Revolution #77, January 28, 2007
“Who's to Blame for the Situation the Masses Are In?”:
Students Debate Different Answers by Bill Cosby and Bob Avakian
Take the 7 Talks to the Campuses and Classrooms
We call on our readers to take out Bob Avakian’s talk “Conservatism, Christian Fundamentalism, Liberalism and Paternalism…Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton…Not All ‘Right’ but All Wrong!” as well as others of the 7 Talks to high school and college campuses and classrooms. Unite with teachers or student clubs to play sections from the talks in classes and meetings. Set up tables on or around the campuses with boom boxes playing the talks—and engage people in conversation. Get campus radio stations to play clips from the talks. Put up stickers and posters of the 7 Talks all over and get the 7 Talks postcards into professors’ mail boxes (PDF files and printing instructions online ). February is Black History Month--so this is a good opportunity and opening to bring to the campuses the "Conservatism, Christian Fundamentalism, Liberalism and Paternalism..." talk, as well the "Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy" talk. All this should be a vital part of sparking debate and discussion around big questions up in the world and stimulating ferment that has to start happening on a different level and in a different way on the campuses. And send correspondence to Revolution on your experiences!
Some of us were invited to lead a discussion at an alternative high school for youth, most of them proletarians who have had trouble of one kind or another at other schools. The discussion was centered around the current debate in society over whether or not the masses are to blame for the situation they find themselves in or is it this system, contrasting what Bill Cosby has to say with what Bob Avakian says about this.
In preparation for this discussion the teachers had their students read a speech by Bill Cosby the day before Bill Cosby was speaking in the city. Then the two teachers and about 30 of their students went to hear Cosby speak, and several of us supporters of Bob Avakian went with them. The plan the next day was for the classes to listen to the 20 minute section on Cosby in Bob Avakian’s Talk “Conservatism, Christian Fundamentalism, Liberalism and Paternalism…Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton…Not All ‘Right’ but All Wrong!” and then have discussion. I had the sense that some of the students had listened to the talk before as well.
One young woman commented that she listened to it several times trying to understand what Bob Avakian was saying. She said many of the words he used she didn’t understand. I want to point something out before going any further. While she had trouble with some of the terminology the Chairman uses, she went back and listened to him several times and while there were things in it she still didn’t understand, in a beginning way through digging into and trying to understand what it was the Chairman was saying, she was able to pick up on his method and approach.
I thought it would be good to get into the content of what both Bob Avakian and Bill Cosby were saying but mainly focusing on how they arrived at these two opposing views on the masses. We played the Bill Cosby section of Avakian’s talk in four of the five classes we attended and led a shorter discussion in the fifth class. All total 40 or so different students heard the talk.
There were two lines among the youth over this question of who’s to blame when we got there that morning and there were two lines when we left that evening—but along the way they had engaged each other in a very serious and sometimes humorous manner. One thing that I learned from these youth was while they differed over who was to blame for the situation they found themselves in, they all felt that the situation was bad and needed to change. Many of the youth had already formed their opinion about Bill Cosby before hearing Bob Avakian’s talk. They didn’t like the Cosby speech so for the most part the majority of the youth agreed with Bob Avakian about that. But after hearing Bob Avakian’s talk they began talking about their life experiences. They were both trying to understand what he was saying, and using it to talk about how it related to their lives.
I’m not going to re-hash everything people said. But I do want to highlight some of what people were saying in order to give you a sense of how people were struggling over both what it was Cosby and Avakian were saying, and how it was these two people came to two such different views of the masses. We were trying to help them see that to get to the truth you have to have a scientific approach.
Most of the students who took Cosby’s line felt that people make the wrong choices in life and that’s why they’re in the situation they’re in. One young woman didn’t get Bob Avakian’s irony around two-parent families—he does a whole thing about how in sharecropping they had two-parent traditional families and lynching and poverty and all the rest. But she tried use that point to make her point on why you need two parents in the home and how this would make things better. Many of the youth there came from single-parent families or were single parents themselves and told heart-wrenching stories of how they were affected by this system. One young man said that his father was locked up when he was two and that his mother was working and trying to raise six kids. He got tired of wearing PF Fliers to school so he took up slinging. Another young man talked about how he is active in his kids’ life and how there is a real economic pull for people to get off into selling drugs. He hasn’t done it but sees how people can get caught up. Another young man talked about going out into the suburbs and looking for a job and being harassed by the police.
In another class students were debating over whether the parents were responsible for their kids and what they do. One young woman was saying she lets her parents know everything—another young woman yelled out “you’re lying.” The first woman told how her mother didn’t like her boyfriend and made her quit. The other woman said “Parent trap, have to think for yourself, can’t let them run your life. You have to think for yourself. My mom brings me to school everyday, but if I decide not to walk through the door how it is her fault?”
Cosby places the blame for the conditions poor Black people are in, in part, on the non-traditional names some people give their children. One young woman commented that she was told that she would never amount to anything because of her name. She was told this by a teacher at another public school. People began to take this up. Another young woman pointed out this was wrong. “And I like what he [Avakian] was saying about the names. He is saying that people are trying to help their children stand out and that is true.” One student said, “This guy is right. Bill Cosby makes it looks like it can be fixed easily. But it’s more complicated than that. You got to go where it started.” She went on to say, “Like he’s saying in the tape, things weren’t any better for Black folk when there were two-parent families. They were still being discriminated against and catching hell.”
