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Cosby's message was good, but his presentation was garbage.

April 27, 2018

 

       Many people think the best "The Cosby Show" episode was the one where the Huxtables, with Rudy on lead vocals, sung "The Night Time Is The Right Time."

      They're wrong. The best one was where Vanessa brought home her new fiance, Dabnis, and Cliff - disgusted by the way the family met him - asked him his favorite meal.

 

 

 

 

       Dabnis, a meat-and-potatoes type - literally and figuratively - said his favorite meal would be a porterhouse steak with sautéed mushrooms and crispy potatoes.

      "I'm going to present it to you," Cliff said, "but I'm not going to use a plate. I'm going to take a garbage can lid and turn it upside down after taking it off a dirty garbage can. I take the steak and the potatoes and mushrooms and I give it to you.

      "Not too appetizing, is it?" he asked. "It's all in the presentation."

      Yep, and the same could be said of Cosby's message of uplift and self-determination that he tried to impart to some black people. His message - ensure your children are educated, speak proper English, pull their pants up, don't buy them $500 basketball shoes in lieu of books - was unassailable.

      But his presentation sucked.

      In seeking to impart his considerable knowledge, Cosby at times seemed to take that metaphorical trash can lid and bang it upside poor people's heads, the way Jerry the mouse was always slamming Tom the cat in those cartoons until his head vibrated.

      Cosby was just found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault and faces 30 years in prison. Since the dude is 80, and unless his middle name is Methuselah, that's a life sentence.

      It's been at least 40 years since Cosby started writing books and giving speeches about the so-called shortcomings - pathology, even - of poor black people, as though their impoverished condition was a result of moral laxity. (As we've seen, poor people have no monopoly on moral laxity.)

      As I often do when bewildered, I called up one of the smartest people I know, Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, to ask him why black people haven't rallied en masse to Cosby's defense.

      "Because they see him as fake," Neal, chairman of the African and African American Studies Department at Duke University, told me a couple of hours after the verdict.

      Cosby has spent decades, Neal said, "holding the Hip Hop generation accountable when he was doing the same or worse than they were. He's a hypocrite." 

      He also said that "in the current #MeToo climate, with all of these outspoken women, including women of color, nobody's going to be defending a serial sexual abuser."

      He wasn't finished, either. "It was not out of a spirit of love and generosity that Cosby was criticizing black folks," Neal said. "I think many people just saw it as straight-up hate."

      Holy mackerel!

      The staunchest Cosby fan has to acknowledge that even when he was right - stressing the importance of family, respect and education, for instance - his message of self-help had an air of self-righteousness and victim-blaming. I never once heard him rail against a government that spends billions on bombs while neglecting the schools that could teach Jamal and LaQuarsha to properly conjugate verbs.

      Cosby isn't the only one who seemed intent upon blaming poor people - black or white - for their plight. Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the current presidential administration, is Exhibit A. He, as did Cosby, grew up in the projects but seemingly has no empathy for those currently living there.

     I haven't set foot inside a Home Depot since its co-founder, Ken Langone, went on Fox News and said poor people "use food stamps to buy marijuana, that's illegal, or cocaine, or whatever the hell else people use to get high." 

      Nor is demonizing the poor a new phenomenon. When tennis great Arthur Ashe spoke at Morehouse College while I was a student there, he told a story about talking to some poor, young kids. To test their financial acumen, he said, he offered each of them $5 on the spot, or he could hold onto the fiver and give them $10 later, once interest accrued.

      They all said they wanted the $5 immediately.

      "I told them that's stupid," Ashe thundered from the stage. 

      As a 21-year-old who thought he knew everything worth knowing, I was this close to standing up and shouting a favorite barnyard epithet.

      Of course poor - and young - kids are going to take the immediate payoff, I wanted to shout, because immediate gratification was likely the only kind they knew, and they probably had never been taught about accrued interest and such.

       Besides, I wanted to yell, "they probably didn't even believe you'd come back with the $10."

       I loved Ashe and everything he stood for throughout his life, but I've always regretted not having the guts to stand up and let him know he was being unfair to those kids.

       As Cosby prepares his inevitable appeal, he'll no doubt wonder why the black community he thinks he was trying to help isn't rushing to defend him.

      The answer? It's all in the presentation.

 

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