Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Acting White: Come On, People.

I have followed Bill Cosby’s efforts to, in his words, ‘shake-up’ black people, most recently in his book, “Come On, People” and I have listened to his detractors to understand their disagreements with him, his content and/or his approach. In all of the conversations, the point that comes home for me is the emotional magnitude of the problem and the desperation of everyone to light the match of change, including the efforts of veteran wise men turned author duo of Cosby and Alvin Poussaint M.D., noted Harvard Professor of Psychiatry.

Indeed the magnitude is great, but for many, Cosby’s dramatic presentation is too easily minimized and derided, in the same way people are admonished for seeing a glass as half empty, rather than half full. For my own perspective, I have tried to quantify the magnitude of current black plight in America. Using the National Urban League’s equality index (.73) as the starting point, the tally for black disparity-of-result in all measures of living, including housing, education, employment, and wealth, is enormous. Using census data, the bill that matches black disparity comes to over $440 billion dollars per year - or more than the total yearly gross domestic product (GDP) of all of Sub-Sahara Africa.

I appreciate Dr. Cosby‘s willingness to use Poussaint’s expertise to back-up his words, be it as the creator of “America’s Favorite Dad”, Cliff Huxtable, or as black America’s straight-talking “Daddy-Moses”, attempting to lead his people from the depths. With Poussaint’s help, Cosby has challenged many misconceptions of blackness, but no amount of artistry can, nor should it ever try to, hide the pain quantified in a $1.2 billion per day loss of participation of African-Americans. That’s $30 per day loss GDP for every black man, woman, and child!

The monetary cost are mind-boggling, but of course it really is not about the money but rather the human toll. On one side you have blacks suffering all the negative emotional and physical affects of not achieving that which seems so achievable, as shown by the top quartile of the group. On the opposite side there is a growing feeling that enough accommodation has been ceded. Two angles, each with its own validity.

So when Cosby shows frustration, or indignation at people who refuse to see, hear, or acknowledge the problems they face, he is representing an entire community. Specifically he reflects wise, frustrated, aged black men, regardless of the protestations of those who are uncomfortable with the 'airing'. The unfortunate truth is that team Cosby, or others for that matter, cannot solve this problem alone. The whole country must dig deep to be part of the solution, and the first thing we must swallow is our embarrassment and resentment over the living, breathing proof of complicity. And while we work hard to accept those disparities before us as ultimately our own, perhaps we can also work as hard to avoid the tendency to want to shoot the much-needed messenger.

James C. Collier


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Deocliciano Okssipin Vieira, aka Ochyming said...

In my opinion there would always be racists.
But the worst of racism is the fact that the stigmatized may actually believe in its premises.

And the majority of Africans [be it Afro-americans or African] do believes that they are inferior.
I believe it is the main reason for policies like A.A. to be discarded.

Anonymous said...

"But the worst of racism is the fact that the stigmatized may actually believe in its premises."

I'm for AA, scholarships, anything, because I live in a poor state. It is so crystal clear, the people who do best in college are the ones who don't have to work too much and most of those people are white.

Acting 'white', though, I don't know that it is an advantage. It means in part acting entitled, which doesn't work very well unless you have a trust fund. I teach in a blacker than average state (Louisiana) and I can report that Black students do homework more consistently than white students. It is true! I can prove it statistically! I discovered this empirically - I do not say it out of any form of prejudice! That's where I disagree with Cosby ... sometimes "just working harder" and all is not the point.

Deocliciano Okssipin Vieira, aka Ochyming said...

What is wrong in believing that anyone is the master of his/her own destiny?

That is the message Cosby is portraying.

I feel that we are afraid of it, because we do believe, alone we cannot do better.


cero said...

... and I can report that Black students do homework more consistently than white students.

so what?

Why compare?
What is really important?