, did you know that Mr. Cosby (God bless his soul) had demoed twice in high school? Did you know that he was practically given his degrees? -- dissertation on Fat Albert included? As opposed to Mr. Dyson who diligently worked his butt off to pay for his education, ultimately earning his PhD!

Look, I like Bill Cosby just as much as the next person (especially the Cosby Show!--all props to him), however when he started spouting off all this stuff about poor blacks not working hard, etc. he needs to check himself and thank God that he is what he is today and able to have had the opportunity to do what he loved to do (be a comedian). Being the class clown, flunking twice in high school and putting little to no effort in earning his degrees he needs to stop talking about pulling yourself up from your bootstrap crap because he didn't.

Sweep around your own front door before you try to sweep around mine. Or better yet, get the plank out of your own eye instead of talking about the one in mine.

He probably has a valid point somewhere, but the way he expressed it was tacky, rude, all wrong and destructive.

And hey, give Dyson a break will you!

Mr Dyson has scolded Mr Cosby for not knowing his facts when he stated that the high school dropout rate for blacks was 50%; Dyson argues that the rate is really 17%, as stated by the DOE.

What Dyson fails to grasp is that the DOE only counts students who begin their senior years and then fail to graduate; all other students who either never started their senior year or dropped out earlier (while Jrs, Sophs etc) are NOT EVEN COUNTED. It would be funny, if the reality were not so sad, that Dyson is fooled by the same type of education administrators that are contributing to the woes he laments.

He needs to do some research and then stop enabling the 'subtle racism of lowered expectations'.

First off if people want to preach 'respondsibiltity' and being 'held accoutntable' I hope those same comments are in evidence the next time some white female from the suburbs kills her kids or some white male from middle America goes on a shooting rampage to get even with his former bosses or 'perceived' enemies. Instead of this complete bullshit rationale of them being 'crazy'[now who's making excuses]I hope the same people preaching 'respondsibility' are doing it then. And just because you don't agree with what Mr.Dyson has to say doesn't mean he doesn't have just as much right as Mr.Cosby who I think made some valid points but I didn't appreciate him trying to backtrack after he was feeling the heat. I'm referring to him saying on the Tavis Smiley show that he wasn't 'trying to let white people off the hook' then why not mention them then!! I have no respect for someone who supposedly has the 'guts' to speak out but then contradicts their OWN opinion if he can't even defend his own opinion what then was the point of verbalizing it.

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