Bill Cosby and the Black Middle Class

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, November 17, 2005 10:43 AM

Att a ceremony last year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, comedian Bill Cosby said, among other things, that poor blacks are bad parents because they waste what little money they have buying high-priced, brand-name shoes:

"All this child knows is gimme, gimme, gimme. ... They are buying things for the kid. $500 sneakers. For what?"

Is that true? Michael Eric Dyson doesn't think so, and he has the socioeconomic chops to argue with Cosby and with others who he says have perpetuated false images of African Americans' money habits, however well-meaning they may be.

My Sunday column ("Debunking Cosby on Blacks") and online Q&A today were about challenging stereotypical views of the underclass. My guest was Dyson, author of November's Color of Money Book Club selection, "Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?" (Basic Civitas Books, $23).

Cosby's comments and Dyson's response to them have generated lots of debate. Take a look at these past Post columns and articles:

  • "Some Blacks Find Nuggets of Truth in Cosby's Speech; Others Say D.C. Remarks About Poor Blacks Went Too Far," Hamil R. Harris, May 26, 2004
  • "Debate Continues as Cosby Again Criticizes Black Youths," Hamil R. Harris and Paul Farhi, July 3, 2004
  • "Cosby Defends Criticism of Black Community; Actor Urges Better Parenting at Education Forum in D.C.," Manny Fernandez, Sept. 9, 2004
  • One of my favorite Post columnists, William Raspberry, has written quite a bit on this topic: "Getting Beyond Racism" (May 16), "How to Reach Black America" (Jan. 17) and "What Cosby Should Say" (Nov. 22, 2004)
  • Another Post columnist, Colbert I. King, thought Cosby was right on the money: "Fix It, Brother" (May 22, 2004)

    If you can't be online at noon for my chat, you can still submit a question or comment early.

    Confusion, Thy Name Is Medicare

    I was so glad to see Stan Hinden back writing for the Sunday Business section. Hinden, who is retired, reported this week ("Medicare's Part D as Plan B," Nov. 13) that more than 40 million Americans eligible for Medicare were able to start signing up for Part D, the program's voluntary prescription drug benefit.

    As Hinden reports, "Part D allows people on Medicare to get their drugs in one of two ways: by buying an individual drug policy or by signing up with a Medicare Advantage managed care plan. ... Retirees who have approved drug coverage from former employers will not need to buy a Part D plan."

    However (you know there is always a catch) some 10 million retired American workers, including Hinden and his wife, will soon find out is their former employers will continue to pay for their prescription drug benefits in 2006.

    If you're in the same boat you should read Hinden's article.

    Whatever your situation before you sign up for the new drug program read Christopher J. Gearon's report, "Press 'D' for Details," which ran in the Post Health Section.

    Gearon reports that although federal Medicare officials contend that beneficiaries who enroll will save an average of $1,200 on their drug purchases in 2006. You have to follow the rules strictly if you hope to realize any of those savings.

    More resources:

  • On Articles and interactive features giving an in-depth look at Medicare and its new voluntary prescription drug benefit.
  • Prescription drug coverage information from

    Choosing the Best Pension Plan

    If you haven't been keeping up with the ongoing D.C. policy battles concerning the kinds of pensions employers should be allowed to offer employees, you should definitely keep your eyes peeled. According to Post columnist Albert Crenshaw, the "outcome could determine how much money you end up with in retirement."

    In his column "The Best Pension for You," Crenshaw outlines the disputes as well as the questions today's workers should be asking in regards to their 401k plans.

    More resources:

  • GAO report: "Private Pensions: Information on Cash Balance Pension Plans" (PDF file)
  • Submit Your Year-End Tax Questions

    Well, it's almost that time again -- tax time. With just a month and a half left in the year, there may still be time for you to make last-minute moves to reduce your tax burden.

    To help you with any year-end tax questions, I've elicited the help of Donna LeValley, a tax attorney and the spokesperson for the J.K. Lasser series of tax books.

    If you have a question for LeValley, submit it to In the subject line please write "Year-End Tax Question." Please be sure to include your name, city and state.

    You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

    View all comments that have been posted about this article.

    © 2005 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive