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Saturday, December 1, 2007

My Review of Bill Cosby's "Come On People: On The Path From Victims to Victors" - Assumptions, Ashiness, and Grandfathers..OH MY!

As many of you can recall, we had a discussion on this blog about a month or so back about Bill Cosby's new book “Come On People”- Someone on the publicity team for the book left a comment saying that the first 100 bloggers who sent her an email would get a free copy of the book, but in exchange they wanted us to write a review. So to remove myself from the list of “Degenerate Black Bloggers” who accepted a free book and then didn't write a review, here is my review of the Bill Cosby and Alvin F. Poussaint's “Come On People: On the Path From Victim to Victors.” Enjoy!

I took the SAT when I was in the 7th grade again in the 10th, 11th and I think I stopped in the 12th because really how much higher could the score go, plus my arch rival during high school had taken it repeatedly and couldn't beat me (He reads this blog- HA!). So by the time the spring of my senior year in high school rolled around I was trying to figure out which scholarship offer to accept and riding out the rest of the semester on cruise control.

I took all honors classes in high school. I even took the equivalent of “honors” P.E. by taking tennis. The only girls in the tennis class were a bunch of honors students. Although I went to a school that was 80% Black, all of my classes were probably 30% Black-the most Black folks I had ever sat in a classroom with in my entire life. I lived in an alternative universe: We were battling to see who was going to be valedictorian from the first semester of freshman year.

It was actually kind of crazy, looking back on it how much we harangued our Counselor, Mrs. Wills after each grading period. I ended up number 5 ( DAYUM YOU ALGEBRA II! DAYUM YOU TO HELL!- My Mama had to get me a tutor because that teacher was so awful!- It wasn't my fault, I placed out of college calculus with the AP exam. So I didn't suck at math)... I digress!

So despite living in an alternative universe, there was one core requirement that I couldn't get out of. Seems the pesky board of education wants you to take classes in the “arts.” Well I didn't want to take Band. 18 was a bit old to try to learn how to play an instrument in the orchestra. So I the best I could manage was Public Speaking. There were NO honors kids in that class.

My “smart- kid cred.” was solidified during freshman year when somebody got the idea to hold assemblies with our entire grade present and hand out cash for things like perfect attendance and straight A's. Of course my name got pulled out of the hopper. I hated having to go on stage in front of the whole school, but that $150 ( a fortune when you are 14) made me feel a whole lot better. I could have made straight F's for the rest of high school and ”regular” folks would have assumed I was making straight A's because I managed to pull it together one grading period and they pulled my name out of the hopper.

So when I walked into this class of “regular kids” ( that is what we called them- “regular”) as a senior, we all had a reputation. I was the smart kid. We had weed heads. We had one of the school “trollops”(I'm being kind- It was what it was.). We had a brother who was about to age out of the free high school system ( at 21 you are on your own). We had a girl give birth during the middle of the semester – she didn't know she was pregnant. We even started out the semester with someone who ended his senior year in the county clank facing capital murder charges. It was like my very own scandalous soap opera except these were real people. Although I had been walking the halls next to these folks for years I hadn't interacted with them at any length until now and likewise.

Did I get teased? Oh Yeah! It was that kind of group. They sent the teacher crying from the room ( that was fascinating to me-I'd never been in a class visited by the assistant principal- I was part of a rebel band- at least til' the bell rang). Although I was a member of the CGU, I never got teased for that- I got the “smart Black fat girl exemption” not to be confuse with the “fat Black girl who can sing exemption” or the “fat Black girl who puts out exemption” or the “fat Black girl who is dating the 35 year old drug dealer who will put a cap in your a@& exemption” or the “fat Black girl who will meet you in a dark alley and beat the crap out of you and your boys exemption”. So I got the “smart fat girl exemption”, HOWEVER, I got teased for being ashy ( I couldn't help it. Mama kept getting watery cheap lotion when I needed a heavy cream with some shea butter!)

Yes, Muarice H. did a daily check of my ankles and elbows and once said “Gina, you look like you just won a flour kicking competition.” After a lifetime of teasing, I could handle the ashiness, plus I felt like I was part of the crowd. Everybody got cracked on. I knew I could cure ashy with lotion so if that was the worst of it, I was in heaven- Plus I was about to blow that joint and was already planning what I was going to put up on my dorm room walls. But they never. EVER. teased me for being a smart kid.
They knew I was headed other places, and they were openly proud of me and excited for me.

