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Is Bill Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind Hardcover – May 3, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Civitas Books; First Edition edition (May 3, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465017193
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465017195
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #664,525 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Last May, iconic comedian Cosby raised a storm with a dyspeptic rant about the self-destructive failures of the black underclass: "knuckleheads" without parents who "put their clothes on backward," speak bad English and go to jail. To pop culture intellectual Dyson—author of books on Marvin Gaye, Tupac Shakur and Martin Luther King Jr.—this was the most blatant manifestation of an attitude shared by the "Afristocracy." With empathy and energy, Dyson takes Cosby at his word and dissects his arguments—as well as the comedian's own conduct—in order to combat Afristocratic dogma. While Dyson is merciless in assessing both, he takes the opportunity to explore a host of hot-button issues in black culture, from illegitimacy to faux African names, citing data and making his own case for black culture as adapted to a dominant white society that systematically puts up barriers to opportunity. The prolific Dyson has already generated controversy with what finally amounts to an evisceration of a major black figure, but that seems to be precisely the point. Despite the specificity and ferocity of Dyson's critique (which draws on allegations that Cosby sexually abused a woman and fathered an illegitimate child, and understates the race politics of The Cosby Show), Cosby ends up more of a straw man than take-down victim, as Dyson celebrates the "persistent freedom of black folk." 12-city author tour; 40-city radio satellite tour. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

When Bill Cosby, iconic figure of American fatherhood, began criticizing the child-raising attributes of the black urban poor, he provoked a storm of discussion within the black community. Dyson places the comedian in the tradition of black elites, referred to as "Afristocrats," who were highly critical of poor blacks for making the race look bad in front of white folks. Dyson's real strength is in explaining some of the social factors that contribute to the actions of the poor. Dyson critiques the changes within Cosby himself, a man whose great insights on the social causes of black poverty made him comforting to whites and comfortable with whites. Dyson critiques Cosby's own failures at parenting: one daughter who fell victim to drug abuse, and another daughter, born of an extramarital affair, whom he supported but later charged with extortion. Dyson is thorough and places Cosby in check, but his book still begs for discussion of the consequences of social dysfunctionality beyond historical repetition and the imperfections of America's most popular race-neutral dad. Vernon Ford
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

Bill just called it like he sees it!
It would have been nice if Dyson could have used this style of argumentation to refute Cosby's points.
Christopher C. Iwobi
The problem w/ poor Blacks (not all of them, just the ones characterized above) is NOT Bill Cosby.
Dr. Feel

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

174 of 184 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on January 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As an African-American woman, I am deeply disturbed by the state of my community today, and some of the more destructive tendencies that help perpetuate the situation. However, as an African-American woman who also works for a labor union comprised of mostly poor, minority janitors, I am keenly aware of the structural deficiencies across American society that make it very difficult for the poor to even get along, much less get ahead. Therefore, it was with great interest that I picked up this book at the local library; Cosby's comments spawned debate at home, in the press, and in my workplace, and I was eager to read what Michael Eric Dyson - an often engaging writer and speaker - had to say on the issue. Unfortunately, this is a deeply flawed - and ultimately unfulfilling - book.

The main problem with "Is Bill Cosby Right" is the apparent answer to this question, based on the author's response, is: "Probably not, but more importantly, he's a race traitor and a jerk". Over half of the book is dedicated to knocking Bill Cosby personally, not directly addressing his comments. When you spend a chapter of a book rehashing allegations that played out on the National Enquirer, you're in trouble. I had to question Professor Dyson's reasoning even more when he chose to contrast Mr. Cosby with Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who he held up as apparent models of black activism (personally I am no great fan of either).

