Saturday, February 22, 2014

Is Bill Cosby Right? 4

In his controversial “Pound Cake” speech before the NAACP in 2004, Bill Cosby criticized and ridiculed fashion trends within the African-American community: baggy pants, body piercings, etc.  Cosby was also critical of African-American parents who give their children unusual names, such as Shaniqua and Taliqua.

In Is Bill Cosby Right? (Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?), Michael Eric Dyson attempts to explain the phenomena that Cosby criticized in his speech.  A lot of this phenomena, according to Dyson, is an attempt by African-Americans to assert their identity, their individuality, and their freedom in a world that has historically looked down on them and held them back.  Dyson provides historical background on this.

While Dyson refers to a study that argues that employers tend to discriminate against people with unusual names, Dyson says that African-Americans should not be blamed for being discriminated against: that the goal should be to eliminate the discrimination, not to blame the African-Americans who give their children unusual names.  Dyson also points out that white American society has accepted certain prominent African-Americans with unusual names: Oprah Winfrey, Shaquille O’Neill, and Condoleeza Rice.  Perhaps his hope is that this development will continue, and expand.

On page 139, Dyson does what he has done elsewhere in the book: he has compared the Bill Cosby of the “Pound Cake” speech with the earlier Bill Cosby.  Cosby, for example, exercised his freedom in naming his children according to his hopes and dreams for them: some of the names that he gave them were not conventional, and they all began with E, for “excellence.”  Dyson asks: “Why can’t poor parents enjoy the same freedom with their children?”

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