This is the first of a series of posts I will write in hopes of creating a discussion about the state of conservatism, from the point of view of liberals and conservatives.
While I was an undergraduate at Harding University, Bill Cosby was invited to the campus as a comedian/ entertainer. I recall being highly upset by this invitation. It was not that he was invited that bothered me, but that he was invited as a comedian. Cosby has clearly become more conservative about social and economic issues vis-a-vis the black community; however, as an older black male, I have always seen him as a person who understands the plight of black folks. I would have preferred the school to have invited him as a part of its prestigious American Studies speaker series, but that was not the case. I suspect that this conservative series would be a little uncomfortable with the questions an older educated black man would present to the audience.
Some conservative institutions are only comfortable inviting conservative speakers to its campus because such speakers do not challenge the audience to think about the universal social conditions that have manifested liberal thinking (this is true of liberal schools too). Harding is not the only institution that does this. On a day that I was traveling for academic reasons last fall, Houston Christian High School invited a speaker to its campus to discuss politics and faith. Many of my students could not help but note the speaker’s historical mistakes and false conclusions, as noted in this blog piece written by my former student, Sam Thompson. I would like to believe that my critical approach to teaching played a part in helping students balance what they heard. Could it be that some conservatives talk about values and attitudes as if political and economic structures do not exist.? Cornel West contends that:
They (conservatives) rarely, if ever, examine the innumerable cases in which black people do act on the Protestant ethic and still remain at the bottom of the social ladder. Instaed, they highlight the few instances in which blacks ascend to the top, as if such success is available to all blacks, regardless of circumstances.
This dynamic is exacerbated even more when black liberals have to play the role of a conservative, when analyzing the black social condition. Michael Dyson, in 2005, published Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost its Mind? The book addresses the problem of class conflict within the black community. This conflict is not so much of a Marxists illustration as it is a change in the definition of black consciousness. In 2004, Bill Cosby addressed the failure of many African American parents to look after their children, the majority of whom are raised in single-parent households. “Cosby urged the black community to embrace education more passionately, become more law-abiding, and learn to speak proper English.” I am sure that most Americans would agree with Cosby here; however, this is a convoluted issue that cannot be addressed by conservative pundits seeking to place blame on a race. This is an American institutional problem that has been promulgated by decades of racism. True, black people must learn to speak better English; however, when many who are at the bottom of the middle class totem poll struggle to survive economically, it is up to liberals to speak, write, and teach conservatives about institutional social conditions. For example, as noted in James Loewen’s book Sundown Towns, many minority groups have been forced to migrate together in communities that share the same language. That language for many blacks is broken English. When parents and grand parents have been denied equality of education for a long period of time, it is difficult to break this social cycle, especially when the income is not there.
Would Houston Christian High School or other Christian schools allow liberal black thinkers to teach about the social condition of institutional problems through a Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, etc., I am not sure — I suspect they would with a degree of censorship. Was Bill Cosby censored? Probably not; I imagine that there were those who would be concerned with a black liberal thinker introducing dark complex issues to a predominant white Christian audience. This is why diverse thinkers and views belong in conservative institutions (the other way around as well). If not me, Edward Carson… who — a token thinker who will promulgate the same point of thought that Harding’s American Studies Institute brings to its campus.
I do believe that it was this comment that set so many black people off, in saying that Cosby had become not only an economic elite, but a social one as well:”Those people are not Africans; they do not know a damn thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Shaliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail.” I like Bill Cosby and I think I understand what he is trying to say; however, there is clearly a gap between Cosby and those at the bottom of the middle class totem poll.