[Marxism] Bill Cosby: not so funny

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat May 22 08:25:28 MDT 2004

NY Times, May 22, 2004
Cosby Defends His Remarks About Poor Blacks' Values

Bill Cosby, known mostly as a genial father figure who contributes to a 
wide range of black philanthropic causes, found himself immersed in 
controversy this week. After making inflammatory remarks on Monday about 
the behavior and values of some poor black people, Mr. Cosby said 
yesterday that he had made the comments out of concern and because of 
his belief that fighting racial injustice must also include accepting 
personal responsibility.

Mr. Cosby spoke yesterday after a week of discussion on the Internet, on 
talk shows, on radio programs and in newspaper columns about his 
comments Monday night at a gala at Constitution Hall in Washington 
commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education 
desegregation decision. He has been attacked and applauded for saying 
that "the lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal."

He was also reported to have 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."

Mr. Cosby said yesterday that what was left out of those comments, first 
reported by The Associated Press and The Washington Post, was that he 
began his remarks by talking about what he said was a 50 percent high 
school dropout rate among poor blacks. The National Center for Education 
Statistics, a federal agency, says that in 2000 the dropout rate for 
blacks was 13.1 percent. Mr. Cosby's publicist, David Brokaw, said it 
was Mr. Cosby's understanding that the rate was 50 percent in some 
inner-city schools.

Mr. Cosby's remarks, which also included the observation that not all 
incarcerated blacks are political prisoners ("people getting shot in the 
back of the head over a piece of pound cake, and then we run out and we 
are outraged") were meant to frame the complexities of black struggle 50 
years after Brown, Mr. Cosby said, when so many legal barriers have fallen.

Some people said Mr. Cosby's comments had simply brought to the surface 
long-simmering generational and class schisms among blacks. Some 
applauded him for using sharp language to reiterate a long-running 
debate among blacks about the direction of the black struggle. Still 
others said they feared that his remarks would become fodder for racists 
or conservatives who believe that blacks alone avoid personal 

"Mr. Cosby was addressing the 50 percent dropout rate that he knows to 
be true," Mr. Cosby said of himself in a telephone interview from San 
Francisco, where he was raising money for a program to get teachers into 
low-income schools. "Was Mr. Cosby taking about all lower-income people? 

"I am in as much pain as many, many people about these people," he 
continued. "The 50 percent dropout rate, the seeming acceptance of 
having children and not making the father responsible and calling him in 
on it. It's easy to pass these things on like some kind of epidemic."

He said later in the conversation: "A 50 percent dropout rate in 2004 is 
not all about what people are doing to us. It's about what we are not 
doing. The Legal Defense Fund and the N.A.A.C.P. can deal on those 
points of law, but something has to come from the people."

Theodore M. Shaw, the director counsel of the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense 
and Education Fund Inc., said yesterday that Mr. Cosby's comments had 
upset him. But they spoke afterward, he said, and agreed that black 
inequality needed to be attacked on many fronts, both personal and 

"I was concerned that people in the media would attempt to drive a wedge 
between Dr. Cosby and those pursuing issues of systematic racial 
discrimination," said Mr. Shaw, who spoke to the audience on Monday 
night after Mr. Cosby's comments, asserting that many problems in black 
communities were not the result of personal failures.

But the cultural critic Michael Eric Dyson said that Mr. Cosby's 
comments "betray classist, elitist viewpoints that are rooted in 
generational warfare." Mr. Dyson, a professor of religious studies and 
African studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said Mr. Cosby was 
"ill-informed on the critical and complex issues that shape people's lives."

Mr. Cosby's comments, he added, "only reinforce suspicions about black 

Addressing that point, Mr. Cosby said yesterday, "The conservative 
groups are not saying anything that they weren't already saying about us."

Kweisi Mfume, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., said yesterday that he 
agreed with much of what Mr. Cosby had to say. He said he thought most 
of the agitation came simply because Mr. Cosby, who has so much 
credibility among many blacks, said it publicly. Mr. Mfume said he, too, 
had often said that blacks now face many challenges that are beyond the 
scope of the law.

He said he disagreed with Mr. Cosby for singling out low-income people 
as having failed to hold up their end through destructive behavior in 
the post-segregation era.

Mr. Cosby said yesterday, though, that it is mostly in poor 
neighborhoods that black children are being felled by bullets and let 
down by their schools and too many adults. He said he made his comments 
to inspire people to take back their neighborhoods and express outrage 
about everything from obscene rap lyrics to negative media images of 
blacks years after "The Cosby Show" broke new ground.

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