Exposing the Faulty Rhetoric of ”Is Bill Cosby Right?”
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Bill Cosby is no stranger to controversy. Long before his recent sexual assault conviction, he was on the hot seat for his stance on Black responsibility. In May 2004, Bill Cosby’s Board of Education speech, dubbed the “pound cake” speech, touched a nerve; and rightfully so, because the issues facing the Black community are complex and numerous. Many authors have analyzed the speech; including Michael Eric Dyson in his book Is Bill Cosby Right? In his book, Dyson states that he wants to “unpack those issues with the clarity and complexity they demand.” But his attempt at clarity is as clear as mud. When it comes to logic, Dyson’s arguments are riddled with problems. The Straw Man Fallacy is a literary critique that analyzes and exposes the faulty logic of Is Bill Cosby Right?
Nearly four years after Bill Cosby’s infamous Board of Education speech at Constitution Hall the bricks continue to fly. The entire country seems to be in a perpetual debate over the issues raised by Cosby and many books have surfaced laying claim to the notion that the author is penning an important analysis of the issues. The problems facing the Black community are complex, and indeed, the attention is well deserved.
But instead of referring to Bill Cosby’s speech as “The Board of Education Speech”, many refer to it as “The Pound Cake Speech”. I do not claim to know who coined the term, but one of the earliest references to it was in Michael Eric Dyson’s diatribe, Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost It’s Mind? The reference to the p0und cake is an obvious attempt to trivialize Bill Cosby’s comments and to subliminally influence the audience.
In response to Bill Cosby’s call for more personal responsibility in Black parenting, Dyson screamed, yelled, exaggerated, attacked, lambasted, and cried bloody murder. He overreacted like a bit player in a bad movie. Based on Dyson’s response, one would have thought that Cosby had slapped his mother instead of calling for Black mothers and fathers to stand up and be mothers and fathers. It would seem that Dyson, and not the middle class, is the one who has lost his mind.
The basis of Dyson’s criticism is that Cosby launched a critical and mean-spirited attach against the poor, and that they are helpless to defend themselves.
It appears that it is not so much that Dyson disagrees with Cosby, but that he believes Cosby does not identify with, or has lost touch with, Black America; and that somehow Cosby is not Black enough. This is evidenced, at lease in Dyson’s mind, in the notion that Bill Cosby has chosen not to “play the race card” throughout his career. According to Dyson, Cosby uses no racial jokes, does not play to stereotypes, and does not use profanity; as if these things are to be used as a barometer of blackness.
In Dyson’s mind, Cosby decided not to play to the stereotypes and stay away from racial material because he was embarrassed by his color and his race. Dyson points to a so-called “incidental blackness” theory to describe Cosby’s approach. He feels that Cosby deplores his people and that he would like to see them all put to death. Needless to say, this is a ridiculous assertion.
While I am not entirely positive as to why Michael Eric Dyson would make such absurd statements, I will explore and expose many of the flaws in his arguments, and I will offer suggestions as to possible reasons why he might say some of the nasty things he said about Bill Cosby. In the book Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost It’s Mind?, Dyson seeks to provide a literary critique of Cosby’s speech, but as one may infer from the pound cake reference, it is a blatant attempt at sensationalism and propaganda. Michael Eric Dyson goes all out to discredit Bill Cosby’s work, and as a result, hist own diatribe is filled with logical fallacies. The Strawman Fallacy is a literary critique of Dyson’s vacuous effort.