This past Sunday’s Washington Post ran an opinion column by Indiana University professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad. (Read it here.) In it, he attacks Cosby for his message of self empowerment to the black community. As you may know, Bill Cosby has been on a vigorous campaign in recent years to spread a “call to action” to blacks in America. Of course, most of our black “leaders”, politicians, and intellectuals want to slander Cosby and kill his message. They make a living pointing out racism as the cause of all black peoples problems. Mind you, these people with their tired rhetoric, useless marches, and academic arguments about systemic racism do absolutely nothing to help impoverished black people. Just look at how Muhammad tries to smear Cosby’s message.
Recently I showed my college students a YouTube clip of Bill Cosby’s and Alvin Poussaint’s appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” After hearing Cosby plead for poor blacks to embrace their parenting responsibilities, many of the students said they wished their parents had followed his advice.
…They might have been the perfect audience for a Cosby town-hall lecture on the dangers of self-destructive values in black America. They might also have been perfect illustrations of the growing “values gap” between poor and middle-class blacks described in a widely cited recent Pew Research Center poll.
Except almost all my students are white.
Cosby and the recent Pew study are the latest in a long finger-wagging tradition of instructing poor blacks to lift themselves up by their bootstraps and reject pathologically “black” values.
He trying to invalidate Cosby’s message by co mingling it with an unrelated Pew Study in what he calls a long tradition of “finger-wagging”. Some things in life are universal, things like responsibility for yourself and a parent’s responsibility for their children. These are the things Bill Cosby is talking about. But in no way does he imply that lack of these responsibilities is exclusive to poor blacks, only that improved responsibility is the way to succeed. Yes, Muhammad’s college class may have been attentive to Cosby’s message, but Cosby means it to be a call to action for the black community where he also has no problem drawing attentive crowds. Cosby is always well received at his urban centered townhall meetings and his talking points gain passionate approval. The sessions often have the feel of a revival meeting, with frequent shouts from the audience [“Preach”, “Amen”, etc].
“…reject pathologically “black” values”? Muhammad’s paraphrasing of Cosby’s stump speech has implications of a typical accusation; generalizing and stereotyping black people. This same argument is raised against any message of accountability directed toward black people. Cosby has long since responded to this accusation by his critics. “I was not talking about ‘all,’ ” Cosby said in a 2004 Chicago Sun-Times article. “I just took for granted that it would be understood that, if you talk about 50 percent, you can’t be talking about all.” Apparently Cosby overestimated the common sense and reasoning of Khalil G. Muhammad and his likes. It’s crazy that someone can’t point out the problems that exist within the black community without being accused of stereotyping all black people.
Muhammad also misrepresents the cited Pew Study. First off, the Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan organization who define themselves as a “fact tank”. They don’t publish opinions nor do they have any political or social agenda. The study Muhammad cites reported the results of a large-scale poll with a variety of questions pertaining to peoples perceptions of the “State of Black America”. So the values gap Muhammad is talking about is public perception, not the Pew’s “finger-wagging”. The poll question was posed like this: “In the last 10 years have the values held by middle class black people and the values held by poor black people become more similar or more different?”, with values is defined loosely as “things that people view as important or their general way of thinking.” Blacks actually reported a greater disparity than whites, with 61% responding “more different vs. 54% of white people. I guess this is black people “finger-wagging” themselves. (Read the Pew Study for yourself here.)
Muhammad shouldn’t be upset because the Pew study backs Cosby, but because public opinion, and more importantly, black opinion comes down on the side of Cosby. Only 30% of blacks polled said they felt that racial discrimination is the main reason that blacks can’t get ahead. 53% said they felt that blacks are ultimately responsible for their own success. Black opinion also reflects Cosby’s message on ineffective black leadership, the negative influence of hip hop, inner-city crime, high out of wedlock birthrates, and high school drop-out rates. On top of all that, Bill Cosby is explicitly mentioned in the poll and received 85% approval as a “good influence” vs. 1% disapproval. He ranked 2nd highest of all black public figures included in the poll, beating Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton by 15-20%.
