Sunday, November 21, 2004

Cosby: to be seen, not heard

William Raspberry in the WaPo:

My problem with what Cosby has been saying -- and how he has been saying it -- is that he seems to believe that the failure he sees is willful: that if black teenagers would use better language, and if their parents insisted on more discipline, their prospects would be greatly improved and that they know it.

Think of a high school football coach who has taught his players everything he knows, gotten them into prime condition and, by acts small and great, taught them that he truly cares for them. Such a coach can pull a player out of the game after a mental lapse, yell at him, call him a knucklehead and then put him back into the game with a realistic expectation that the kid will do better.

Now imagine the yelling coming from a guy who just happened to see the boneheaded play. Will the youngster pull himself together and play better? Or is he more likely to explode into counterproductive resentment? The coach has
not only earned the right to yell but has also imparted the lessons that the yelling is intended to recall. Cos is hoping -- futilely, it seems to me -- that his yelling will evoke lessons never taught.

Actually, Cosby is hoping that his “yelling” will get people to teach the lessons in the first place. What Cosby is saying is that there is, in fact, no coach at all. Parents are absent and aren’t teaching the lessons that they should be teaching.

Raspberry admits that he believes Cosby’s views:
I think Cosby believes what I believe but what many of us are nervous about saying out loud: that racism notwithstanding, our fate is more firmly in our own hands than it has ever been, and that it is necessary for us to start acting like it.
… but these views are just too darn impolitic and insensitive to say out loud. People might “explode into counterproductive resentment.” But, of course, this is a fear that comes anytime that a hard lesson must be taught, and is no reason for not teaching the hard lesson at all.

I believe that both young people and their parents can do what Cosby wants them to do, but I also believe that their failure to do so is not volitional. Some people, under the worst of circumstances, will find their way. But most of us have to be taught how to act even in our own interest.

So how about it, Cos? A little less yelling -- and a little more coaching?

How patronizing… "Cos"? “Cos,” who was so busy “screaming” and “yelling” (or, yunno, “talking” would’ve also worked), earned a doctorate in education from UMass.

“A little more coaching”? Cosby is a noted philanthropist, and cursory internet research reveals that Cosby donated $20 million to Spellman College, the largest amount ever to a black institution. He’s pretty much putting his money where his mouth is, I'd say. Oh, unless by “coach” you mean that Cosby should himself teach young kids… in which case, he did that with his show Picture Pages.

The column is entitled “What Cosby Should Say,” but in actuality it is little more than a plea that Cosby shut his big yap and “coach” (which means nothing if it doesn’t already mean what Cosby has been doing his whole life). Even this columnist, who acknowledges the essential truth of Cosby is saying, just can’t condone the non-P.C. aura of it all or the undue focus it places on individual responsibility.

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