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In Defense of the Pudding Pop Man (Guest Post)

By JD McCallum

I am always leery of people who make a habit, or worse, a living, telling people what they want to hear.

When it comes to Black people telling each other what they want to hear, I especially grow suspect. I think of folk who have told us for so long that everything was Whitey’s fault, while allowing us to shirk accountability for the things we can control. I think of Black leaders who exhort the idea of living and working together while they reside in communities where their families are the only people of color in sight. I think of people who tell folk like me to sacrifice for the cause while they get rich from my inability to think for myself.

So, when a certain well known actor who has had his share of personal problems takes my community to task, and a well known academic, author and “activist” in turn takes said actor to task, I just get all confused.

More after the jump.

William H. Cosby, EdD. America’s dad. Cliff Huxtable. To my generation, the one and only Fat Albert. Oh, and the Jell-O Pudding Pop guy. Cos, if you haven’t heard, has been telling Black folk for the last couple of years they need to watch their kids, help with homework, and basically do better. Sexual harassment suits, dark glasses and obvious self aggrandizement aside, Dr. Cosby, to some, has a message.

Enter Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. Sitting at home over a cup of tea one evening, conjugating verbs in Ebonics and suffering from writer’s block, Cos up and hands him the topic for yet another non-academic, meaningless book of the “let me tell you what you want to hear” variety.

I know when someone is telling me what they think I want to hear. I have read Cos’ words. I have read Dr. Dyson’s rebuttals, straight from his keyboard, on his own web page. I have a judgment to render.

Cosby was right.

First, considering his generation, I have to defer to Dr. Cosby on the basis of his age. I recently had a conversation where a buddy and I laughed at the idea that somehow or another; we were living through truly tough times. My 84 year old grandmother lived through tough times. These ain’t it. Cosby’s logic, surprisingly, is the same I have heard from the mouth of this woman who was married 48 years, raised six children, umpteen grandchildren and then went to volunteer at the neighborhood school after her husband’s death. She, and many her age, have never stopped marveling at how many opportunities Black folk have available to them in this day and age. She has never said, “America is perfect.” She has never said, “Things are fair.” She always believed, though, where there was a will, there was a way.

It is a sobering experience when someone who doesn’t get a paycheck for pontificating sadly recounts that we kill more of each other on street corners than the Klan did in the fields of Mississippi. It is eye opening to hear tales of how people made so much more from so much less. This is someone who remembers a day when fewer Black men went to college than can attend now. At a time when the reality was that even an advanced degree would not guarantee Black men of her generation employment beyond the post office. Most of those men went to school after military service, balancing full time jobs and families. She is not trying to hear about people who have excuses as to why they cannot support their families and better themselves and their communities.

My granny doesn’t have much patience for youngsters, including her kin, who can basically go to school on someone else’s dime and can find time to drink, party and pledge but not graduate in a timely manner.

She cannot understand how women can make babies with chains of irresponsible men and then assume someone else is supposed to care for them.

The concept of “proper” English versus “Ebonics” is lost on her. There is one language that you have to speak to earn a living in this country, she figures. Ebonics ain’t it.

My grandmother has known Black men imprisoned for political beliefs. She does not equate Geronimo Pratt with Pookie. Pook was a danger to his own community. That’s where she draws the line.

She has lived through a time where public policy makers completely ignored Black folk. Where personal expression took a backseat to personal advancement, and where Willis wagons and their half school days sent kids to Morehouse, Spelman, Hampton and the like. She clearly recounts her husband working two full time jobs and owning a barbershop to give his family a better life. She is not surprised to live in a time where a Black man sits at the helm of this country. All of these are things an academic the age of her children has argued, in his book, are the reason why Blacks aren’t making it. Further, he argues their plight is not their fault. For a woman who came from much less than many of the folk Cosby criticizes, this is silliness of the highest order.

When I asked her about Cosby’s personal problems and how they might adversely affect his message, she shrugged.

“If your doctor cheats on his taxes, what does that have to do with his prescribing you medicine to cure your cold?”

A person who tells you what you want to hear usually is profiting from doing so. A person who tells you like it is knows what great things you are capable of achieving.

