I begin this blog with a confession…I have always loved the comedy of Bill Cosby. As a native of Philadelphia I always got his references and appreciated the way he inserted “Philly-isms” into his stand-up and his TV show. I have great respect for the way he brought humor and dignity to Black life. He is steadfast about not cursing or debasing women in his comedy. He has earned the title of “America’s Favorite Father.” but lately he seems to be everybody’s grumpy old man…something akin to the Boondocks, “Uncle Rukus!”
In numerous public pronouncements Mr. Cosby has castigated poor Black people (particularly women) for being terrible parents. He rants about the way they these parents raise their children, the way the children dress, the way they talk…their very existence. He does this without recognizing the contradictions that exists in his scoldings. Mr. Cosby, go back and look at some of your Fat Albert episodes. Your characters use Black English as their primary mode of communication. You cannot denigrate the culture at the same moment you are profiting from it.
Do the community elders critique the younger generation for how they dress, talk, and act? Of course they do…just as our elders criticized our clothing, our music, and our talk. But there is a kind of mean-spirited blaming of the victim that is showing up in critiques like those being offered by Mr. Cosby. Why is he so angry at the Black community?
I have a naive theory about the source of his anger. In 1997 Mr. Cosby and his wife lost their son to a senseless and tragic murder. From all indications he was a random victim who was attempting to repair a flat tire when the murderer came upon him. Ennis Cosby was the Cosby’s only son of 5 children and he fought valiantly to be successful despite his dyslexia. Very soon after Ennis’ death Bill Cosby was back on the stage doing concerts wearing a T-shirt that read, “Hello Friend”–a favorite greeting of Ennis Cosby. I think that the way Mr. Cosby dealt with his grief was to keep it all inside except when he saw parents who still had their sons not raising them the way he raised his sons. The sight of these sagging pants, rapping, swagging young men was just too much! His attacks have been vicious and vitriolic. They blame the victim and fail to lift the very people he claims to be correcting. And, of course they make they political right as happy as they can be.
Mr. Cosby’s critiques fail to look at the huge structural and symbolic disadvantages poor Black families face. And, his critiques hurt. We are used to White people describing us as pathological and dysfunctional but when the tongue-lashing comes from one of our own…one who we love…it is discouraging and fractures our community.
Finally, like Sweet Honey & the Rock asks, Mr. Cosby I have to ask, “Are your hands clean?” Over the past decade we have heard all kinds of rumors about your sexual misconduct. Out of his own mouth Mr. Cosby admits to making support payments to a woman he fathered outside of his marriage. So…American favorite father is not exactly squeaky clean. And, as we typically do, the Black community forgives your transgression. However, we don’t expect for you to turn on us…make us laugh…bring us quality TV programming…stay in your lane! What do you think?
Stay Black & Smart!