My mother asked me if I had read about Bill Cosby’s latest rant about his fellow African-Americans while we were at my brother’s house on Saturday. I hadn’t read any news sites in a couple of days at the time nor had I seen news reports about it on TV, but being a long-time admirer of Cosby I made it a point to look it up when I got the chance. Back in May Cosby had made headlines when he chastised some poor blacks for being piss-poor parents in general.
He said, “These people are not parenting. They are buying things for their kids – $500 sneakers for what? And won’t spend $200 for ‘Hooked on Phonics.’…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’…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.”
“We can’t excuse these people,” Cosby said. “There are generations who have been born here and their English is worse than Koreans who have just been here a few years.”
“People putting their clothes on backwards: Isn’t that a sign of something gone wrong? . . . People with their hats on backwards, 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 to the crack and got all type of needles [piercings] going through her body? What part of Africa did this come from? Those people are not Africans; they don’t know a damn thing about Africa.
“With names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail. Brown versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person’s problem. We have got to take the neighborhood back. We have to go in there—forget about telling your child to go into the Peace Corps—it is right around the corner. They are standing on the corner and they can’t speak English.”
Needless to say, Cosby’s comments then weren’t universally well received by leaders of the black community. Some folks complained that Cosby was airing black’s dirty laundry and providing ammunition to racist whites who would use it to keep black people down. Many demanded an apology from Cosby, but if Cosby’s comments this past Thursday are any indication then such an apology is very unlikely to come anytime soon:
He shot back Thursday, saying his detractors were trying in vain to hide the black community’s “dirty laundry.”
“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,” Cosby said during an appearance at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition & Citizenship Education Fund’s annual conference.
“They think they’re hip,” the entertainer said. “They can’t read; they can’t write. They’re laughing and giggling, and they’re going nowhere.”
Cosby elaborated Thursday on his previous comments in a talk interrupted several times by applause. He castigated some blacks, saying that they cannot simply blame whites for problems such as teen pregnancy and high school dropout rates.
“For me there is a time … when we have to turn the mirror around,” he 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.”
You can’t get much more white or middle class than I am, the only area in which I could be considered a minority is my religious viewpoint, but despite having an extended family that is far from being free of prejudice against blacks I think I managed to avoid taking on those views myself. I credit this to two things: the death of my biological father while I was still young and the influence of my mother who taught me that I should judge an individual as an individual rather than as a group. It also helped that I grew up in Pontiac, Michigan which is similar to Detroit in some respects, except smaller. The schools I attended had a pretty good mix of races and my exposure to people from different backgrounds helped keep me from adopting some of the more racist viewpoints I was exposed to from fellow whites as I was growing up. That said, I also recognize that we are all prejudiced to some degree as we are at least partially a product of our environments and I also recognize that there is a big difference between being prejudiced and being racist. I mention all of this because I want folks to understand where I’m coming from when I say that I totally agree with what Bill Cosby is saying.
One of my former best friends whom I had known since Kindergarten is black. I used the word “former” because we’ve not been friends since sometime around the age of 23. The official reason I was told why we were no longer friends is because, at the time, I was a woman hater. I had come out of the relationship with Courtney’s mother and I was pretty angry with how it had all turned out and the fact that I had allowed myself to get into a situation that would result in my becoming an unmarried father and I did say some pretty nasty things about women in general and my ex in particular. In reality I was more upset about my own stupidity than with the nature of women, but I could see how I would have sounded like a new convert to the misogynist cause at the time. There wasn’t ever a formal declaration that our friendship was at an end—we just sort of drifted apart—and I wasn’t told this official reason until years later when I contacted my old friend to try and reconnect.
As it turns out, though, it’s possible that the real reason he and I drifted apart was because he felt I was a racist. This I learned through a mutual long-time friend he would occasionally hang out with when he came to town to visit. That mutual friend was Bill Owen, who died last year in a car accident. It’s a long and complicated story, but suffice it to say that my falling out with another mutual friend of ours—who’s name was Herb and also happened to be black—may have been the catalyst for his decision that I was racist.
And why was I racist? Because I didn’t understand Black Culture. I confess that there’s a lot about Black Culture I didn’t understand, still don’t to a large degree, and it did cause more than a few conflicts when relating to Herb. Specifically I’ve never understood the double standard blacks hold on the use of the word “nigger” or the rules regarding how black men and women relate to each other or the apparent resistance to education some blacks seem to hold for fear of selling themselves out to the white folks. In short, I’ve never understood many of the same things Bill Cosby ranted about recently. I’ve been exposed to black culture for most of my life and the one thing I’ve learned about black culture is only that as a white man it’s best if I just avoid the subject with my black friends if I want to remain friends with them. I valued my friendship with that old friend a great deal and as much as it hurt to have him tell me we couldn’t be friends anymore because of my past anger at women, it hurt even more to find out that the real reason might be because he felt I was a racist white guy.
I’ve not had as close a friendship with anyone from that minority group since, though I do know several black people I do consider friends. There’s even a couple of ladies up the street that I’ve been able to talk about this issue with to some degree, though it’s still something I’m wary of bringing up even with them. I think the same is probably true for a lot of white people. The only whites who speak up on these issues are the racist idiots because the rest of us are worried about being lumped in with the people that truly are racist. The fact that there are some folks in the black community who are quick to label any criticism from whites as being racist doesn’t encourage any kind of a useful dialogue. So we sit back and hope that someone in the black community speaks up and points out the problems that no one wants to talk about and that’s just what Bill Cosby did. I’ve always admired the man and the fact that he’s willing to stand up and talk about the problems he sees plaguing his people regardless of the heat he gets over it just makes me admire him that much more.
The funny thing is, the problems he mentions aren’t limited to just the poor black community. There are plenty of low-income whites who seem to adopt similar attitudes and they’re often referred to as White Trash by those who would sweep them under the rug and forget about them. Bill Cosby is trying to make a point about parenting to poor blacks, about how the situation they find themselves in is largely one of their own making, but the words are just as true for people of any race who refuse to take responsibility for themselves and the children they produce.