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Bill Cosby on Blacks


"We have million-dollar basketball
players who can't write two paragraphs.
We, as black folks, have to do a better job."

"They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English. I can't even talk the way these people talk: "Why you ain't," "Where you is," "What he drive," "Where he stay," "Where he work," "Who you be." 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. In fact you will never get any kind of job making a decent living.

People marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education, and now we've got these knuckleheads walking around. The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids, $500 sneakers for what? And they won't spend $200 for 'Hooked on Phonics.'

I am talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was 2? Where were you when he was 12? Where were you when he was 18, and how come you didn't know that he had a pistol? And where is the father? Or who is his father?

People putting their clothes on backward: Isn't that a sign of something gone wrong? People with their hats on backward, pants down around the crack, isn't that a sign of something? Or are you waiting for Jesus to pull his pants up? Isn't it a sign of something when she has her dress all the way up and got all type of needles [piercing] going through her body?

What part of Africa did this come from? We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans; they don't know a thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail.

Brown or black versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person's problem. We have got to take the neighborhood back. People used to be ashamed. Today a woman has eight children with eight different 'husbands' -- or men, or whatever you call them now. We have millionaire football players who cannot read. We have million-dollar basketball players who can't write two paragraphs. We, as black folks, have to do a better job. Someone working at Wal-Mart with seven kids, you are hurting us. We have to start holding each other to a higher standard.

We cannot blame the white people any longer." --

William Henry "Bill" Cosby, Jr., Ed. D.


On May 17, 2004, at an NAACP event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that struck down school segregation, entertainer Bill Cosby voiced the assertions quoted above. In his exposition to that assembly, the man known to television viewing audiences as lovable, kindly, yet permanently bemused patriarch, Dr. Huxtable, spoke harshly about his perception of the ills affecting black American society. He cited elevated school dropout rates for inner-city black students and criticized low-income blacks for not using the opportunities the civil rights movement has won for them. Blacks, by their unplanned pregnancies, poor parenting, lack of education, non-standard English, counter-culture dress, and involvement in crime, fail the black community as well as themselves, he said.

Parts of that May 2004 speech were cobbled together into "We Can't Blame White People," a widely circulated essay that has been both damned and praised.

Bill Cosby has not repudiated his controversial pronouncements or attempted to distance himself from them. Instead, he has chosen to expand upon his theme on subsequent occasions and to make himself a spokesperson for black self-empowerment through education and better parenting. In serving this cause, he draws upon his celebrity to make his voice heard, but unlike many entertainers who take to the soapbox to decry their bêtes noires, he brings far more to the podium than merely a recognizable face and a fan base. This man who is best known to the world as a comedian holds a doctorate in education. He is also highly regarded in the African-American community, where he and his wife, Camille, are prized for their philanthropy. (The Cosby's were present at the NAACP event referred to above in order to be honored for their open-handed generosity in donating money to black colleges.)

Cosby defended his comments almost as soon as he made them. The day after, he said in an interview: "It makes no sense to claim that these are things that belong quietly in the black community. We have to figure out how do you get parenting back into the home. This is a problem of epic proportion."

Then, in a statement released shortly after the NAACP gala, he made clear his purpose: "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."

In another interview, he said: "I feel that I can no longer remain silent. If I have to make a choice between keeping quiet so that conservative media does not speak negatively, or ringing the bell to galvanize those who want change in the lower economic community, then I choose to be a bell ringer."

In July 2004, he again took to the public soapbox to expound upon his thesis. In a speech given at Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition/PUSH Coalition conference in Chicago, he said: "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."

In December 2004, he addressed a panel at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, telling them: "Stop waiting for a leader. Get Up! Tell your friends. And if they can't get up, we must see about them because they are true victims ... It's time to study four hours a day with your children. Teach them how much they'll be worth when they have A's instead of F's."

While the criticisms voiced by Bill Cosby are greeted by some as a long-needed airing of problems everyone recognizes but no one talks about, others regard them as unfairly saddling lower-income blacks with sole responsibility for their plight. "He unerringly and wrongly blames the poor. He seems to think that if they would only change their minds, all their problems would go away," said Ronald Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland.

Critics also fear that citing failures of lower-income blacks to make the most of educational opportunities and to eschew choices that limit potential for success (poor use of language, early parenting, often unpartnered) gives white people the much-welcomed easy out of declaring themselves devoid of any responsibility for the cause or continuation of black poverty in America: "See? It's not us that puts them in the ghettos or keeps them there, it's them."

Such disavowal, while comforting to those who instinctively seize it when it appears to have been offered, ignores the possibility of racial economic disparity's being the result of a combination of contributing factors rather than an either/or "If you did it, then I didn't" proposition.

Last, Cosby's black-negative assessments could, as some have pointed out, serve as confirmations long sought by racists of their view that African-Americans are inherently incapable of helping themselves, which they would hold up as proof of their theory of black genetic inferiority.

While the relative merit of Bill Cosby's pronouncements is in dispute, what is not is the sincerity of the man who made them. --