In Defense of Come On, People

Amy Alexander in The Nation:

[I]n the weeks since October 14, when Cosby and Poussaint spent a full hour on NBC’s venerable Sunday morning talk show Meet the Press laying out their argument, a sectarian rift has opened in black America–at least the part with access to the Internet and the wherewithal to write op-eds and put up blogs. While Come On, People acknowledges the thick complexity of issues that lay beneath the long list of unhappy statistics affecting some blacks–high rates of homicides, homelessness, single-parent households–Cosby and Poussaint say they want black Americans to take ownership of devising solutions.

I take their argument at face value, and I appreciate the goal of encouraging self-determination. (I also have a connection to Poussaint that gives me insight to his thinking: in 2001, he and I wrote a book together about African-Americans and mental health.) Unlike the overwhelmingly favorable response to broadcaster Tavis Smiley’s bestselling book The Covenant With Black America, reaction from African-Americans to Come On, People has been heated and decidedly mixed.

Much of the animus has to do with Cosby’s enormous wealth and recent accusations from women who claim they had sexual liaisons with the entertainer. And more to the point, Cosby’s notorious talk at a 2004 Brown v. Board of Education fiftieth anniversary event in Washington, DC–in which he railed in harsh language against the destructive behavior of “low-income” blacks–has led some African-Americans to doubt the sincerity of the performer.