Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why I never had time for Bill Cosby

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I never liked Bill Cosby. It was not because he wasn’t funny, he was. It had nothing to do with sexual misconduct or the accusations of rape and violence, the drugging of his victims and what we hear about today. I couldn’t stand him because of his savage attacks on working class women and the black working class family.

Some 20 years ago there was a problem in one of the departments at work. It was a department that was not represented by our local but the white-collar union.  The situation in this unit was not good. The workers, about 10 or so of them, were all women of color bar one.  As I always argue, there are only two sources of power in the workplace, the organized workers and the boss. If the former is absent, then division, backbiting, jealousy and bootlicking rules. And when there are different genders, nationalities or colors then this can also be a good source of division, weakening unity among them.

Three of us union activists from the blue-collar union were invited in to help as we were known to these women as they interacted with our department. We had a lot of success strengthening class unity in our unit improving our relationship with each other and our collective power on the job.  Two of the women took the lead with one of them becoming the steward. We later got married although we would never have thought so at the time.

Anyway, to celebrate the new found unity and feeling of solidarity they had after some victories against the power there, we had a barbecue at one of the workers’ homes.  I will never forget it, and its things like this that remind me of how quickly people’s attitudes to each other can change when we are organized and class consciousness comes more to the forefront.

A few years before that BBQ I was in a relationship with a black working class women from my neighborhood, the first after a divorce. She was a single mother with four children. I went round her house one day, and she was sitting on the bed crying. I asked her what was up. She told me the landlord was over bugging her about being late with the rent. Despite being extremely talented artistically as well as having a great singing voice, she was a low wage worker working in a café.  I got the impression that she was faced with a choice of sleeping with the landlord if she wanted to keep a roof over her head, she never had to do that I should add.  Unlike bourgeois or many petit bourgeois women, important decisions for many working class and poor women are rarely about which dress to wear at the theater but about paying the rent or the heating bill, and if they can’t, what might be the best next option. I should also add that I am not arguing that wives of the bourgeois are not oppressed as women, but wealth matters.

Around this time Cosby was trashing them publicly.  He was going on about how the black working class speak. He was chastising them for their failures and how they don’t spend enough time with their children. The main point was he was blaming them for their condition.  The crisis in the black communities and in the black family, unemployment, schooling, drugs, etc. was of their own making.

It’s no wonder the right wing and white racist movements and media outlets championed him. I remember criticizing him at the BBQ for his attacks, and, as always, the ideas Cosby expresses, which are the ideas of the 1% that we are all where we are due to our own individual efforts, them for their wealth and the poor for their poverty, are absorbed by us at to an extent.  Some of these workers put the obvious class differences aside and tried to defend him as a role model to aspire to for black youth, men in particular.  But we had known each other a long time, and we had fought racism in the work place so I didn't get much flack as there was no real disagreement with me. Had I been a white man they didn’t know, they would have been more cautious and understandably so.

Here are some examples of Cosby’s public attacks on the black working class, much of it widely published on the media owned by the incubus of white supremacy in this country, the major news outlets:

"five or six different children" from "eight, 10 different husbands or whatever." Pretty soon you’re going to have to have DNA cards so you can tell who you’re making love to.”

“……Someone working at Wal-Mart with seven kids, you are hurting us. We have to start holding each other to a higher standard. We cannot blame the white people any longer.”
(It’s not about blaming “white people” it’s about attacking institutionalized racism)

“The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids—$500 for sneakers for what? And won’t spend $200 for ‘Hooked on Phonics.’”

And the more recent:

“These are not political criminals. These are people going around stealing Coca-Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake and then we run out and we are outraged, [saying] ‘The cops shouldn’t have shot him.’ What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand?”

Of course my argument is the obvious; Bill Cosby is a billionaire most likely. He has maids. He’s not working three jobs trying to make a living to feed those kids Cosby trashes.  A young Latino guy said to me recently that his mother sent him back to Mexico for a while to get him away from the social pressure of gang activity.  Not too many liquor stores or gangbangers hanging out in Cosby’s neighborhood I’ll bet, not these sort of distractions where he lives.

Of course, we have responsibility as individuals, but as I say a thousand times, we do rarely, if ever, make important decisions about our lives within circumstances of our own choosing, otherwise the heroine in Sophie’s Choice would be trashed as a horrible mother rather than a heroine forced to make horrible decisions.

