SPRINGFIELD , Ohio — Wittenberg faculty members will gather to discuss the debate between Michael Eric Dyson, the university’s 2007 Martin Luther King Jr. Day Commemorative Convocation speaker, and actor/comedian Bill Cosby on the state of disenfranchised people at a panel discussion titled “Poverty vs. Privilege in the Black Community.”
The event is set to take place at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 11, in Bayley Auditorium in the Barbara Deer Kuss Science Center. The event is a precursor to the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day activities.
The panel, facilitated by Forest Wortham, director of multicultural student programs and the WAGE Womyn’s Center, will include Carmiele Wilkerson, associate professor of English and Africana Studies director; John Young, assistant dean of judicial affairs and instructor of political science; Miguel Martinez-Saenz, assistant professor of philosophy; and former Wittenberg faculty member Joseph Lewis, professor emeritus in history at Central State University.
The ongoing debate between Dyson and Cosby has garnered national attention. The debate began with Cosby’s speech at the 50 th anniversary celebration of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark legal decision that overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine for public education.
His remarks called upon members of poor black communities to rid themselves of a lazy and shiftless mindset and do something to help themselves. Cosby wants African Americans to take responsibility for themselves by seeking employment and educational opportunities and ending their dependence on governmental assistance. He considers today’s youth in these communities to be at a higher risk because they are growing up valuing the labels that adorn their clothes more than their education.
Dyson’s rebuttal came in a book titled Is Cosby Right?: Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind? In the book he addresses Cosby’s arguments while exploring his sense of “afristocracy,” which Dyson says is a quality possessed by some members of the black community who are higher in the social hierarchy. While he believes that people should try to help themselves, Dyson takes more of an empathetic stance, saying that Cosby should ease up on the less fortunate because many of them lack the tools and resources needed to improve their current status.
Adding another dimension to the discussion is the writing of Juan Williams, author of Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America – and What We Can Do About It. Williams believes that black society has become one that gives excuses. Williams specifically looks at Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, two prominent social figures, and says that they could do a lot more to promote academics, given their societal roles.
“The panel is about the issues,” Wortham said. “We are trying to identify what responsibilities poor people have, and what responsibility the middle class has to provide role modeling. Though [the Dyson and Cosby] debate has been focused on black people, it is really an issue of poor people in general.”
By: Erica Strauss ‘08
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