Friday, 5 December 2014

Shoot Bill Cosby - not his message

"I find the allegations of serial sexual attack against Bill Cosby all the more disturbing and upsetting because he is black"
That's how columnist Deborah Orr kicks off a piece today in the Guardian. Her article amounts to a study in the inner wranglings of a well-meaning white liberal’s soul. Orr is tormented by whether she has too high expectations on black men and reflects on whether it’s more conducive to the progressive cause to shy away from damning Cosby because of the colour of his skin.

Well, Orr, I'll give you that anyone who can even ponder whether by condemning Cosby they'd be doing the anti-racist cause a disservice, and not vice versa, has had too many a self-righteous middle class patronizing do-gooder dinners inebriated by the exuberance of their own Guardianista verbosity (and Waitrose wine).

Orr writes self-critically:
"It’s such a cliche: a white woman at the Guardian telling black men how to behave [---] Expecting black people to achieve some higher standard"
Oh, spare me. A stereotypical paternalistic white Guardian woman is someone who does not expect much from black people.
' - Oh, you jump so high! Here’s a cookie.'
' - My, you're a verbal one! Here’s a cookie.'
' - Aaw, poor you! Here's a cookie.'

With misguided benevolence said woman gladly plays the race card on the black population’s behalf when they fail, thus perpetuating the simplistic victimizing explanations through which black people risk perpetuating their own subordination; explanations as simplistic as the ones that renounce history and remnants of slavery, colonialism and racism as completely irrelevant today. The truth is neither black or white and if you're too comfortable and lazy to acknowledge that, the less progress you'll see.

Bill Cosby is of course (in)famous for putting forward similar points. As Orr writes: 
Fewer excuses and greater aspiration – that’s his [Cosby’s] message.

Bill Cosby 
Naturally, just because the messenger is a douchebag doesn’t make the message wrong per se. Like I would a racist exploiting this Cosby saga to justify his/her racism, I would denounce anyone who uses the saga to discredit said message. Shoot the messenger, by all means, but not the message.

Orr goes on to consult the black stand-up comedian Chris Rock who in a recent interview asserted that: 
“'To say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress.'"
An assertion which Orr agrees with ("That's true, of course"), despite it being one massive straw man concoction on Rock's part. Dressing up the election of Obama as predominately one on race is precisely what Obama didn't do and why he consequently was able to win. He didn't insult the average voter by assuming that he/she would vote based on the colour of his skin, but rather on the content of his character, policies and abilities. To claim that his election (and re-election) had mostly to do with race is condescending not only to all the white and Latino people who voted for Obama, but the black voters too. Unless, of course, Chris Rock and other black people voted for Obama just because he was black?

Most white people who (twice!) voted for Obama to be their commander-in-chief didn't do it out of some white middle class guilt. Most people can't afford that luxury. If they voted for him because of his skin colour they'd ultimately just be perpetuating that other side of the racist coin – the positive one (you know, the one that says: oh, you jump so high, you’re so verbal, poor little you!)

I similarly assume that most white people approach the Cosby saga in the same vein: they condemn him because of his vile acts, not because he happens to be black. 

And, yes, that’s far more progressive than shying away from damning him because of his skin colour.