Project 21 New Visions

 

Bill Cosby, You Say the Darndest Things


by Kevin Martin and Tom Florip

 


Dr. Huxtable gave an unwelcome second opinion at a recent gala marking the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision. As he rose to address the crowd at Howard University, scarcely anyone expected Bill Cosby to deliver a scathing - albeit comical - rebuke of the state of black America.

For speaking his mind, Cosby may have his ghetto pass revoked. He has a target on his back.

Complaining about education in black households, Cosby said, "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?'" He continued, "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... You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth!"

The self-appointed black leadership makes hay over the tragic cycle of police shootings. Cosby, however, laid the blame at the criminals' feet, noting, "These are not political criminals. These are people 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 he doing with the pound cake in his hand?"

Cosby's black-on-black satire isn't new. Black comedians are increasingly turning inward for their material. In fact, they're doing more to highlight black problems than those who consider themselves leaders.

Chris Rock has long carried the comedic torch in this respect. Dave Chappelle's hit show draws much material from black America's problems. Cosby's remarks were unique in that the audience was made up of black policymakers and civil rights leaders. They were not pleased to be the butt of Cosby's jokes.

But why are black comedians the ones addressing problems such as the lack of parenting (or the outright lack of parents) and not black policymakers? An outraged Kweisi Mfume, the president of the NAACP, felt compelled to get up and counter Cosby's words with excuses that night. Mfume's action exposes a stunning lack of leadership.

These so-called leaders can raise the roof saying the government owes reparations for sanctioning slavery. Black comedians examine the issue and take things one step further. Beyond figuring out who is owed and who should pay, Dave Chappelle speculates what will be done with the money. In his comedic vision, reparations are spent all at once on truckloads of cigarettes and luxury SUVs. The world's richest man is created at a post-reparations dice game.

Is this insulting? To many, yes. But the spending habits of professional athletes and rap stars, as displayed on shows such as MTV's "Cribs," gives credence to Chappelle's comedy. Does this matter to black leaders? It seems they aren't as concerned about black welfare as are Cosby and Chappelle.

The Congressional Black Caucus lists 24 "priorities" on its website. Not one mentions strong black families, healthy black homes or even responsible parenting. Conversely, responsibility is a staple of Chris Rock's comedy. Rock quotes "low-expectation-having" people bragging, "I take care of my kids." Rock's answer? "You're supposed to!" The proud declaration, "I ain't never been to jail" is met with Rock's "Whaddya want? A cookie?"

Perhaps it's not as much a question of priorities (or lack thereof) as one of image. With the community need for strong families and the fostering of good educational habits ignored for so long, making them a priority now is tantamount to admitting an embarrassing oversight.

One would think promoting school choice and responsible fatherhood would trump Ebonics and reparations. Sadly, one would be wrong.

By abdication, it has fallen to comedians to hold a mirror to our black communities. By refusing to acknowledge real problems, the "leaders" dropped that mirror, shattering the dreams of many still trapped - by choice or circumstance - and unable to take advantage of the benefits past civil rights leaders won for them.

While Cosby's speech, Rock's stand-up and Chappelle's skits make for hilarious comedy, the tragedy is the stunning lack of leadership in black America today.

That's no laughing matter.

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Kevin Martin, a member of the African-American leadership network Project 21. Tom Florip is a research associate for Project 21. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published June 2004 by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.


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