Bill Cosby's Argument Needs Tweaking

Shaun Ossei-Owusu, writing at the Huffington Post, parses Bill Cosby's tough love toward the black community and finds areas of his argument that need improvement. 

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Bill Cosby (Larry Marano/Getty Images)

Shaun Ossei-Owusu at the Huffington Post parses Bill Cosby's tough love toward the black community and finds areas of his argument that need improvement. Ossei-Owusu urges Cosby and others to distinguish between structural racism (prison industrial complex, underfunded public school schools, etc.) and the "cultural explanations" of inequality.  

Critics are right when they point to how Cosby's diatribes are often devoid of serious discussions of structural inequality. Some, however, excuse, if not ignore cultural explanations of inequality. The problem is, completely structural interpretations are often unsatisfying. These accounts can overlook important factors and realities that are readily apparent to members of poor communities. Liberals often want to point to structure until something happens to them. Its quite easy to point to "structure" as an explanation for criminal activity until an individual is a witness or victim of a crime, which lends some credence to the idea that "a conservative is just a liberal who has been mugged." Then it becomes about the particular transgressor. As one of my mentors and OG's told me less philosophically "some people ignore the fact that some people do ghetto, ignorant [s--t]."

Similar, but more measured arguments about the role of culture could be presented about education, employment, and social networks. In fact, these arguments have been made. A substantive part of sociological and social science research is about the age-old interaction between agency and structure. In an effort to move beyond the misplaced "culture of poverty" debates of the late 20th century, some scholars have revived discussions on culture and inequality in ways that attempt to be thoughtful and responsible. This is no easy task though. If history can provide any lesson on this issue, it is the unfortunate reality that culture (on the individual and group level) has been used to demonstrate the resiliency of poor folk as well as demonize them.

Read Shaun Ossei-Owusu's entire article at the Huffington Post

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