Bill Cosby’s new book “Come On People” pointed in right direction but misses the mark
In 2004, Bill Cosby sent shockwaves through the black community after a speech that he made at Washington D.C.'s Constitution Hall. During his talk, Cosby seemed to lash out at Black America in general, poor black people in particular.
In response to Cosby's speech which was reported on by the Washington Post, Michael Eric Dyson wrote a book titled Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind? Dyson highlights some quotes from Dr. Cosby's speech that made national headlines and angered a certain number of black folks.
From Is Bill Cosby Right?
The venerable father figure also lambasted black parents who give their children "names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Muhammad and all that crap.."
It (black children) can't speak English. It doesn't want to speak English. I can't even talk the way these people talk. (Cosby)
Fast forward to the recent release of Come On People:The Path From Victims to Victors by Bill Cosby and Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, M.D. Dr. Cosby's website refers to book as "a powerful message for families and communities as they lay out their visions for strengthening America, or for that matter the world."
It goes on to say "they address the crises of people who are stuck because of feelings of low self-esteem, abandonment, anger, fearfulness, sadness, and feelings of being used,undefended, and unprotected."
My quick take on Dr. Cosby's book:
- The problems addressed are real issues in the Black Community
- References small but important issues like TV's in bedrooms, dental health, and media influences
- Words from people who attended Cosby's Town Hall Meetings
- Written in first person plural voice
- Over 125 sub-chapters
- Authors seemed ashamed of and removed from intended audience
I could never get past the fact that Cosby and Poussaint literally co-wrote the book. There were sentences stating your authors did this, we think this or that, we feel one way or another. This Come On People line of thinking is attributed to Bill Cosby, and I wanted to know that Bill Cosby was telling me what I was reading. That wasn't the case in this book.
When listening to Cosby in sound bites over the last few years, my problem has not been his message. When Cosby speaks, I cannot hear love in his voice, all I hear is disdain and disgust. Disdain for our brothers and sisters is not going to solve the problem.
That voice his toned down in the book, and I don't know whether that's Dr. Poussaint's influence or response to public reaction. But there are enough jabs at the expense of Black America to keep this from being a work born out of love. I'm still unable to tell where all this is coming from. The message is loud and anything but clear.
I was however able to get through the book, which is more that I can say for Dyson's work. Dr. Dyson's Is Cosby Right seemed to blame everyone else for the problems without asking for enough responsibility from the African-American community.
The problems highlighted in Come on People are real, and are evident in black nieghborhoods all across the country. What I like about Come on People is summed up in a paragraph at the beginning of Chapter 4.
…On our path to victory, we have wandered off course. We were so busy worrying about the white man, we stopped paying attention to the black man. We remember the injustice of how slavers brought our people to America, but we have forgotten the brilliance of our response-how we sneaked around late at night and taught ourselves to read, taught ourselves secret signals to resist, taught ourselves pride and will and love. We have to draw on that history of persistence.
But far too often the authors talk down to their readers. Using words like stupid, shameless, these people, and pathetic, over and over and over again. We get it, the behavior is irresponsible, but enough with the insults.
There is great advice in this book on parenting, maintaining good health, slowing violence and a number of issues. There are also examples of how the country has victimized Black Americans in instances like the Tuskeegee Experiment. Sometimes those examples seem a little contrived.
The book is choppy with its 125+ subchapters, many of them covering basically the same topics. Another presentation style would have worked much better.
I wouldn't say Come on People is a must read, but I will say it's a decent read. Were Dr. Cosby able to find a better way to put his message, like similar books written by Tavis Smiley, he may have had a classic.
As I've said on this site before, and will say again, the truth spoken out of season bears no fruit. Dr. Cosby needs to find the proper season for his message. The fruits of Love, Patience, and Kindness would also benefit the group he says he wants to help.