At one time, I was trying to write some children’s nonfiction. It was a book about “nice guys” who “finished first.” Each chapter was a biography of someone who was very successful who was also known to be a good person — “nice guys” (and gals). The problem was that whenever I did enough research on a person to write about them, they turned out not to be so nice. The best example of this was Milton Hershey. He is widely praised for being decent to his employees, and for making his company town, Hershey, Pennsylvania, into the town that had no depression, because he kept everyone working.
The problem with Hershey was that his niceness was highly paternal. He was virulently anti-union. Why? You would think that he would be in favor of that. But he didn’t want workers to have rights and make demands. He saw them as children and himself as a benevolent father. There is no doubt that he would have been happier paying his employees more without a union than less with it. And this doesn’t make him much different than George Pullman — who no one mistakes for a teddy bear. I tend to think that Hershey never turned on his workers because he never had to. If things had been worse — if he hadn’t been able to sail to Cuba and be a high stakes gambler — things would have gone quite different for the people of Hershey, Pennsylvania.
The problem isn’t really with Hershey or Pullman or any of the many others like them. It is well known that power corrupts when it comes to government. But most people don’t see that it is just as true (maybe more so) when it comes to the private parts of the world — economic and not. The more power people get the more they abuse it. And that’s why I thought that Jenée Desmond-Harris’ article at Vox Wednesday was so amazing, Bill Cosby’s Disturbing Love of Power, From Race Rants to Drugging Women.
The standard response to the recent evidence that Cosby raped women via drugging is to think it shows a great deal of hypocrisy. Before these allegations became a big deal, Cosby was primarily know as a scold of the African American community. Gone was the silly and kind Dr Cliff Huxtable. Now it was this angry old man talking about how the black community was responsible for everything that was done to it. You know, “Five or six different children, same woman, eight, 10 different husbands or whatever, pretty soon you’re going to have to have DNA cards so you can tell who you’re making love to.” That kind of stuff.
But Desmond-Harris puts it into a single quite consistent frame: power. Cosby liked to tell people what to do. Think about the drugging of women — which he’s admitted to. Why would a man of Cosby’s fame and money have to drug women? I suspect that he didn’t. But he wanted a kind of guarantee — even more power than he already had. The truth is that I’m not very interested in this side of the whole thing. It’s creepy and sad. But it does provide insight into the public scolding.
The basis of Cosby’s criticism seems to be the Twice as Nice concept, where racism would disappear if only all blacks were perfect. This totally misses the way that racism works. Treating one “bad” African American as representative of other African Americans is racism. There is no way that African Americans are ever going to be good enough. And no one would ever require such a thing from whites.
So Cosby’s criticism of the African American community seemed to be all about how that community ought to serve him. It’s shortsighted, obviously. But even more, it’s all about making Bill Cosby’s life better — it’s something he couldn’t buy with his half billion dollars. At the same time, all this scolding won him loads of love from conservatives, who could always be depended upon to use Cosby as an excuse for their own racist stereotypes. Bill Cosby isn’t primarily a black man; he’s rather a powerful man who wants everything — just like all powerful men.