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

Overview

Michael Eric Dyson took America by storm with this provocative expose of the class and generational divide that is tearing black America apart. 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 ...

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

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Overview

Michael Eric Dyson took America by storm with this provocative expose of the class and generational divide that is tearing black America apart. 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: 9780465017201
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/2006
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 660,265
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (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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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2008

    Nothing But Excuses

    I am sick and tire of African Americans blaming the white society for their bad choices. They are many who made it out of crime and poverty by doing something positive. It is called CHOICE. I came from a poor family and choose to do something positive by doing well in school and graduating from college. WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE! We are the ones who can teach young African Americans that they can do better by using their heads. I am doing it now. We are their role models. DO SOMETHING POSITIVE!

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Black on Black

    Michael Eric Dyson has taken Bill Cosby to task for his comments regarding African-American families of the rap/hip-hop era. Dyson believes that rather than lambast at-risk African-American families, Cosby should help uplift rather than downgrade them. If nothing else, Cosby, in Dyson's opinion, has crossed that invisible line in which blacks do not denigrate other blacks in public, in the mainstream society, i.e. white society. Cosby by virture of this public chastising is a race traitor even though these same African-American families have helped support his career for several decades. Who is right? Who is wrong? Race will continue to be a topic that haunts our nation even as we watch our first mixed race African-American president demonstrate that the American dream can hold true for all of our children, regardless of their race, creed, color, ethnicity, religion, or economic status in life.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 1, 2007

    I don't think some of you got it....

    Admittedly, I did not read the book in its entirety, just the first third or so 'and that was almost a year ago'. However, as I was reading it quickly became clear to me that Dyson¿s book is not about making excuses for black people who don¿t help themselves. Rather, it is an attempt to explain to readers how much harder it is for many African Americans 'or black people, or whatever term you care to use' to succeed in life than it is for white Americans. Essentially, he is trying to get readers to see that it takes an extraordinary black person to execute a bootstrap-lift, and that the fact that society is in such a state should be taken into consideration before anyone lays full blame for lack of success at the feet of those who didn¿t succeed. I am, however, slightly disappointed that he 'from what I read' confined the issue mostly to black people. The disadvantaged state he describes applies to people of all races simply because its cause is inherited poverty and poverty doesn¿t see race. However, this fact is highly forgivable in light of the nature of the book 'a response to an attack on black youth'.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2007

    Daring...

    In this book, Dyson takes a daring stab at Cosbys allegations against the 'black poor'. He bodly defends those whom can not defend themselves in this manner and he highlights Bill Cosbys hypocrate like ways. Dyson informs black elites, that the problem is far more complex than the black lower class not knowing how to behave, spend their money properly or just being an out right embarassment of black America. The blame is shared equally among societal structures, lack of access to adequate resources and individual responsibility. However, the points can become a bit redundant.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2006

    Probably not worth reading

    Ever watch Charlie Brown? Remember when the childen are in class and the teacher is talking? All the students hear is... waaa waaa waaa. That is exactly what this book is. What is wrote in this book could have been wrote by a college sophomore in a 3 page essay and quite possibly done a better job at it. Again, probably not worth your time

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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