According to Michael Dyson, a professor of African American studies at the University of Pennsylvania, lower-class blacks aren’t the only ones to blame for their bleak economic situation.
In his speech yesterday in Hale Auditorium, which was part of the MLK symposium, Dyson criticized legendary comedian and leader Bill Cosby for just that mistake.
Dyson said Cosby forgets that American society has also contributed to the community’s situation.
Instead of only looking at the lower class, Dyson said that Cosby also should have criticized higher-class black Americans in his speech.
“He could’ve been more critical of the black rich who have often failed in their obligations to create space for those who come behind them,” Dyson said.
He said other black Americans seem to have “Africanesia” – a condition that he says causes them to forget their own heritage and culture. He used U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice as an example.
“If you’re not helping anybody who looks like me, you’re not doing me a damn good,” he said.
During his speech, he said that King would disapprove of Cosby’s attitude toward the black community.
He said the remarks Cosby has made have also personally touched Dyson, who said he grew up in a ghetto in Detroit.
“They were ill-informed,” Dyson said. “I think they were profoundly bigoted. They don’t represent most of the poor people that I know.”
Dyson recounted how Cosby disapproved of blacks using Ebonics even though he used it in his television series cartoon, “Fat Albert.”
Dyson also criticized Cosby for his disapproval of names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Muhammad and called Cosby ignorant for not realizing that the name Muhammad is an ancient Muslim name and unrelated to the other two.
“It’s not what your name is, it’s who you are,” Dyson said. “We learn to love the names when we love the people.”
Dyson also spoke in support of affirmative action.
“(Black Americans) have been prevented from exercising their great gifts,” he said. “That’s what affirmative action is about.”
During his speech, Dyson alluded to the plight blacks faced during Hurricane Katrina.
In an interview, Dyson blamed the “systemic problems in the economy and in the culture” for the disproportionate strain the hurricane put on blacks.
Dyson said Katrina revealed sociological conditions that prevent the poor from escaping natural disasters.
“There are those same obstacles that prevent them from escaping unnatural disasters like poverty and social inequality,” he said.
Dyson also said during an interview that Cosby simplifies the situation of poor blacks.
“He proved to have no awareness of the myriad forces that make their lives hell,” he said, mentioning a lack of childcare, lack of high-paying jobs and lack of opportunities as examples.
Melanie Glover, a sophomore in the MBA program and the community service chair for the Black Business Student Association, said she believes it’s important to address the social issues facing the black community.
“I think a lot has been said in the media and a lot of the points that Bill Cosby made have been misconstrued and are really being used to the detriment of African-Americans,” Glover said.
Marketing Prof. Dave Wooten said Cosby didn’t place his criticisms in “the broader context,” which made it seem like he was blaming the victim and giving excuses to policymakers, who Dyson says are partly responsible for the situation of poor blacks.