Bill Cosby, as Dr. Cliff Huxtable of The Cosby Show, listens to a point made by his grandson Gary Gray during the program's final taping in 1992.
What comes to mind?
A) The loveable Dr. Huxtable?
B) The cute Jello pudding guy?
C) Or, the modern day Jeremiah, sounding the alarm about the state of black America?
All of the above, of course. But it's the latter identity that interests us today. His remarks at a 2004 NAACP gala still resonate with many. He shocked a lot of people, especially black people, with his caustic and (some say) mean-spirited remarks about what's going wrong in the community. But Cosby didn't leave it there. He's traveled the country — at his own expense — meeting with thousands of people who want to hear more about how to fix what's going wrong and to showcase the people making a difference. He calls them "call outs."
And now, Cosby has a new book, Come On, People, written with Dr. Alvin Poussaint. Poussaint is a very well-known psychiatrist who teaches at the Harvard Medical School. (Poussaint was also an adviser to Cosby's hit television show The Cosby Show.) So, Dr. Poussaint was with us.
AND ... we were also glad to have a critique from someone with a very different perspective: Professor Michael Eric Dyson, who wrote a whole book taking Cosby to task for what he called his "Blame the Poor Tour."
We also thought it important to have a third voice, Kevin Merida. His newspaper, The Washington Post, edited a year-long series called "Being a Black Man." The stories have been collected in a new book, just out.
It was important us to have that second conversation, and we didn't want it to come-off as a ping-pong match between two guys with a beef. There are serious issues at stake and this, we thought, was an interesting way to convey that and to bring out more issues.
Take a listen. I'd love to know what you think.
I'm especially interested in taking this issue outside the black community. The conversation can feel very internal, but is it, really? Aren't these issues that most Americans are addressing ... but with greater force in some communities than others?
Sure, it's very true that black parents worry about their kids getting caught up in the criminal justice system, or, their kids being TARGETED by violent kids ... or, being PROFILED OR STIGMATIZED by the assumption of criminality — even if their kids are doing everything right. But, I know white parents who are scared sick of drugs and alcohol taking over their kids' lives (my husband is a lawyer; believe me, I know because I answer the phone at home). I know Latino parents who are very worried about gangs targeting their kids ...
So, is there a way to talk about all of this in a manner that includes all of these concerns, but still recognizes that there are differences?
And, does the Cosby message resonate with any of you who are not black? And conversely, are there folks out there who think he's got it all wrong?