When right wingers like Cosby or white racists make statements about people, some of what they say has validity. However what's important is who's saying it.  The crisis among the poor, in communities of color, in education, the prison system, these are all social issues that have a history to them and that require a social response not an individual one.

And how did Cosby get in that door to Hollywood, fame and money? It was through the Civil Rights movement and the heroic struggle waged by the very people he trashes. Fannie Lou Hamer didn’t speak like a Harvard graduate but she knew what she was saying and fought the white races bosses in the South. More of her here.

Some black folks, including women are wary about criticizing Cosby with regard to the allegations of rape that have been made against him. Not because his crimes against women, if they are true, and I assume they are, are not horrific, but because they refuse to join what they see is a white capitalist controlled media in its 24/7 coverage of a prominent black man salivating at the chance to destroy him. Yet the historic mass rape of black women by wealthy and not so wealthy white males (for the poor whites it was a centuries old privilege bestowed on them by the white ruling class) is not at all a major part of mass consciousness. There's a reason so many African Americans are light skinned, mass rape.  

I sympathize with those African Americans who are reluctant to speak out but don’t see it that way, as Cosby and those African Americans in the same economic bracket, as well as those struggling to get there, act as a useful buffer zone between the white racist ruling class and the revolutionary potential of the black workers and poor. “Look at us, we made it and so can you if you work hard.” they will say. “Work within the system” they whine, as opposed to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X who said we have to change it. They are useful to the white capitalist class.

I say this because it’s important to note that when Cosby was at the height of his attacks on the black working class and poor, not only the open racists and right wingers praised him, but the mass media liked it. It blames the victim.

I would attribute the present prominent media coverage of his activity is due to the struggle of women, all women against sexism and women’s oppression. Like the rape of young boys by the Penn State football coach and other similar high powered assaults, when money is involved they'll cover it up if they can and there is no doubt that in the dirty business Cosby is in, he's not the only offender and many of them know it. The same has been happening in Britain with former revered public figures being discovered as pedophiles or serial rapists.

And despite these social advances, it took these women decades to dare speak out. This is especially so, the more money the perpetrators have.  My experience as an American worker is that despite the inappropriate use of language at times with regards to race and sex issues a lot has changed over 40 years. White workers have seen their living standards savaged, inter racial marriages and unions are far more common and voluntary. Workers are for more accepting than those in positions of power. Obviously the more power, the more pain you can inflict, but collective consciousness, class consciousness, does exist.

I include below a poem by the greatest African American poet, Langston Hughes, dedicated to the Black Woman. Compare this to Cosby’s nasty invectives because he’s ashamed of them.

The Negro Mother - Poem by Langston Hughes

Children, I come back today
To tell you a story of the long dark way
That I had to climb, that I had to know
In order that the race might live and grow.
Look at my face - dark as the night -
Yet shining like the sun with love's true light.
I am the dark girl who crossed the red sea
Carrying in my body the seed of the free.
I am the woman who worked in the field
Bringing the cotton and the corn to yield.
I am the one who labored as a slave,
Beaten and mistreated for the work that I gave -
Children sold away from me, I'm husband sold, too.
No safety, no love, no respect was I due.

Three hundred years in the deepest South:
But God put a song and a prayer in my mouth.
God put a dream like steel in my soul.
Now, through my children, I'm reaching the goal.

Now, through my children, young and free,
I realized the blessing deed to me.
I couldn't read then. I couldn't write.
I had nothing, back there in the night.
Sometimes, the valley was filled with tears,
But I kept trudging on through the lonely years.
Sometimes, the road was hot with the sun,
But I had to keep on till my work was done:
I had to keep on! No stopping for me -
I was the seed of the coming Free.
I nourished the dream that nothing could smother
Deep in my breast - the Negro mother.
I had only hope then, but now through you,
Dark ones of today, my dreams must come true:
All you dark children in the world out there,
Remember my sweat, my pain, my despair.
Remember my years, heavy with sorrow -
And make of those years a torch for tomorrow.
Make of my pass a road to the light
Out of the darkness, the ignorance, the night.
Lift high my banner out of the dust.
Stand like free men supporting my trust.

Believe in the right, let none push you back.
Remember the whip and the slaver's track.
Remember how the strong in struggle and strife
Still bar you the way, and deny you life -
But march ever forward, breaking down bars.
Look ever upward at the sun and the stars.
Oh, my dark children, may my dreams and my prayers
Impel you forever up the great stairs -
For I will be with you till no white brother
Dares keep down the children of the Negro Mother.

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