In its coverage of the Pew report findings, National Public Radio asked whether some blacks were lagging behind because they were choosing not to become “closer to whites in their values.” Unfortunately, this line of questioning reinforces one of the most persistent myths in America, that white is always right. The myth reflects an enduring double standard based on “white” and “black” explanations for social problems. And it assumes that “white” culture is the gold standard for judging everyone, despite its competing ideologies, its contradictions and its flaws, including racism.
Here Muhammad blatantly misquotes the question from NPR. The actual question was along the lines of… “Are middle and upper class blacks getting closer to whites in their values?” I admit, even in the original form, the question is a bit presumptuous, and could be perceived as implying that white values are the goal to aim for. However, it took quite a stretch for Muhammad to concoct his version of the question: “National Public Radio asked whether some blacks were lagging behind because they were choosing not to become closer to whites in their values.” You should also know that no questions in the Pew poll itself include phrasing pertaining to blacks “getting closer” or “catching up with” whites. The values portion of the study did however pose questions about the “convergence” of black and white values. Anyway, after Muhammad misquotes NPR to pose his own racist question, he goes off on a rant about the “white is always right” myth. He even goes as far as to cite the common perpetuation of black inferiority during the post-slavery and early 20th Century eras.
As segregation took hold, there was a powerful need to minimize the role of racism as a factor in explaining racial disparities. The “Cosby” role at the start of Jim Crow was first played by Booker T. Washington. Counseling blacks to conquer their inferiority, he repudiated civil rights activism in favor of self-help and moral regeneration.Many whites loved Washington, and his ideas were echoed by liberal social scientists such as the psychologist G. Stanley Hall, who instructed black people to stop sympathizing “with their own criminals” and “accept without whining patheticism and corroding self-pity [their] present situation, prejudice and all.”
Muhammad goes on in an attempt to smear Booker T. Washington as a tool of racist and segregationist to alleviate the blame of racism for the ails of blacks. He defines this as the “Cosby” role. How can Cosby play this role when, as far as I know, segregation is no longer pervasive in our society. And why would the role of racism need to be minimized by Cosby when the same Pew Study Muhammad cites earlier in his column shows that Cosby’s message is aligned with the majority of public perception, including blacks most of whom don’t see racism as the paramount obstacle to their success. Cosby has also explicitly stated that he does not deny the existence of systemic racism, but that is not the issue he is speaking on. Muhammad also does a great disservice to the legacy of B. T. Washington, who at times, may have put the Civil Rights Battle on the back burner to preach self reliance and repudiate the hopeless attitudes of many blacks and former slaves, but his was a much needed voice even in times of harsh, widespread racism in America. He was not however, anti-civil rights as Muhammad would like to believe. Washington often scolded whites for systemic, racist practices. In his speech “Democracy and Education”, Washington addresses the lack of educational opportunity to blacks, voting intimidation, lynching, etc. He clearly proclaims to whites; “You must help us to raise the character of our civilization or yours will be lowered.”
After Muhammad tries to smear the legacy of Booker T. Washington, he goes on again to attack the idea of “white values” being the gold standard by which to judge others. He slams these, so-called, “white values”, I guess to show that they are no better than, so-called, “black values”. In no way does Cosby or the Pew Research Center ever distinguish white and black values in a way to suggest that black people need to adopt “white values” to succeed. I truly do not understand this warped mindset of Muhammad and others who agree with this stuff. When your thinking is this polarized in terms of black and white, you lose your grip with reality. If you are hunting for racism everywhere you look, you’ll find it whether it’s there or not. You can even look at a black man going out of his way to help poor blacks lift themselves out of poverty, and brand him racist against his own people and a tool of the white racist establishment. Ridiculous! Even if you don’t agree with everything Cosby says, how can you disagree with a message meant to empower black people? Even if you believe the fight against racism to be the primary front in helping the black community, what do you want black people to do… sit on there hands while you keep running your mouths, marching, and “stickin’ it to the man”!? Black leadership in America has always had disputing methodologies (Booker T. Washington vs. W.E.B. Dubois, Martin Luther King vs. Malcolm X…) but there has always been a common goal, to improve the condition of blacks in America. That has changed with today’s leaders and intellectuals. They wish to keep the black community paralyzed by neutralizing any message of black empowerment. More importantly they must blame racism at all cost, even the cost of progress.