W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk (1903) “powerfully exemplifies the fierce belief in man’s willingness to reason with man.” As a young, pioneering scholar in the, then new, discipline of Sociology, Du Bois “genuinely believed that if he could utilize his training in gathering and presenting the facts concerning the misery of the black man in America, those facts, indisputable in their logic and clarity, would move the white man to right the wrongs now made visible to him.” Thus writes Dr. Alvin Poussaint in the introduction to the 1969 edition of The Souls of Black Folk. He continues “This desperate need of young educated American blacks to cling to the voice of reason. . . often leads them into heart rending debates with their white peers. . . W.E.B. Du Bois did more than debate; he immortalized his argument for black equality which rests today as a symbol of the black intellectuals’ perpetually recurring fury and folly.”
As a Harvard Medical School Psychiatry professor and Ivy League trained student himself, Dr. Poussaint doubtless travelled the same well worn path of constantly trying to “explain the race problem” to whites. Later, Barack Obama would do the same, first as a student and professor, then as a senator and ultimately president.
Railing against the commonplace habit of placing sole blame for criminality in the Black community on the community, Du Bois wrote that, “. . . when you fasten crime upon this race as its peculiar trait, they answer that slavery was the arch-crime, and lynching and lawlessness its twin abortion; that color and race are not crimes, and yet it is they which in this land receive most unceasing condemnation, North, East, South and West.”
A century later Obama echoed this sentiment after the acquittal in the Trayvon Martin case. He said African Americans “understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history. . . .”
As for Poussaint, his psychiatric studies were aimed at proving racism the primary cause of deviance in the Black community. He was hired as a consultant by Bill Cosby to go over every proposed episode of the Cosby Show to assure that the show’s content reinforced mental health in black viewers.
DuBois, despite his obvious qualifications, was initially denied entrance into Harvard. After completing his studies at Harvard, he initiated the systematic, scientific rebuttal of racism’s rationale. (At the time American academia accepted as fact that Blacks were inferior.) Going further, Poussaint helped construct and maintain a potent anti-stereotype. Later, the Obama presidency became the penultimate anti-stereotype. Nonetheless, the president would find himself still singing DuBois’ old tune, albeit in muted form, as he attempted to “explain the race problem” to the white community.
As for Cosby, his 1965 role in “I SPY” was television’s initial anti-stereotype. His role in the Cosby Show was a much clearer, more fleshed out anti-stereotype, presented along with his family, in “a program in which the governing sensibility – the absolute first and last word on just about every detail – lay in black hands.” Bill Cosby said his aim “is to show white people that Negroes are human beings with the same aspirations and abilities that whites have.”
If the Cosby show was effective in dispelling mis-apprehensions and stereotypes about Black Americans, imagine what a Cosby-owned TV network would do. In 1992, Cosby tried and failed to purchase the NBC network. Since being frustrated in that attempt he has turned his “fury and folly” upon Black America itself in a series of diatribes that reinforce the very stereotypes that DuBois, Obama, Poussaint and Cosby himself worked diligently to erase. . .
(Quotes about Cosby taken from Darkest America: From Slavery to Hip-Hop, by Taylor and Austen.) ( by Arthur Lewin, www.AfricaUnlimited.com )
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