Bill Cosby caught a lot of ink lambasting the black youth and under-class during a dinner at Constitution Hall in Washington marking the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. There is the usual amen chorus of black commentators scrambling to pat Coz on the back.
I am not among them. Cosby was out of pocket.
He talked down his nose at people who love and revere him, having obviously forgotten what it means to be young, black, and poor in America.
Cosby went on about the poor English many poor blacks use. He has forgotten those heady days of his early ’70s comedy records, not to mention Uptown Saturday Night and Let’s Do it Again, those funkdafied fables he starred in with Sidney Poitier that were seasoned liberally with lewd, blue-ish dialogue and heavily immersed in the vernacular and jive-talk of the day. Somehow, Cosby thinks he is the only person that has learned to code-switch between Black Vernacular and Standard English. Given — he’s trying to make a point about misplaced priorities in the black community. But he comes off like an elitist scumbag looking out the window of his Mercedes, dabbling Grey Poupon on a duck meat croissant after a hard day on the links, lamenting the Negro Problem.
Doing the time to do the crime is one thing, but Cosby is a fool for suggesting that anyone getting shot in the back of the head by police for stealing a pound cake had it coming. No one deserves to be shot by overzealous police. Cosby is either under-medicated or he really, really likes pound cake.
He goes on in his speech talking about all the fatherless children and irresponsible black men, but in the meantime Coz has had some baby-mama drama of his own. I take umbrage with people like Coz who get it in their mind to lay down “black agendas” from a position of moral authority, as if they do no wrong. The best role models are the flawed one — people just like you and me that rise above their own human frailty — and Cosby would do good to remember that. Like so many of his generation — people who have obviously never been young, poor, or made a single bad choice — he wags his finger at the young’uns ostensibly in the name of love while failing to see the broken legacy he and his kind have left behind.
We could argue that the Cosby-esque middle class fuels the cult of conspicuous consumption as some realization of the American Dream, and perhaps hold some culpability. Not everyone can get into college, or would know what to do once they got there. Cosby and his post Civil Rights drinking buddies plopped a virtual toolbox off in the lap of a generation of people with no clue. Instead of teaching how to fish, they microwaved some fish-sticks, moved on up and out as quickly as possible, leaving those Other Negroes to fend for themselves. Ultimately, we have to take care of our own, and Cosby knows that. Instead of chastising, he and his country club buddies need to spend more time with their fingers in the dirt, with the Little People.
Cosby thinks that kids hanging their pants low are an obvious sign of the Apocalypse. But it’s just another fad that will pass just like the hip-huggers, Afros and bell-bottoms he and Camille used to wear. And I don’t know where Bill has been, but wearing your clothes backwards was just a cheap record industry marketing hook that blipped across the screen and quickly fell off 10 years ago. Cosby is so clearly disconnected I wouldn’t doubt he spends days just walking around his brownstone in those old $500 sweaters ranting incredulously about kids and poor blacks to no one in particular.
Frankly, I wonder if Cosby hasn’t lost his mind.
Good fathers know when children need tough love and when they need an advocate that will fight for them unequivocally, without judgment or reprimand. The young, black and poor need such an advocate — sooner than later — not admonition.
I admire the work that he does and continues to do for education. He gives boatloads of money to black colleges, and he’s doing a cable-access show in Philly for kids. And that’s what I’m talking about. Instead of using his celebrity to air his gripes, he should shut up and get busy. Black people shouldn’t be making excuses for bad performance — Cosby got that right. But tough love is overrated. Cosby’s words are that of a frustrated father-figure, and he can be forgiven for scorching the earth with ire and disappointment.
Now if he could only forgive those he has so thoroughly demeaned, and offer them unconditional love and a listening ear — like all good fathers do.
jimi izrael is a journalist and opinion writer living in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Philadelphia Inquirer. His column appears every other Wednesday on Africana.com, where another version of this column ran, and he blogs occasionally at jimiizrael.com.