If anything they viewed me as a foreign exchange student. An academic translator of sorts. Yeah I did my fair share of homework assignments. They would ask me random questions and I would spout off an answer and then notice that they were furiously writing it down and murmuring “Yeah Yeah. That sounds good. Right. Right.” I would make a horrible tutor. I would just work a problem when they would say they just “wanted to check their answers”. So I'd work it myself in probably 30 seconds and “Say this is the answer I got, what did you get?” and show them my work. Then they would say “ Let me see that paper for a minute. Oh yeah yeah. That's what I thought too.” ( Commence copying down my answer)- I acquired my street smarts later in life- Those kids were pros in high school.

So here I am chilling in my final semester of high school. I've applied and been accepted to a ton of colleges and universities and then all of a sudden I become a guidance counselor. I'm helping SENIORS fill out the form to take a March or April SAT. HUH? How is that possible? You mean to tell me you didn't apply for early admission last fall? What do you mean you filling out the form to take the SAT in March? There are schools that will let you in this late? Well apparently there are schools that will admit you all the way up to the start of the semester. Who knew? I am helping people with college application essays, recommending SAT prep workbooks I had been completing since I was in middle school. It never occurred to me that while I and the honors kids were beating the crap out of each other to see who could get into school X, Y, Z. Some folks hadn't even started looking. Some people didn't even know how to look let alone apply. In fact, I think a few people started looking because I was in class with them and told them to.

The point of this story is not to brag on my test taking skills, but to point out that we assume that everyone is just like us. We assume everybody knows the difference between the PSAT and the SAT. We assume everybody is taking Kaplan or Princeton Review. We assume everybody is sitting in the library during the summer with those freaking flash cards trying to learn the root and meanings of thousands of words. We assume everybody knows when and how to apply for college. We assume everybody knows that you want to apply early and often so that when March rolls around, you are not lamenting about which school will let you in, but worrying about which offer of admission to accept.

So I was reminded of my senior year after I'd given my initial review of Bill Cosby's book “Come On People.” To ME the book is full of common sense suggestions I already know. To me the book seems overly simplistic. On our podcast this week, the panel wondered who the intended audience of the book was and why Bill Cosby wrote it in the first place. But having let the book marinate for a minute, I've moderated my harsh literary criticism.

If you view the book as a manual on how to escape poverty, then you will be disappointed. I don't think there is a book that can be written that will provide sufficient detail to do that. Assuming such a book did provide sufficient detail to pull you out of poverty, as some of you know, poverty is like two full time jobs when are you gone find the time to read a 248 page book or roll to the public library to check it out because if I am making minimum wage, I can't see somebody plunking down almost a full day's pay to buy the hardback version of this book at $25.99.

But what if you were somebody who really did think that you were doomed to a life of poverty?-with no other frame of reference other than the world you can see. Well then the book could be of some service. Or if you grow up in a world of a bunch of irresponsible adults, I can see how the book could be something you could hold on to. Kinda like a pocket grandfather. My maternal grandfather, “Poppa”, had a lot to say about a lot of things. He didn't get all that deep either. He could boil down positions on foreign policy, the economy, and racism in five words or less. No need to wring your hands with political correctness. There was no problem that couldn't be solved in five words or less.

“Come On People” isn't the gospel truth, it is Bill Cosby's truth. It is very broad and not very deep, but to someone who is starting from a place without an older wiser adult in their lives, some of the things he is saying might be revelatory. I grew up with two parents and four grand parents and great grand parents plus three older siblings who went off to college before I did, so advice such as “Take Any Legitimate Job” seems like common sense because the adults in my family worked. “Maintain Your Independence” isn't revelatory to me because I grew up around self sufficient extremely proud grownups that would rather starve or cook up a pot of squirrel soup before they rolled down to the welfare office and I won't even go into their views on the folks who live in “the projects”, Poppa sneered every time he drove by them. Guv'ment assistance just wasn't “Done.” He'd be flipping out over Sallie Mae. I can hear him screaming “OWE NO MAN!”- Especially the guv'ment. Poppa didn't wan't nothing to do with the guv'ment. He was right!

