Calling Out Cosby
“It only took me forty years to learn the Black Power Salute.”
He's at it again.
Bill Cosby, the former pudding pop pusher and current purveyor of black morality, is engaging in a series of national, public discussions that he's entitled, "A Call Out With Cosby."
As many of you recall, a couple of years ago Cosby made headlines when he made disparaging comments about "the lower economic and lower middle economic people" who, according to him, were not, "holding their end in this deal." Of course, by "this deal" Cosby was referring to the successes of the Civil Rights movement. I'm not sure what role Cosby played in helping open up American institutions to blacks and others throughout the Civil Rights era (I've read that he essentially absconded). What I do know is that, often, those individuals who were alive during that time, and wanted or had absolutely nothing to do with sit-ins, freedom rides, marches, voter registration drives, integrating 'whites only' dining establishments, etc., will be the first to take credit for their impact. "We paid The Price," they will contend. It reminds me of when white folks attempt to take credit for the abolition of slavery by arguing that, 'We fought and died in the Civil War,' or when men pat themselves on the back for the passage and implementation of women's suffrage. That they either had nothing to do with it, or were in direct opposition to the struggle for equal rights doesn't really register with them.
Regarding the comments that Cosby made two years ago, I have repeatedly argued several points. Namely:
- Although every single black person I know, including myself, has, at one time or another, expressed frustration with black people in general, what Cosby did was much different. When I complain about “these Negroes” I do it while bellyaching among friends. Within that context, I've also made general complaints about every group of people on the face of the Earth. Of the major differences between Bill Cosby and me two of the most important are these: 1) I'm not a well liked, highly regarded and influential public figure and 2) I was venting to a group of friends. To make the kind of incendiary, sweeping, stereotypical comments that Bill Cosby made - in front of a national audience – is simply not intelligent.
- The only thing he did was spout white supremist arguments in blackface. I've heard his line of reasoning repeated ad nauseum by enemies of black people: Rush Limbaugh, David Horowitz, Pat Buchanan, David Duke, etc. Whenever any of these people publicly identify what they see as a shortcoming specific to black people they are roundly and loudly criticized by the black community, and rightly so. Whenever a black person does it (and WE do it far too often) it's given a free pass.
- I've heard people say that it doesn't matter what we say or do because whites will believe whatever they want about us. Cosby himself made it. This, frankly, is complete bullshit. Sure, white supremacists will continue to promote the idea that blacks and other non-whites are inferior. But they are a part of a fringe movement whose goal is to convince "normal" uncommitted whites of that, and affect radical social change. Cosby just provided them with more ammunition. Further, that bankrupt notion doesn't give him or any other black person the right to publicly smear an entire segment of the population. Cosby made himself a hypocrite. To make blanket, public statements accusing blacks of generally lacking personal responsibility is the HEIGHT of irresponsibility.
- Ills that are endemic to society as a whole (or that are class, not race, based) are often portrayed as unique to black people. Poor people, across racial lines, have higher rates of incarceration, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, dropping out of high school, alcoholism, domestic violence, etc., than those higher up the socioeconomic ladder. Cosby should have acknowledged that.
- When people argue that, at the very least, Cosby's rant precipitated a much needed discussion in the black community, I respond that this discussion has been occurring at all levels of black life for many years now. What exactly did Cosby contribute? "These people are going around stealing Coca-Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake, and then we run out and we are outraged saying, 'The cops shouldn't have shot him.' What the hell was doing with the pound cake in his hand?" This kind of ignorant, high-handed, ridiculously simplistic assessment of the very real problem of police brutality isn't helping anything. Moreover, people can't be guilted into making good decisions. To quote Justine Felix, an author and activist in San Antonio, "People don't exist in a vacuum. They are the products or their environment. If you want to change the way folks behave then you need to change the conditions that give rise to that behavior. Criticizing people for their personal behavior on an individual basis might make sense because on an individual basis it might actually work and result in positive change." But lambasting an amorphous section of the population is foolish and regrettable.
Of course, Cosby isn't all bad. He's a brilliant entertainer who, with The Cosby Show, somehow managed to give the black family one of it's only positive television representations in history. An even larger saving grace is that he's got the decency to put his money where his big mouth is. But it would be nice if he could teach that mouth of his to deliver better informed more thoughtful criticisms.