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.