So Bill Cosby didn't necessarily say anything any of us who were on Thursday's podcast didn't already know. I am pretty sure that everybody on the podcast had at least one degree and I know all the women on the podcast had at least one advanced degree or were in the middle of working on one.

The problem is that the folks this book needs to reach probably are busy trying survive and may not manage the time to read it in one sitting. Even I, someone who reads volumes of complicated technical material everyday, had to force my way to the end. I was trying to read for comprehension, but there are so many topics, I was struggling to remember what was covered 20 pages back so I have Post-It notes and flags all over the book.

One of the things Cosby addresses quite early in the book is the specious charge that he is a race traitor or isn't Black enough. For real COME ON PEOPLE!

There are very few people in this country that have made more PUBLIC gestures in support of education than Bill Cosby. He was the first of the Black Elite Establishment to start dropping money bombs on HBCUs. I didn't know what Morehouse and Spelman were until Cosby dropped $20 MILLION on them. Y'all have to remember I grew up in east Texas. Cliff and Claire Huxtable were like space aliens. As far as I am concerned, he single-handedly lead to a whole lot of folks going off to college, HBCUs in particular, as a result of watching “A Different World” He could have made “A Different World” about anything, but he chose to plunk it down at the fictitious Hillman University. Those Hillman students weren't all about partying and dating, but they had real struggles, real triumphs while having a whole lot of fun.

So when all these folks throwing stones at Bill Cosby for picking on poor people start dropping $20 MILLION on colleges and universities then they can tell me something about Bill Cosby's commitment to Black America. ( Looking at you Michael Eric Dyson-Hip Hop Prognostitute-in-Chief). Bill Cosby sees what a whole lot of us see, a bunch of folks in the Civil Rights Elite Establishment and the Poverty Industrial Complex that want to convince people that the only entity that can rescue them from bone crushing poverty is the guv'ment. The truth is that the system has been set up to keep folks in poverty. To take children from the crib to the clank. To maintain a permanent underclass. “Personal” and “responsibility” are not DIRTY WORDS!

If anyone is a traitor to their race, it is the PhD. who uses his academic credentials to provide cover to an industry that is literally cannibalizing the African American community. *cough* Michael Eric Dyson *cough* THAT my friends is a sell out!

In closing, in “Come On People: On the Path From Victims to Victors,” Bill Cosby had a lot to say about a lot of subjects and he tried to say it with this book. Is he sanctimonious? Yes, but he is also concerned. Concerned enough to speak out even though he knows that the CRIC, the BEE, and the PIC, were waiting with sharpened knives to savage him. That's the cool thing about grandfathers. They don't care. They are so old and have survived so much that they don't give a flip about being PC or about being criticized. They just tell it like it is...or tell it like they think it is.

What the book is good for is starting a discussion. I highly recommend it for a book club. I highly recommend it for a class of high school students. Maybe a church can buy a copy ( the paperback) for it's teenagers and have an eight week-discussion. I think the resulting discussions would be interesting and an opportunity to build on his observations juxtaposed against the messages of hopelessness being pumped out by the Hip Hop Industrial Complex.

Reading it straight through was rough and I think in his enthusiasm to share his wisdom, he shared too much on too many subjects. He should have done a completely separate book on parenting children. I highly recommend that Dr. Cosby consider doing a TV special or series with the same thoughts and ideas. I think that his ideas might be more accessible in another format. ( NO I AIN”T SAYING POOR FOLKS DON'T READ – spare me your belly aching in the comments section)

View the book for what it is. A pep talk. The theme of the book is that you don't have to be stuck in poverty. There are ways out and throughout Cosby and Poussaint provided examples of real life folks who have made it in little vignettes they called “Call Outs” appearing throughout the book. For some people, that's all they need to know when they are in the soul-crushing grip of poverty. They just need to know that they aren't doomed. Their way out may not be Cosby's way, but there is a way out.

Whew! Now I can go back to being a grownup. I haven't written a book report in like 14 years.

Contrary Review

To read J.D's review of the book, you can go to his blog, The Smak. He, the lone male among the group of reviewers on the podcast of course had to go and have a contrary view of the book.

I am still waiting for all the other people on the podcast who got their free book to write their reviews *cough*degenerates *cough*. Get it over with already.