Lectures From the Richest Among Us
By Dr. Gerald E. MatthewsIt is unfortunate that someone with the name recognition and tremendous wealth that Cosby possesses would spend time and effort disparaging the Black community. In light of continued police brutality perpetrated against Blacks, in addition to discriminatory policies that still affect our education and socio-political systems, Cosby has found it necessary in the twilight of his career to become a social critic of Black America.
It appears that Black people of wealth who have forgotten what it is like to be poor in America, actually poor and Black, stoop to the level of proselytizing with condescending platitudes directed at what they interpret as the great faults of Black America, particularly inner-city America.
The poorest among us do not need lectures from the richest among us as to what it is like to be poor and marginalized in the richest nation in the world. Therefore, when Cosby accuses young Blacks of not even being able to spell the “N word” that so many are fond of using, he is indicting a group that has no control over the system that is supposed to teach them the correct spelling of all words. But we know that the celebration of the Brown v. the Board of Education decision of 1954, also brought with it the recognition that our nation is more segregated now than it was when Brown was handed down. Additionally, it was not our youth who invented the “N word,” nor are they or their ancestors responsible for its negative connotations in this so-called enlightened society. Cosby and others of his paternalistic persuasion might do better in remembering that the origin of these negative words, phrases and acts as they relate to the Black experience in America are historically linked to our slave ancestry, which cannot be denied or shoved into some closet only to be opened to the light of day when it suits their paternalistic agenda.
Sadly, the Black Americans who have become the target of his constant diatribe are the ones who are suffering most under a system in which he has long since escaped. But when he characterizes the comedic antics of some folks in his business as reinforcing stereotypes, it is time that someone reminds him that his “Fat Albert Show,” with the collection of characters that he invented, is reminiscent of Buckwheat in “The Little Rascals.” Of course, he was on his way up, and so, therefore, he developed an act for American society, which was not too far removed from blackface slapstick comedy made popular during Jim Crow, much of which is still sidesplitting to many Americans today.
Mr. Cosby is no different than Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who used affirmative action to gain access to the many institutions of American society that have provided him and his family with the comfort and security that most other Blacks can only dream about. What Thomas tells us is the same thing that Cosby is saying now, that is, “Do what I say, and not as I do in securing the benefits of America.” Of course, we know this to be the ultimate of hypocrisy and paternalism. They are the handy tools of those who believe that their new station in life came only from their hard work, with little or no assistance from others.
Exploitation of a people or their current predicament to gain notoriety for oneself is not a new phenomenon. However, the parents of our youth should not be made to feel as if they are failing as parents because they cannot lift themselves or their children out of the quagmire that has created the long-term problems they face. Persons such as Cosby should know better than to fuss at adults and put them on the defensive when it is not them but the common system created by the architects of our oppression which should receive the brunt of their animus. Unfortunately, Cosby has found a new shtick to resurrect his long since dead career. Money it seems is not enough, so now he has found a new way to reinvent himself so the limelight does not dim. It is now Cosby, the thoughtful social critic, and his new target of exploitation is Fat Albert himself along with his buddies, who would now be called “his crew,” and their parents. Cosby should make up his mind.
— Matthews is an associate professor of social work at Ferris State University and a lecturer at the University of Michigan-Flint in the department of Africana studies.
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