I have always enjoyed Bill Cosby on television—even the stand-up acts that were recorded before I was born. His ability to tackle complex issues in a humorous way always sparked healthy discussion in our household.
Unfortunately, Cosby’s transition to political commentator, exemplified by his last book with Alvin Poussaint, is quite demoralizing. If the book was found near Dr Phil and other self-help gurus, I might have taken less notice. But the bar code on the back places the book in the “political science” section—dare I say on the Right, promptly placing the authors on the wrong side of history.
The book, which is supposed to give us hope, reads as a myriad of confusing contradictions that chastise Black youth with unrealistic fictional dialogues, misleading examples, and an uneasy romanticizing of the Ghost of Black Struggle Past. Their calls for “activism” are coupled with an underlying inference that their generation did so much, and ours is doing so little—negating our current struggles.
By telling youth that we are the ones who can solve the problem only feeds into a sense of hopelessness when our current economic system requires that a great many of us, from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, do not succeed in order for it to function. Black youth are not disproportionately incarcerated because we have grown comfortable as victims, but because it is profitable to put us away and convince others that Black youth are the problem.
Our true hope as young people comes from our ability to identify the real cause of our problems, and thus real solutions.
Looking internally for strength is one thing, but we, Black youth, are not the enemy.
The authors do sprinkle brief hints of the need to hold Big Business accountable for discrimination and vaguely mention that the government should be petitioned for “supportive social policies”, but never really specify what these policies might be. For example, telling young women to go to the doctor, as they do in chapter 4, is easier said than done given Bush’s veto of SCHIP—preventing young people across the country access to healthcare. A bold call to fight for universal healthcare would have provided a more realistic solution.
In the authors’ assault on what they see as our victim mentality, Cosby and Poussaint practically create a fantasy world where everything is perfectly equal—having been won in the 1960s no doubt; as if the battles for civil rights ended after King’s death. Do the authors really think Black youth are turning down a cornucopia of good jobs due to fear, hopelessness, and alienation, as they imply in Chapter 2? Are there really such a plethora of jobs that could support all of even the most loving of families? I challenge the authors’ next book to be full of job listings that pay above the minimum wage, provide healthcare, and allow Black workers to simply have one job so they can spend time with their families—the breakdown of families of course being the authors’ primary cause for our “victimhood”.
In criticizing Come on People, I am not skirting personal responsibility. But the boo
Instead, we must see the main barriers to our success as much bigger than ourselves. Would the authors criticize Black autoworkers that were recently laid off as lazy? Are Black survivors of Hurricane Katrina who are trying to maintain their homes complacent in their victim-hood?
Like one Latin American leader recently suggested—loosely translated—“you cannot criticize a person’s breathing if your hands are around his/her neck”.
To Cosby and Poussaint’s credit, this boo
Come on people!
Even the youngest among us knows that there is more to it than that.
A Book Review of “Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors” by Bill Cosby and Alvin F. Poussaint