Another Critique Of The Cosby Piece

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The eminent Ross Douthat offers some kind words and criticism of my Cosby piece. His critique is similar to John McWhorter's but slightly different. Both argue with my point that, culturally, the black past was  more virtuous than the black present. John takes an aim at the illegitimacy rates, while Ross goes wide-angle and argues for asserting the virtue and morals of one era over another. I hope that's fair. I obviously disagree. But like I said in reference to John's piece, I had 7k words to make my case and if I didn't do it there, it's highly unlikely I can do it here.

I will say this--we need to be very careful about conflating hip-hop with gangsta rap. I have my problems with the intersection of both, but they aren't the same. In the piece, I criticize Ronald Ferguson for saying that the rise of hip-hop in the early 90s had some sort of relationship to the alleged decline of reading among black kids. I then pivoted to say that throughout the 90s gangsta rap exploded almost inversely to a decline in murder rates and teen pregnancy rates among black kids. But Ferguson didn't argue that the subgenre of gangsta rap caused the decline--he argued that entire genre of hip-hop caused the decline. That's a broad swipe that includes everything from M.C. Hammer to to Rakim to Tribe Called Quest to Scarface to X-Clain. I cited gangsta rap example to point out problem of confusing causation and correlation. But I was still tackling Feguson's faulty argument that ALL hip-hop caused the decline.

That said, I think Ross's point about eras and virtue is a good one and worth considering and debating. The gangsta rap/hip-hop confusion doesn't entirely invalidate that. I just want us to be clear about what were discussing. By all means check out the convo. I read Ross regularly, and certainly recommend his blog.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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