In the course of the two days we were there, there was a lot of this back-and-forth between the students, many of them relating their own experience to what the Chairman was saying about who is to blame. While most could see it was the system, they had trouble understanding why Bill Cosby couldn’t understand or simply ignored this. I’m going to trip a little here because I’m trying to deepen my own understanding in the course of taking out these Talks. Here’s the thing: these youth basically united with a correct line but most didn’t understand how Bob Avakian got there. When they talked about how Cosby came to his conclusion over who is to blame, they say it was because “he doesn’t know what it’s like to be poor” and “ain’t nothing he can tell me.” “What is he doing in the hood?”
But that’s not the problem, mainly. You have to apply science to get to the bottom of things. Throughout this I was stressing that what Avakian was saying is that Cosby is totally wrong in his explanation of the cause of the oppression of Black people. And that by blaming Black people he is reinforcing those conditions they are responding to and that if you only look at what they are responding to you won’t be able to get at the heart of the matter and move things in the direction they need to go. Now without getting into attacking the masses I think it would have been good to get into these “isms” like nationalism, or empiricism (just taking what’s right in front of you and thinking you can figure everything out from that), relativism (“you got your reality, I got mine”) and positivism (a method that would lead you to think that living in the hood is enough to get to the bottom of things and solve all the problems we’re up against) with the youth and where that thinking will lead. The seven Talks is full of examples of the Chairman taking this on. We need people to engage both what the Chairman is bringing forth and how he’s getting there. Now some of this was done but not in the sense of this represents dialectical materialism and that represents some other ideology. It was more from the standpoint of how people were talking about it. I think there was the basis to get into things on a deeper and higher plane than they were. I’m going to stop here and try to develop my thinking some on this.
After one class two youth stayed around to talk more about what we had been talking about and the views their classmates held. At lunchtime one guy came up to ask if we had any more copies of Bob Avakian’s tape because he wanted to play it for his buddies on the way home.
There were a lot of other questions as well during the classes and in the breaks—why the U.S. is over there in Iraq, why the U.S. went to war. One guy started one of the classes out by wanting to know if we were coming to talk about driving out Bush—if not, we should go. A young woman who had listened to the Talk five times was saying the war was wrong, that “this war isn’t like World War 2 where we were right to go into it.” I am thinking now that next time we need to talk about what World War 2 was really all about as well since it was not a “good war” at all as far as what the United States was doing. Some thought the war in Iraq was correct and some thought it wasn’t. We tried to apply the method of posing questions: “If there were no WMD, why did they go over there?” People had different perspectives. We wanted people to understand if you didn’t apply the right method to looking at things, then your solutions wouldn’t be right.
All these questions were on their minds. One of the teachers commented that her class normally doesn’t engage the work in the class this way—those students who come to class and sleep and don’t participate were joining in, and she was very excited about that. She wants to continue using the Talks and Revolution newspaper in the classes. The teachers got a bunch of old copies of Revolution and they are going to assign the kids to do different things with the paper—take a subject like the woman question, abortion, and other questions, and using the paper and other materials do a visual presentation to the class.
The teachers also would like to continue having us come to do discussions of the Talks as well as articles from Revolution. They had some differences with the Talk. While both of them think Cosby is wrong in a general sense, there is some unity with him as it relates to families. One was trying to wrestle with this from the standpoint of some of the problems she confronts on a daily basis. In one of the classroom discussions with the students, she said, “I think it all goes back to the family. Somebody—it may be an aunt, a grandparent, a teacher—someone has to support them in their formative years. It’s much harder for us to do what we do here if the kid has been abused, mistreated, etc. My question is what can we do about it? Avakian makes the point that he doesn’t like Bill Cosby talking about how the family is dysfunctional. But that is an issue we have to deal with.” She said that she knew all about how the historical oppression of Black people had affected the Black family, “but what are we going to do about it now.” I answered this by saying I’m going to be straight up. It’s going to take revolution to change these conditions. They are the result of this system and it’s rotten to the core. And right now it’s very important that people dig into what Bob Avakian is saying here and in the other talks.
During the class discussion, I didn’t really have an answer to what the teacher said about how people will change their thinking, but I’ve thought about it a lot since, and went back and listened to the Talk again. There Bob Avakian talks about what it is going to take to transform people—he knows that people couldn’t lead society with all these ways of thinking. There is a need for people to change how they think. But to do that they have to understand the cause of those circumstances and why they are in the situation they are in, and on that basis of that understanding they can change reality, and only in the course of doing this people can change themselves as they change reality. What I want to do next is go back to the class and ask the teacher to put that question out there again, and have the students take what they understand and talk about how society should be changed, and what it will take to transform how people think and act so that we can have the kind of society people need to live in. It will be important for the students to listen to the rest of this talk by Bob Avakian where he gets into what we can do about the situation we’re in.
All in all it was a really good two days. These were young adults wrangling over the present, the future, and their role in it. This is one example of the way these Talks are having a profound impact on people. At least 30 copies of the Talk were handed out to people who wanted to take it home and listen to it again or share it with other people.
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