6 February 2007
Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?
Michael Eric Dyson
In his book, Is Bill Cosby Right Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost its mind?,
Michael Eric Dyson explores the reasons for and the fallacies of Bill Cosby‟s criticisms of poor black America. Dyson, a famous intellectual within the African American community, is a professor of Religious and Africana Studies at Princeton University, as well as an author, talk radio host, speaker, among many other titles. Dyson has a reputation of controversy and bluntness. As a pronounced embracer of his African heritage and Black American culture, Dyson is often in the forefront of controversial issues regarding the African Diaspora throughout the world, mainly within the United States.
Dyson‟s book, Is Bill Cosby Right Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost its mind?,
was written in response to a speech given by Bill Cosby at a May 2004 NAACP conference on the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v.
Board of Education. Cosby went on a 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. The hip hop culture advocate, Dyson, was very displaced by these comments coming from “America‟s Dad”, as Cosby is often called according to
Reaching out to the black community of America including all socioeconomic statuses and classes, Dyson makes an effort to appease all offended by Cosby‟s rant.
From black elites to the “common folk” across the Black American Diaspora, Dyson
points out possible reasons to Cosby‟s “rhymes” while knocking them down one by one.
Immediately after Cosby‟s speech, journalist and intellectuals of all media from radio to newspaper, to magazine, to television began to report on the harsh criticizing language that he used. Black America was very much ashamed not only that a member of the community would dehumanize an entire culture but, questioning if there was some truth to comments. In the controversial speech Cosby mocks parents who name their kids Shaniqua and Taliqua and criticizes both generations for using what‟s seen as grammatically incorrect speech (Danoff, 112). And Dyson does a good job reaching out to and calming the long debate within the community by his breakdown of Cosby‟s motives and reasons. In an interview with Ronald Roach in the journal Black issues on
Higher Education on Dyson‟s book, Dyson explains his reasons and reactions as well as those of the public to both his book and Cosby‟s comments:
“…Many Black people I knew would initially disagree with my arguments on Mr.
Cosby because they had a version of the speech that basically in their minds had
Cosby saying “Take are of your kids, stop being irresponsible, make sure that the
community is cleaned up” and who could argue with that. But I knew Mr. Cosby
had said something much more provocative, and ultimately much more
deleterious, and that he had framed his comments in such bitter and acrimonious
disputes with the poor and vicious assaults upon them that I felt motivated to
make arguments that would at least logically and rationally defend the
Dyson‟s tone throughout the book is very defensive and argumentative. It is
obvious that Dyson was very upset by the comments made by Cosby. The entire book is to inform and educate the public on the issue at hand. Dyson also wants to put some form of accountability on Cosby for his action or lack thereof and his thoughts about his own people. While there were those who agreed with Cosby‟s controversial stance on the declining values of some Black Americans, others felt he blamed the poor for their challenges without offering solutions (Danoff, 112).
This was not a first for such antagonistic comments been made about poor blacks by the elite. Dyson says, “Of course, the ink and applause Cosby has won rest largely on a faulty assumption: that he is the first black figure to stare down the „pathology‟ that
plagues poor blacks. But to believe that ignores how figures from black intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois to civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, in varying contexts, with differing results, have spoken controversially about the black poor.” The issues with Cosby are his
changing attitudes over the years, from being “America‟s Dad” as the comedic father on
The Cosby Show, to the serious elite intellectual he has become. New York Time journalist and author, Jay Jennings comments that Cosby‟s possible resentment may stem
from the death of his son: “Never fully coming to grips with the tragic death of his son
Malcolm has really changed his personality, he seems very bitter and he is not the same loveable Bill Cosby we grew to know and love”, says Davis.
By having such a role on television as the perfect father, much of Cosby‟s guilt may have come from Cosby‟s issues with himself. Dyson critique Cosby‟s own failures
at parenting: one daughter who fell victim to drug abuse, another daughter born of an extramarital affair and the salty relationship with his son just before his death. This being quite ironic, since most of Cosby‟s rants was to the effect of the poor parenting causing
such misfits of children, according to Dyson.
Michael Eric Dyson‟s argument against the comments and ideals of Bill Cosby is well developed. Being a professor of Religious and Africana Studies Dyson has already built a great level of credibility with his audience. Dyson explores Cosby‟s background
and possible reasons for his rants and anti-black comments. Dyson also paints Cosby as a present-day Booker T. Washington, placing the talented tenth of the assimilationists above the rest of the Black American community. By interrogating Cosby‟s faulty
parenting skills and lack of education, Dyson removes Cosby‟s accreditation as a valid
critic of poor black America. By appealing to the feelings and anger of the people, he adequately gains the trust of his readers.
Danoff, Douglas. “Is Michael Eric Dyson Right?”,Essence; 2005, 36.4 p. 112.
Dyson, Michael Eric. Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its
Mind? New York. Basic Civitas Books. 2005.
Fulwood III, Sam. “Review of: Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost
Its Mind?” Black Issues Book Review. 2005. 7.4 p. 75.
Jennings, Jay. Review of: IS BILL COSBY RIGHT? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost
Its Mind? New York Times Book Review. 2005 p. 20.
Piper, Bejamin. Review of: Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its
Mind? Harvard Educational Review. Cambridge. 76.2 p.279
Roach, Ronald. “IS DYSON RIGHT?” Black Issues in Higher Education. 2005, 22.13 p.
Smith, J H. Review of: Is Bill Cosby Right?: or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its
Mind?Choice. 2005. 43.4. p. 744.
Wood, Suzanne W. Review of: Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost
Its Mind?. Library Journal. 130.9 (2005), p133-133.