Friday, November 21, 2014

Nikki Giovanni on Bill Cosby

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Twenty or so years ago I was at a BBQ with some co-workers.  It was mostly black women and we were celebrating a huge success we'd had in organizing their department.  There are only two sources of power in the workplace, the bosses, or the organized workers. If the workers are not organized, divided along racial, gender or any other similar lines, the power of the boss increases over us, it leads us down the "every person for themselves" road as we all tend to look to the power as individuals; the boss, or often times, the incompetent bully supervisor, is in the driver's seat. "Divide and Conquer".  We all know where that leads; no one is liberated.

About that time Cosby had given one of his usual rants attacking the black working class. I can't remember all the details but I know he was attacking black women for not disciplining their kids, not keeping them in line. I recall him slamming them for the way they spoke to their children and not spending enough time with them etc. I made my feelings clear that day and I could see that some of the folks were reluctant to agree.  As Giovanni says there was a strong sense that this black man should not be criticized, especially by a white man, even one who they respected and I believe I had respect among my friends. People were a bit cautious.

I can't stand Bill Cosby.  There is always some truth in criticism but one always has to look at the source of it.  I was a single parent but both my wife and I had decent jobs, earned a good income as working class people.  We had joint responsibility for our child and both of us worked. But  I had to fight off sticking my kid in front of the TV to get myself a breather at the end of the day, or simply to make life easier. Working overtime was always a problem.  I know I dragged him to too many union meetings.

I lived in East Oakland. I knew many black families and single mothers who were raising their kids, doing the best they could as Nikki Giovanni says in the video.  I had friends who worked long hours looking after other people's kids and others who did home help work or other fairly low paid disrespected work. In some families, people were luckier where both parents worked, some were teachers or worked in the public sector like me. But East Oakland is overwhelmingly working class people of color and many parts of it is extremely impoverished. 

I savaged Cosby.  What does he know about raising children in these conditions?  He has maids, he's a billionaire no doubt. How dare he talk down and lecture to people who under the worst conditions raise their children to respect others, respect their elders and do they best they can under conditions not of their own making.  We all make mistakes.  When you work two jobs and are a single parent, or even if you're both working it might be that you talk to your kids too abruptly at times, or stick 'em in front of the TV using it as a baby sitter more often than you should.  But criticism of working class and poor people about inappropriate behavior, dress code, language and other personal choices, when it comes from movie stars, millionaires and others like Cosby should be seen for what it is, the whining of the privileged in society. 

I have never seen Nikki Giovanni's commentary above but I think it's right on. And Finally the victims of what appears to be a serial rapist are speaking out. One thing we know for certain when it comes to these types of assaults on women by men with money and power---he's not the only one.

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