Contra Cosby

Salim Muwakkil in In These Times:

In Chicago, black protesters regularly ring the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Push headquarters, contesting his role, as well as his style of leadership. One of their signs reads: “He’s pimping our community.” Many of those demonstrating against Jackson are jobless former inmates who argue that the civil rights leadership does little to ameliorate their plight. These ex-offenders consider themselves victims of the prison-industrial complex and are becoming increasingly aggressive in their attempts to be heard.

Bill Cosby’s campaign to bring attention to the behavioral deficits of lower-income members of the black community is another signpost of this growing class tension. Cosby made remarks in 2004 at an NAACP dinner in Washington, D.C. that castigated “the lower-income people” for not “holding up their end of the deal.”

Cosby’s major point was that African Americans’ negative behavior is more responsible for their misery than white racism. The famous funnyman’s comments sparked such an explosion of controversy that Cosby took his act on the road. He has since been making the rounds of the macaroni-and-cheese circuit of black churches and other venues of middle-class propriety.

Last year he upped the ante with a book, Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors, that frames his hectoring broadsides in the comforting theme of cultural therapy. The softening of Cosby is probably due to the influence of his co-author, Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, a Harvard psychiatrist with a history of progressive activism.

But the book, essentially, is a glorified advice manual.