Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?

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Overview

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 ...

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Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
At a gala marking the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation ruling, comedian Bill Cosby astonished the audience with an impromptu diatribe against the lack of parenting, poor academic performance, sexual promiscuity, and criminal behavior among those he called the "knuckleheads" of the black community. Some members of the predominantly African-American audience gasped, but many applauded or laughed at Cosby's apparently spontaneous remarks. "Hip hop intellectual" Michael Eric Dyson uses this controversial incident to illuminate the widening divide between the successful black "Afristocracy" and the "Ghettocracy" underclass. Dyson asserts that the black middle class has now joined mainstream America in blaming the poor for their troubles rather than tackling the systemic injustices that damage their lives. A controversial critique from an influential social commentator.
Publishers Weekly
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) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In a 1968 television special, a 1969 Playboy interview, and a 1976 doctoral dissertation, Bill Cosby laid the responsibility for the constricted life opportunities of low-income blacks on the shoulders of privileged white society. Flash to May 2004, when Cosby gave a well-publicized speech in which he tore into those he referred to as African American "knuckleheads," calling them irresponsible and uneducated and charging them with failing in their parental duties. A best-selling author (Holler If You Hear Me), Baptist minister, and ex-welfare teenage father, Dyson (humanities, Univ. of Pennsylvania) firmly castigates Cosby for ignoring gross inequities in educational opportunities, criminal justice treatment, living conditions, and respect. Cosby, argues Dyson, should use his station in life to help. Highly recommended for those interested in exploring relations among the different U.S. classes and what the disparity means to the country's overall future.-Suzanne W. Wood, emerita, SUNY Coll. of Technology, Alfred Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641808418
  • Publisher: Basic Civitas Books
  • Publication date: 5/2/2005
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Eric Dyson, named by Ebony as one of the hundred most influential black Americans, is the author of sixteen books, including Holler if You Hear Me, Is Bill Cosby Right? and I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King Jr. He is currently University Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Customer Reviews

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( 20 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2005

    Personal excuse making

    Dyson does a good job of dissecting Bill Cosby's comments and pointing out flaws in those comments. However Cosby's comments, in my view, didn't deserve the full professorial attention Mr. Dyson has given it. After all, Bill Cosby was simply expressing his opinions. But Mr. Dyson seems to have taken those comments personally and feels a need to defend the culture of excuse making and victim posturing that is currently prevalent in 'American' society. I wanted to know more about the man who thought Cosby was all wrong. I wanted to know where his views orginated and what experiences affected his opinions. So here's what I found. Dyson grew up in a comfortable middle class family. He was a teenage father (part of the target audience Cosby was focused on) and was living off the welfare system for some small portion of his early adult years. He has been given many advantages in life, a fine education, achieved many accomplishements, so why is he saying poor black people are victims and we can't expect more of them? Mr. Dyson views are at once surprising and confusing. He should go back and study the writings of Martin Luther King or the Frederick Douglas. At no time, did either of these venerable men make excuses for African Americans. They fought against injustice but did not use that injustice as a reason for not doing better. Really Mr. Dyson....shame on you.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2005

    Yes!! Bill Cosby is Right

    Professor Dyson is missing the point when dubbs Bill Cosby's efforts as 'Blame-the-Poor-Tour.' We have to stop making excuses for not training our childen. Bill Cosby is like a general giving marching orders, encouraging and challenging us as individuals and communities to go to battle to recapture and secure our 'TOUR OF DUTY' of being effective parents. Cosby's alleged past mistakes in no way diminishes the importance of what he saying about our people and the need to do better. Our Children's future is at stake. Dyson says his aim is 'simply to provoke black folk into serious self-examination.' That is great! but there is no need to 'bash' Bill. Bill Cosby is 'Right'!!!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2005

    Please....

    What a sad excuse for a book. Having read this book, I can tell you it's main idea: excuses, excuses, excuses. What a sad shame. I am a proud Democrat and civil rights supporter, and lifelong Urban League and NAACP member, but I find this book to be confusing. How in the world can the author excuse such behavior! Go to any special education classroom, Mr. Dyson, for just 2 days, and then we'll see how you and your wine sipping, european car driving, pearly gates loving self feels! For shame. Go Bill Cosby!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2005

    We just don't get it, do we?