The energy the author spent attacking Cosby would have been much better spent outlining why Cosby was so wrong in the first place. Dyson's arguments may be rooted in hard facts, but he sure doesn't make them abundantly clear for the reader - an irony considering his criticism of what he felt were wild, baseless accusations from Cosby.
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83 of 89 people found the following review helpful By Chris on January 7, 2007
Format: Paperback
Dyson seems to take glee in chronicling Bill Cosby's dysfunctional family, but how does this discredit Cosby? Multitudes of upper class white families have problem children, too, but fewer than in impoverished white families. Why would it be different for African-Americans? If children with the financial advantages Bill Cosby can provide do not ALL turn out well, then doesn't it stand to reason that those without those advantages need to confront the hard truth or resign themselves to failure?

But the more critical point missed by this book, and many reviews of it, is that both sides of this debate are so entrenched in their positions (the battle of "quit being a victim" versus "quit being a hypocritical apologist") that nobody seems to see that both sides can co-exist. For example, the fact someone with a "made up" black name gets passed over for a job interview establishes not only that racism is still prevalent, but also that parents who give these names to their children foolishly handicap them.

Likewise, the fact that African-Americans have to sacrifice more of their "cultural identity" to succeed in a currently majority-white America does not conflict with the fact that the "cultural identity" Cosby asks them to give up (broken speech, bling bling, sagging pants, etc.) has no basis in African society. In other words, it's "preservation value" as a true cultural artifact is essentially non-existent. (As an aside, Africa has 54 countries and hundreds of languages within its boundaries. Those who believe there is a monolithic culture that can be called "African" should be called "nostalgically ignorant," as they cling to something that never existed).
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61 of 67 people found the following review helpful By DMW Midwest on November 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book was a wimpish series of personal attacks on Bill Cosby for not being perfect. It is Dyson's lame exercise of trying to trash the messenger (and avoid debating the message). What irritated me most about this tired book was when Dyson attempted to cast those who agree with Bill Cosby's position as the black elite, or the "afristocrats". At the same time he attempts (but fails)to portray himself as the legitimate representative of "real black people", or "black folk". That was laughable! In fact, I would bet everything I own that Cosby's comments reflect the fellings of the majority of law-abiding, working, honest black people. Ordinary black people everywhere are tired of seeing so many other black people (especially the not so "hip-hop" generation) destroy each other and our communities in an ocean of crime, drugs, gangs, welfare families, ignorance, etc. It was about time for someone to stand up and say ENOUGH!! THANK GOD for Bill Cosby, and I hope to see the day when other prominent and decent high profile blacks join him!! How many more generations will we have to watch destroyed as the Dysons of the world recite every lame excuse for black men and women not growing up? We must find our way back to being, like many of our parents and grandparents before us, people of beauty, dignity and intelligence, even in apparently forgotten days when discrimination was blatant and extremely visible!!
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Jfromthed on March 1, 2007
Format: Paperback
In reading this book I became very disheartened in the way our society is going. While I respect Dr. Dyson's view on allowing individuality and embracing our history, I find that he also allows for the acceptance of ignorance.

He also gives support to he refutes arguments based on research such as "being smart" as "being white". What he should do is gather information from people who have been subjected to this experience. I grew up in Detroit, MI in the 70's and 80's and now have an 8yr old nephew there, who is having the same experience of being called "white" because he's articulate and bright.

I understand his need to connect the gap between the older generation and the younger generation. This is important, but not at the sacrifice of educating our youth. I understand the use of slang, however there is a time and place for everything. I understand there are different styles, however many of these same youths do not know how to dress during an interview, church service or in school for that matter, with dress codes.

He uses the example of the colorful array of suits and zoot suits in the early 1900's. We have similar styles with the crayola colored styles that would not be acceptable in corporate America. And that is okay. However his attempt to compare the prison garb style to the previous styles is like comparing apples to oranges. A zoot suit was compared to a conservative suit. The prison garb should be compared to a simple pair of jeans with a belt. The youth are not in "sympathy dress". They are dressing in a trend with no meaning, only wanting to fit in. Why not fit in with productive individuals vs. the prisoners?
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