Sunday, June 20, 2010

That Racist Bill Cosby

When you live in a free society as we do, we have no alternative but to put up with speech that we not only disagree with but that is also hateful and threatens to re-ignite the fires of racial hatred and mistrust. The only way to combat it is to disassemble it bit by bit. Enlightened Racism: The Cosby Show, Audiences and the Myth of the American Dream” (1992) by Sut Jhally and Justin Lewis is one such pile of dog shit that for the most part refutes itself.

A quick thumb through

· Jhally and Lewis write that the USA is “still emerging from a deeply racist history a society in which many white people have treated and continue to treat black people with contempt, suspicion and a profoundly ignorant sense of Superiority”.

· Apparently the writers agree with the Alvin Poussaint an adviser to the Cosby Show when he characterized past black comedies that have enjoyed The Jeffersons (my favorate), Sanford and Son, and Good Times as “full of jiving jammin’, s streetwise style stuff that is the worst kind of stereotyping”.

· They write The Cosby Show “presents a misleadingly cozy picture a sugar candy world unfettered by racism crime and economic deprivation. Some have argued that the Huxtables’ charmed life is so alien to the experience of most black people that they are no longer black at all. They are just like white people”.

· They quote Henry Louis Gates ( remember him? ) as saying as long as all blacks were represented in demeaning or peripheral roles it was possible to believe that American racism was, as it were, indiscriminate. The social vision of “Cosby” however reflects the minuscule integration of blacks into the upper middle class [and] reassuringly throws the blame for black poverty back onto the impoverished.

· Most white people –certainly those who watch The Cosby show – no longer see skin color as a barriers to liking someone or treating them as an equal. Unimpeded by such all-encompassing prejudice they are able to discriminate between black people, some of who have succeeded, some of whom have not. However they quietly (and perhaps unconsciously) retain the association of blackness as an indicator of cultural inferiority, albeit one from which African Americans, if they are talented enough or hard working enough can escape. This position is arrived at not through malice but through a failure to adequately recognize the disadvantaged position black people occupy in the class structure.”.

We are talking about a TV show, right?

Robert Miller characterizes the book this way

According to Jhally and Lewis, the Cosby Show sets up an unachievable goal for African Americans. It sets them up for failure. They try to show that the odds are so great against African Americans successfully negotiating all of the obstacles between themselves and the American Dream that it might as well be impossible. The Cosby Show tells us quite the opposite. The show would have us believe that anyone, regardless of race, can achieve material success in the United States. Material success for the authors of the book is the key ingredient in the American Dream. According to them the Cosby Show is the consummate definition of the American Dream. The show depicts individuals, who under "normal" circumstances should not have achieved material success, achieving material success. It further sets them as an example of a strong family with the inclusion of the extended family. The Huxtables are what Americans should aspire to be. However, they are black” . The blackness of the Huxtables is the key for Jhally and Lewis. Their research has conclusively proven to them that simply being black is too much to overcome in America. Their book focuses on interviews and uses statistics to prove that the black experience in America is all but void of the successes that the Huxtables demonstrate. The authors believe that the success of the Huxtables in their achievement of the American Dream gives rise to an entirely new type of racism, enlightened racism. It gives the budding bigot a new reason for his views. An enlightened racist will believe that anyone can make it in the U.S. because our system is a fair and just one, and it is only the fault of the individual for a lack of success.

I guess the main point of contention I have with this book is that black people actually, in fact, are just like white people -- and vise-versa. We are more alike than we are different. Its just pigment after all. On the fair issue, no one ever said life was fair. As children this is one of the hardest lessons to learn but learn it we do as we become adults.

We all have equal opportunity -- or at least some measure of it -- but that is not to say we will all have equality of results of equal efforts. That is not to say that racism has been eradicated because it certainly hasn't been. That is not to say we will get what we deserve. Sometimes good things happen, sometimes they don't. There is beyond refute an element of luck in life. On the other hand, we certainly do have the power to shape our lives. We make these choices every day. Mr. Cosby himself has said if you go into a college library on a Saturday night you can find the students that will mop the floor with their classmates. We are not caught up in a tide where we don't have any control at all.

If we were all to remove a thin layer of our skin the races would all be indistinguishable from each other. Race is of no importance except for the importance that we apply to it.

Further the authors put undue importance on The Cosbys. You can’t look to a TV show for all the answers to life’s big questions.

What is authentically racist is the suggesting that because the fictional Mr. and Mrs. Huxtable are both well educated (as were their fictional parents) and well-to-do that somehow makes them not really black anymore. Now THAT is racist and offends me.

Something else I find unforgivably racist in this book is the idea that most blacks are ghetto poor. They are not. The authors’ premise that most blacks can never succeed because of institutional racism or enlightened racism (or whatever you call it) is bad enough. But if you think one step further what they are really saying is that blacks as a group are pathetic and helpless. They can never take on their problems and challenges and come out winners so they might has well not even try.

Give the folks a little credit. The American Dream is not so allusive as all that and you do not have to become a millionaire in order to get it. Take a look at white people in comparison as a group. Are our lives nothing but privilege and excess? We have more money than we know what to do with? Does Dynasty reflect how most white people live? Does even the Cosby Show reflect how most white people live?

I work my ass off in a distribution center and at 43 am going to college part time. Do I process the American Dream? Yes and No. I am relatively comfortable and happy at the place I am right now. I still have problems and worries and failings. I am not where I want to be yet professionally. Would I be considered a success by the authors if I were black? Are they judging us by the same standard? The standard of the American Dream is allusive and subjective.

There certainly is racism out there, and some of it is in this book, but it is not so prevalent as liberals who fan the flames desperately want us to believe. Bill Cosby and his alter ego Cliff Huxtable are examples of what every American man should aspire to be. He would still be such if he were white. Without the ideal, how will we strive towards a better life?

What I admire most about Mr. Cosby is not his material success but his wisdom and loving nature as a father that came across in his show and his books all to well. The really weird thing about this book is that Mr. Cosby himself financed the empirical audience study on which the book is flimsily based.

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