Several times now Bill Cosby, the popular comedian, writer and actor, has spoken out about the American black community. Recently he spoke to black leaders and activists about the rising generation of blacks: “They think they’re hip. They can’t read; they can’t write. They’re laughing and giggling, and they’re going nowhere.” This was not the first time that Cosby had chastised the black community for the failings of some of its members. Months before, at a gala affair commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Cosby said he wanted to “turn the mirror around on ourselves.” Here are several quotes from this and other times he has spoken out:
I travel the country and see these patterns in every community — stories of 12-year-old children killed in the crossfire between knuckleheads selling drugs, the 14-year-olds with a sealed envelope as their first step into the criminal justice system, the young males who become fathers and not held responsible, the young women having children and moving back in with their mothers and grandmothers, and the young people who choose not to learn standard English.
I can’t even talk the way these people talk, “Why you ain’t,” “Where you is” … and I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk … Everybody knows it’s important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can’t be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth.
I want people to take their neighborhood back. Hey, man, you know, to be — I’ve traveled around all the different cities, and to turn on the TV or the news at 5:00, and I read that some child, 12-year-old, shot. Whether it’s Dayton, Ohio; Wilberforce, Ohio; Pennsylvania, Mississippi. And for me, it’s painful. That’s a life gone. And then when they catch the person that did it, that’s another life gone. Where are we? Who are we? 50% dropout in school. 60 to 70% of our incarcerated are illiterate.
You’ve got to stop beating up your women because you can’t find a job, because you didn’t want to get an education and now you’re [earning] minimum wage. You should have thought more of yourself when you were in high school, when you had an opportunity.
Our nation has come a long way from the institutionalized racism of the last century. Outright and open racism is no longer acceptable in society, but this shift in attitude has caused racists to go underground and hide their disdain of others. We have changed to a society where a once commonly-used racial slur is now only referred to as “the N word” on the nightly news. But although the overwhelming majority of whites would be embarrassed to use this type of language today, Cosby is saddened that blacks too often use “the N word” with each other. He places the responsibility for this act on the parents. “When you put on a record and that record is yelling ‘n—– this and n—– that’ and you’ve got your little 6-year-old, 7-year-old sitting in the back seat of the car, those children hear that,” he said. I would add that while parents are responsible for playing that “music,” the artists are also to blame for creating songs which contain this kind of language.
Cosby has dismissed reports that some people are using his words to tear down blacks, but there has been very little open criticism against his comments. Jesse Jackson was present at a recent event and defended Cosby: “Bill is saying let’s fight the right fight, let’s level the playing field. Drunk people can’t do that. Illiterate people can’t do that.” And many others have stood up and agreed with Cosby, as Dick Meyer recently wrote: “Cosby’s remarks were embraced by several of the leading black columnists in the country: DeWayne Wickham, Clarence Page, Colbert King, Leonard Pitts, Jr., and Thomas Sowell.”
Bill Cosby dismissed claims that he was airing the black community’s “dirty laundry” thus: “Let me tell you something, your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day, it’s cursing and calling each other n—— as they’re walking up and down the street.”
It is laudable that Cosby is not willing to sit back and watch people dig themselves deeper into problems of their own devising: “I think that it is time for concerned African Americans to march, galvanize and raise the awareness about this epidemic to transform our helplessness, frustration and righteous indignation into a sense of shared responsibility and action,” he said. Inaction is easy, but it takes courage to stand up and announce publicly that the emperor has no clothes, and we should stop pretending otherwise. “For me there is a time … when we have to turn the mirror around,” Bill Cosby said. “Because for me it is almost analgesic to talk about what the white man is doing against us. And it keeps a person frozen in their seat, it keeps you frozen in your hole you’re sitting in.”
I am glad to see Cosby refusing to play the game of victimhood. Taking responsibility for your own failings and rolling up your sleeves to fix them is a sign of maturity. In fact, Ralph Peters identified in 1998 the tendency of blaming others as one of the seven signs of a losing nation-state:
The cult of victimhood, a plague on the least-successful elements in our own society, retards the development of entire continents. When individuals or cultures cannot accept responsibility for their own failures, they will repeat the behaviors that led to failure. Accepting responsibility for failure is difficult, and correspondingly rare. The cultures of North America, Northern Europe, Japan, and Korea (each in its own way) share an unusual talent for looking in the mirror and keeping their eyes open. Certainly, there is no lack of national vanity, prejudice, subterfuge, or bad behavior. But in the clutch we are surprisingly good at saying, “We did it, so let’s fix it.”
I salute Bill Cosby for speaking up over the years about this issue, and I’m pleased to see some national press finally following his comments. It is high time that we as a nation grow up, both individually and collectively. The overt racism of segregated water fountains in times past should be as repugnant to us as the subtle racism of lowered expectations today.