———–

JD McCallum is the author of the blog Ya’ll Know Better and he is here to give you the truth according to JD — whether you want it or not. A native Chicagoan, McCallum has suffered through private sector, social service and special education employment. After enduring the ultimate indignity of graduate school, he decided writing would prove more therapeutic and less costly than counseling. A single parent, he steadfastly maintains he invented the question mark.

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28 thoughts on “In Defense of the Pudding Pop Man (Guest Post)

  1. DJ says:

    Good post, as someone who was raised by grandmother and great grandmother I must concur with a number of things you pointed out. Bill Cosby and i have always been about 50/50. I agree with the pulling up the pants and helping the kids with their homework but then he takes a step to far and tells me who is and is not funny. You can’t be a expert at everything Bill.

  2. Demetra says:

    I also agree with cosby. I see the negativity all too often in my own family and it makes me wonder why is it ok for them to do the things that they do and yet it’s repulsive to me. We all have been cut from the same kind of clothe yet I am intolerant to ignorance on any level. We have so many civil liberties today that "we" choose not to take advantage of. For instance, I am in the process of helping my brother in school all the while he complains about how rough life is. I guess it is when you are a teen parent still living at home with a minimum wage job. Momma didn’t raise us to be that way and life is only as hard as you make it. If you have no vision for your future then it’s hard to press forward and realize your dream. I think we all need to have a vision of where we are going in life, what we want to see ourselves achieve and go for it because no one will be passing anything out.

  3. Karyn says:

    I don’t disagree with Cosby I just disagree with the way it is discussed as if black folks are the only ones with these issues. Every generations youths don’t get how truly difficult the older generation had it not just black people. I’d venture to say that every racial and ethnic group in American society can point to a group of people who are not upholding the standards of the middle and upper class of that group. The problem I see with Cosby’s rhetoric is the idea that this failure of a certain group of blacks to achieve is a failure that is steeped solely in character weaknesses of black culture. I believe in personal responsibility but I don’t think it is as simple as saying to "people pull yourselves up by your bootstraps, the opportunity is there". (slightly stream of consciousness, so I apologize if I’m not quite clear)

  4. Larry says:

    I am appreciative of the courage it took for Dr. Cosby to share his opinions. Sure I was concerned with him voicing those opinions in the msm, but happy that finally we as a community can begin to openly discuss our challenges and our widening generational divide. But instead of Dr. Cosby’s comments being used to bring about real change in the African-American community, his comments have become the excuse many were looking for to marginalize our community and our contributions to this nation.While reading various blogs, message boards and of course CL or just watching the various television news shows I am often taken aback by the freedom in which so many harshly judge and/or criticize the African-American community. What other community (with maybe the expectation of undocumented residents) must defend itself continually against ongoing attacks?As a community we have a lot of work to do, but we should not lose sight of the fact that every single day our fathers and mothers go to work and our children go to school and we all make the same contributions to this nation as every other group.

  5. Hi there!I think that Bill Cosby was ON POINT with his comments and he did not grow up in the upper echelon of society. He grew up in an all-black construct and he was hardly a child of a well-to-do family. I don’t understand why black people were saying "what does HE KNOW about where we came from?" Ummmm….excuse me…but Bill did not spend his summers at Martha’s Vineyard.Granted, Bill has been out of the ‘hood for decades but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t understand what is happening in the ‘hood… his observations were NOT incorrect. People get offended when you tell the truth on them in public spaces!I have listened to people say "well what about his marriage? how can he talk about unwed mothers?" He can talk about marriage too! A man who has made mistakes in HIS OWN marriage can’t talk about how to make a marriage work? Clearly, his wife is not a desperate fool so they worked THROUGH their problems. Why can’t he speak on it?His children had problems in life but does THAT mean that he can’t talk about problems that other parents have? As a minister, I have people asking me why I preach about virginity if I am not a virgin. I love the response a minister gave a group of women who asked her if she had sex with her husband before marriage, "She said, ‘yes I did and THAT is precisely why I am telling women not! I can’t reverse what I did but I can share the wisdom I gained from what I did."

