Cosbyology

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Dayo Olopade considers the politics of Bill:

Is Cosby a conservative? Poussaint says absolutely not. "I would definitely consider him a progressive liberal," he says. "He's just always been demanding of people educationally." The Atlantic's Coates and Manhattan Institute scholar John McWhorter think otherwise. "Cosby's rhetoric played well in black barbershops, churches and backyard barbecues, where a unique brand of conservatism still runs strong," Coates wrote, adding recently "he's much closer to the conservatism of black nationalism than to the conservatism of Shelby Steele." Comparing Cosby's feel-good brand of lecturing to the churchy hucksterism of Tyler Perry's comedies and dramas, McWhorter wrote: "Cosby is too grouchy in his presentation to reach the unconverted; the message is more effective from a woman filtered through the warmth of the maternal rather than the admonishment of the paternal." (Cosby has stated emphatically that he doesn't watch Perry's shows.)

I think with black folks in general, and with Cosby in particular, words fail. I've tried to attach ideological labels to Cosby, but it's like translating from a foreign language. Again, that has more to do with political shorthand than people's actual beliefs.

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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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