    First of all let me say that I admire Dr. Cosby for his very positive depiction of blacks in his work as a comedian and actor. When I first heard excerpts of his speech last year, I was one who was beating his drums saying, ¿say it Mr. Cosby, it¿s about time some of these knuckleheads are told the truth¿. So when I first got this book, I read it with a slight degree of trepidation, because I was scared I was going to read another dissertation on how ¿everything wrong with black people is due to some form of institutional racism¿. If it were not for the fact that I admire and respect Dr. Dyson¿s work, I would not have picked it up in the first place (although, I must say the title did amuse me). But slowly, however, as I read the book, I realized that the problem with my cries of self-righteousness upon first hearing excerpts of Dr. Cosby¿s speech was that I had not heard the whole speech and had not put his words in the right context of reality. Unless you read the book in its entirety, you will not get the point that Dyson is trying to make. It is somewhat hypocritical for Cosby to heap all this blame on working and poor black families in light of his own struggles growing up, and considering many of the social constraints that make it challenging to raise a black child in today¿s America. At first glance, you would think that Dyson is trying to give an excuse for all irrational behavior by black youth and their parents, but this is not the case at all. He goes through a lot of research to present facts that make you think and at least have more empathy before giving the ¿I-made-it-from-nothing-to-something, so-why-can¿t-you¿ speech. I find it very troubling that in America today, there seem to be two broad schools of thought in the political arena, without room for compromise: first, there is the let-the-government-solve-all-you-problems-for-you-because-you-are-a-vi ctim-of-racism-or-cirscumstance school of thought, and then there is the pull-yourself-up-by-the-boostraps-because-I-did-with-only-a-fraction-o f-the-reseources-you-have school of thought. We often label these philosophies liberal and conservative respectively. But the truth of the matter (as Dr. Dyson suggests in his book) is that the solutions to the problem of bridging the socio-economic gap between the poor black community and the black middle class are not always as simple as getting your child ¿hooked on phonics¿. Yes, education is an essential part of the growing process, but there are several constraints within the education system within urban communities that must be addressed. Whether our kids are buying $500 tennis shoes (as Cosby suggests) or wearing their pants backwards, or have names like Shaneka, Lakwanda (etc) is a secondary issue and does not address the issues that contribute to the hopelessness of plaguing many of our poor communities. Do we ever examine facts like an aggressive capitalistic business empire would rather your kids buy those expensive tennis shoes as they pawn famous athletes (who are predominantly black) to be used as spokespeople for their communities to get more sales to those ¿poor communities¿? Can we blame our kids for wanting to have a piece of the American dream, when for many just having those tennis shoes is a symbols of making it when names like Iverson, Lebron or Garnett are on those shoes [they themselves being positive models of going from rags-to-riches]? Whatever your political affiliation, I would still suggest you read this book, if not for anything else, but the facts that Dyson raises about our school systems, Cosby¿s up-bringing and background, and how ironic it seems that a man like Cosby who has always tried to avoid being labeled a black-leader (in an attempt to be seen as a human being first, not a black comedian) now all of a sudden deems himself a spokesperson for issues concerning poor and working class black families and children. It just makes me wonder, after reading this book, if Cosby

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2005

    Uncle toms Beware

    This excellent book my Mr. Dyson shows the self-hatred and elitism by upper middle class blacks. If you're an uncle tom then this book will show you about yourself.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2006

    Cosby's Money preceeds his mouth!

    Mr. Cosby has earned the right to be critical of his own culture. For years now, he has blazed a career and opened doors for countless black actors. He is responsible for a very positive portrayal of the black family as a success. And he has given generously to HBCUs and the Negro College Fund throughout the years. His actions of support for the black community are numberous and unassailable, and came long before any words of criticism of the black community.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2005

    Aren't both right?

    Sure, Mr. Dyson is right that some 'elite¿ blacks look down their noses at the 'rest of us'. He has HIS perspective. But, he is also only using a 'respected' figure to help sell his book. Clarence Thomas may have been a better figure to truly represent the kind of man who 'appears' to have abandoned his own people. But, then, speaking what seems obvious to everyone wouldn't sell as many books, would it? But, Bill Cosby is also right. All one has to do is see half-grown men brag about how many babies they have made (but don't care for) while they pull their pants 'down' around their knees, do nothing with their lives and complain about why they don't have anything. They are knuckleheads! Sure, racism is alive and well... it will put its foot on your neck and hold you down. But, is that an excuse for being a 'knuckle-head' and doing everything wrong yourself? I don't think so. If racism will keep you from achieving your potential, holding your OWN self back will make you hit rock-bottom a HECK of a lot quicker.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2005

    A Well Researched

    excuse and justification for continuing failure. A total waste of time for anyone with intelligence enough to see through the excuse making lies and self justifying methods by which some keep others down by telling them it's okay to perform awfully. Maybe you could sell that line to white liberals but not other African Americans who threw that excuse making aside and made something of themselves!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2005

    Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?

    Dyson articualtes the thoughts of the working class to the elites

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2005

    Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?

    I am one of the people Cosby talked about. I wear baggy clothes, listen to hip-hop and occasionally speak in slang. I also am a 3.0 college student who volunteers. Cosby and the people like him have no connection to the urban youth. They try to understand us, but they never talk to us. They just sit around and preach to each other. Dyson is the voice of the hip-hop generation and he allows us to express ourselves and we do know about personal responsibilty, but nobody makes it on their own Everybody receives help along the way, but the black elite is too busy looking down their noses at us to lend a helping hand.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2005

    Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?

    The self-hate inside the black elite is exposed. The black elite has always snubbed their noses at the working class. Do they lend ahelping hand? No! They spit on us. Dyson exposes the hyprocrisy of Cosby and his followers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2005

    Thought intensive

    Those wanting a clear understanding of what went into Bill Cosby's NAACP remarks last year should read this book, if you agreed or not. The points raised in this book are not only accurate, but also give a startling insight into Black middleclass self-hatred.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2005

    Dyson profits off the attitude he helps prop up

    People like Mr Dyson want to keep African Americans in a 'whoa is me' state of mind so they can feed off this attitude for their own benefit. Mr Dyson's books have sold fairly well over the years, which puts him in the financial stratosphere of the 'Afristocracy' whom he condems.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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