  6. MrsT says:

    @ LarryIn order to contribute to society you must be a productive member of it. Pookie and ’em are not productive, at least not in any sort of way that is useful to those of us in society who are.I agree with Bill Cosby and with most of our grandparents. Being productive for them was not an option, and unfortunately for too many in the younger generation it is. Education is not required if you have no plans of being productive, seeking out skills and employment opportunities are not required if you have no plans of being productive and protecting yourself from having 21 children is certainly not required if you have no plans of being productive.Two generations ago most black communities were almost completely self sufficient, because they had to be. Pookie and ’em can not be self sufficient because they are too busy actin’ a damn fool. I know its harsh, but someone had to say it. And I do not believe that all young people strive to be unproductive, I know its just a "select" few but I think its become too commonplace (and apparently accepted) and that is what shocks our grandparents into speaking up.Michael Eric Dyson loves the sound of his own voice entirely too much.

  7. Nona says:

    I think there’s truth in both points of view. On one hand we must take personal responsibility, on the other we must keep addressing and dismantling racism. The two aren’t mutually exclusive … but perhaps we have neglected personal responsibility in favour of dismantling (or griping about) racism.

  8. Larry says:

    Hello MrsT.Here lies my concern. When did Pookie (and ’em) become symbolic of the African-Americn community?

  9. willet784 says:

    I always thought Cosby was right b/c he did it out of love. He has always done his best to contribute to the black community monetarily and otherwise. He isn’t like the Fox News black people who basically pimp out advice to make black people look bad while promoting themselves. I think the problem most black people had with Cosby is that he went to the white media to call black people out instead of going to BET or Radio One or Tom Joyner. It was more embarrassment why black people were mad. He never went on Fox News though b/c he knows they are racists. I remember after Obama won Cosby was asked about the right wing attacks on black people and he basically said he’s not worried about them, he just wants more black people to be like the Obamas, who worked hard and overcame the odds. He especially talked about Michelle Obama’s father who had MS and still went to work, but started out an hour earlier than usual to get ready.@ Larry: The fact is Pookie (an ’em) are the visual of black people in popular culture which many black people celebrate. I think Cosby wants black people not to celebrate them, period, which is why he was ticked by "Hustle and Flow." Mind you, MTV made that movie, but black people were celebrating the movie.

  10. starrie says:

    i agree with cosby for the most part…although black folks are not the only ones behaving badly…now, if only cosby can just keep his business in his pants…

  11. rikyrah says:

    My mother, my aunts, my uncles, every elder in the Church I heard discussing this, thought Bill Cosby was spot on. Your Grandmother sounds like them.

  12. Hank Nasty says:

    I thought the Cos was right on point and who the hell cares if he blasted us in mainstream media?! I’m pretty sure white folks weren’t surprised by anything he had to say, as they have probably felt and thought that for a long time.

  13. willet784 says:

    @ Hank: The issue I think most black people had with Cosby going to the white media was that it reinforced white privilege–that they had no responsibility whatsoever for black people’s status in America–it’s just black people who are too lazy to pull themselves up from their bootstraps int he 40 years since we’re able to vote and have full citizenship rights. Cosby and the elders is/was saying that black people should do better regardless of white people and black people against Cosby were saying that if you say that white people are going to think they have nothing to do with institutional racism, etc.

  14. Hank Nasty says:

    @willet784… I understand that a lot of us interpreted the Cos’ tirade to be doing the "dirty work" of genial white folks by saying what they can’t (at least without being labeled a racist), or that he was minimizing their historical role in helping to create our dysfunction. I guess what I was trying to say is that regardless of the forum, the Puddin’ Man spoke the truth, and to me, the truth trumps everything. The truth always rings clear regardless of the delivery, the medium, the source, the audience… everything. The people angry at Cliff were angry because he told the truth so plainly that it was less a slap in the face and more like a throat chop.

  15. rikyrah says:

    Cosby had the best retort to the ‘dirty laundry’ argument:’ Your dirty laundry is out there for everyone to see at 2:30 (when school lets out).’

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