Ta-Nehisi Coates has a fascinating piece on Bill Cosby’s new mission which he describe as “black conservatism” in this month’s Atlantic magazine.
As Cosby sees it, the antidote to racism is not rallies, protests, or pleas, but strong families and communities. Instead of focusing on some abstract notion of equality, he argues, blacks need to cleanse their culture, embrace personal responsibility, and reclaim the traditions that fortified them in the past. Driving Cosby’s tough talk about values and responsibility is a vision starkly different from Martin Luther King’s gauzy, all-inclusive dream: it’s an America of competing powers, and a black America that is no longer content to be the weakest of the lot.
Obviously worth a read.
I was particularly interested in the description of The Cosby Show‘s politics:
In fact, blackness was never absent from the show or from Bill Cosby. Plots involved black artists like Stevie Wonder or Dizzy Gillespie. The Huxtables’ home was decorated with the works of black artists like Annie Lee, and the show featured black theater veterans such as Roscoe Lee Brown and Moses Gunn. Behind the scenes, Cosby hired the Harvard psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint to make sure that the show never trafficked in stereotypes and that it depicted blacks in a dignified light. Picking up Cosby’s fixation on education, Poussaint had writers insert references to black schools. “If the script mentioned Oberlin, Texas Tech, or Yale, we’d circle it and tell them to mention a black college,” Poussaint told me in a phone interview last year. “I remember going to work the next day and white people saying, ‘What’s the school called Morehouse?’” In 1985, Cosby riled NBC by placing an anti-apartheid sign in his Huxtable son’s bedroom. The network wanted no part of the debate. “There may be two sides to apartheid in Archie Bunker’s house,” the Toronto Star quoted Cosby as saying. “But it’s impossible that the Huxtables would be on any side but one. That sign will stay on that door. And I’ve told NBC that if they still want it down, or if they try to edit it out, there will be no show.” The sign stayed.
This aspect of the show has always stood out to me.