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Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?by Michael Eric Dyson
"Dyson, in a seamless progression, has gone from writing a searching and at times worshipful study of Tupac Shakur (Holler If You Hear Me, a work that established his reputation with many in my generation) to damning Bill Cosby. Amazingly, the flawed (and violent and misogynistic and undeniably brilliant) Shakur gets far more respectful treatment than the hopelessly square Cosby." Reihan Salam, the New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
The acclaimed "hip-hop intellectual" exposes the raw nerve of class and generational warfare in black America with this provocative defense of impoverished African Americans.
Nothing exposed the class and generational divide in black America more starkly than Bill Cosby's now-infamous assault on the black poor when he received an NAACP award in the spring of 2004. The comedian-cum-social critic lamented the lack of parenting, poor academic performance, sexual promiscuity, and criminal behavior among what he called the "knuckleheads" of the African-American community. Even more surprising than his comments, however, was the fact that his audience laughed and applauded.
Best-selling writer, preacher, and scholar Michael Eric Dyson uses the Cosby brouhaha as a window on a growing cultural divide within the African-American community. According to Dyson, the "Afristocracy" — lawyers, physicians, intellectuals, bankers, civil rights leaders, entertainers, and other professionals — looks with disdain upon the black poor who make up the "Ghettocracy" — single mothers on welfare, the married, single, and working poor, the incarcerated, and a battalion of impoverished children. Dyson explains why the black middle class has joined mainstream America to blame the poor for their troubles, rather than tackling the systemic injustices that shape their lives. He exposes the flawed logic of Cosby's diatribe and offers a principled defense of the wrongly maligned black citizens at the bottom of the social totem pole.
Displaying the critical prowess that has made him the nation's preeminent spokesman for the hip-hop generation, Dyson challenges us all — black and white — to confront the social problems that the civil rights movement failed to solve.
"Last May, iconic comedian Cosby raised a storm with a dyspeptic rant about the self-destructive failures of the black underclass: 'knuckleheads' without parents who 'put their clothes on backward,' speak bad English and go to jail. To pop culture intellectual Dyson — author of books on Marvin Gaye, Tupac Shakur and Martin Luther King Jr. — this was the most blatant manifestation of an attitude shared by the 'Afristocracy.' With empathy and energy, Dyson takes Cosby at his word and dissects his arguments — as well as the comedian's own conduct — in order to combat Afristocratic dogma. While Dyson is merciless in assessing both, he takes the opportunity to explore a host of hot-button issues in black culture, from illegitimacy to faux African names, citing data and making his own case for black culture as adapted to a dominant white society that systematically puts up barriers to opportunity. The prolific Dyson has already generated controversy with what finally amounts to an evisceration of a major black figure, but that seems to be precisely the point. Despite the specificity and ferocity of Dyson's critique (which draws on allegations that Cosby sexually abused a woman and fathered an illegitimate child, and understates the race politics of The Cosby Show), Cosby ends up more of a straw man than take-down victim, as Dyson celebrates the 'persistent freedom of black folk.' 12-city author tour; 40-city radio satellite tour. (May) " Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Dyson makes intricate arguments....As persuasive as this book is, however, Dyson does leave it open to one minor criticism: Does the subject deserve an entire book, or would a good solid magazine piece have been sufficient?" South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Book News Annotation:
In May 2004 Cosby delivered a speech at the NAACP Awards in which he said he blamed what he termed the "knuckleheads" of the African American community for poor parenting, poor academic performance, sexual promiscuity and criminal behavior. The audience laughed and applauded. Here, Dyson (humanities, U. of Pennsylvania) comments on both the speech and the reaction, finding a growing cultural divide between the "Afristocracy" (the African American elite and professional classes) and the "Ghettocracy" (the African American poor, working class and incarcerated). He finds evidence of abandonment of the aims of the civil rights movement among the elite, and a growing perception that the poor have no one to blame but themselves, despite obvious, ongoing and vicious racial discrimination in America.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Bestselling writer, preacher, and scholar Michael Eric Dyson uses Bill Cosby's comments of 2004 as a window on a growing cultural divide within the African-American community.
The acclaimed writer, preacher, and "hip-hop intellectual" exposes the raw nerve of class and generational warfare in black America with this provocative defense of poor African Americans.
About the Author
Michael Eric Dyson is the author of the best-selling Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves & Demons of Marvin Gaye, and I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr. Now the Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, he lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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