Austin Bay is one of those bloggers I just don't read enough, maybe because I'm often pressed for time and can't devote the energy necessary to benefit fully from Bay's tightly-woven pieces. This post reviews a column by James Campbell in The Houston Chronicle about Bill Cosby's current round of speeches on African-American issue, which Cosby refers to as "call-outs."
I have admired Bill Cosby since I watched him on "I Spy" and started to listen to his comedy records as a 12 year-old white kid who knew exactly one black person, a kid in my elementary school. "I Started Out As Child," Why Is There Air?" "To Russell, My Brother, Who I Slept With," are all part of my childhood and early adolescence, and even now my family listens to those albums during car trips. So I am very glad Cosby is speaking out in a politically incorrect manner about many issues other respected African-Americans dare not touch.
And yet, and yet . . . something about the reaction of many conservative to the Cosby speeches makes me uncomfortable. Like me, many are shouting "hurrah!" to everything Cosby says, but it seems to me that many of those doing the shouting are not people who have cared much about the plight of children growing up in an underclass, other than to complain loudly and often about the admittedly misguided interventions undertaken by government at various levels.
In other words, where liberals have told the black community, "You have a problem; here's the wrong answer," too many conservatives have simply said either, "You don't have a problem" or "You may have a problem but I am not going to help you with it." To me, when that latter group starts singing Bill Cosby's praises all of a sudden, the tune's a little off-key.
Here's what Cosby has to say about all that, as quoted by Campbell:
Suffice to say, most did not know what to make of Cosby’s headlong drive
into a social debate that long had been driven by what Cosby calls “poverty
While some blacks welcomed Cosby’s message, others, white liberals included, thought it fanciful and simplistic.
Conversely, conservatives co-opted Cosby’s message and used it to further incriminate those in the underclass for not pulling themselves up by the strings on their $500 Nike sneakers. They’ve all missed the point, according to Cosby.
“These people are the first ones to start screaming because they knew when they heard what I was saying that there was a chance they would lose their gig,” Cosby said. “People in the neighborhood have to teach people where they’re self-inflicting, and you do this through word of mouth and through example.
Austin Bay concludes:
Bill Cosby is trying to address the dimension of individual initiative and responsibility, which is always necessary but always tricky. Invoking "responsibility” inevitably ticks someone off because it entails finger-wagging. The most effective finger-waggers are funny and can laugh at themselves– and that’s why Cosby is so dangerous to the jerks who’ll “lose their gig” when citizens respond to his call for renewal and revival.
He's right. Read the whole thing.