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People used to be ashamed. Today a woman has eight children with eight different 'husbands' --

or men or whatever you call them now. We have millionaire football players who cannot read. 

We have million-dollar basketball players who can't write two paragraphs.



Notes on Words from Brother Bill Cosby

A Discussion with Wilson J. Moses


Although Bill Cosby sincerely means well, and writes from an overflowing heart, and although he has "given back to the community" far more than the so-called "community" has ever given him, I am troubled by his emotional tone and his superficial observations.  His sermon is based on nothing other than his understandable distress.  He describes the problem very poignantly, but impressionistically, anecdotally, and hence inaccurately.  He seems to be implying that the status of the American Negro can be improved by the variety of one-line commentary that predominates in his profession.   I respect Mr. Cosby for what he has contributed to Morehouse College and other black institutions, and for that reason, I am not hasty or stringent in my response to him.  But Cosby is an intelligent and educated man and thus capable of a more complicated and inflected description of African American society than he provides here.Wilson J. Moses, Professor of History, The Pennsylvania State University

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Wilson, you are generous, a man with considerable grace and appreciation of those whose views, status, circumstances, and world views vary from your own. In this regard, you are light years beyond Mr. Bill Cosby. As such you are a man I admire and hold in great esteem. I used to admire, as well, Mr. Cosby. But that has all changed.

It seems he became a different man subsequent to his son's death and accusations about his own sexual morality. Having made great achievements in the field of entertainment he gave up the light comedy for which he was noted and admired. Now he has become a black nationalist, a right wing social reformer. In the process he has lost whatever grace he possessed and has become rather sardonic with regard to persons in black communities he find culturally objectionable and unbecoming.

From his soapbox discourse you sampled, Mr. Cosby wages a crusade against those he calls generally "Knuckleheads." These include the “Lower Economic People,” People with a Son in an Orange Suit, People with Hats on Backward, People with Sagging Pants, People Waiting for Jesus, People Working for Wal-Mart with Eight Kids, Millionaire Football Players Who Cannot Read, Million-dollar Basketball Players Who Can't Write Two Paragraphs.

These are people with English language deficiencies, loose sexual morality, objectionable dress styles, body piercings; who inappropriately name their children; illiterates; and who profess to be African. It is rather obvious that Mr. Cosby is not concerned in his soapbox discourse about all persons who might fit into these categories. He has a restricted range for his cultural arrows. You may have noted his continuous use of "We." I assume it's the black nationalist "we." Here's one such context. He says, "We have got to take the neighborhood back." I am not sure what "neighborhood" he references. I suspect it is not a neighborhood in which he lives physically. I am not even sure that it is a neighborhood in which millionaire athletes live.

It seems a rather nationalistic neighborhood inside Mr. Cosby's head, a fictive neighborhood that is exceedingly poor and includes the working poor; the sexually loose, the shameless, and the irresponsible; those lacking in parenting skills, and the illiterates. And they have all been colored black.

Clearly, we can see that those who think Mr. Cosby's attack is on the poor are mistaken. He has objections as well to certain millionaires in the sports field (football and basketball players) who can't read and write two paragraphs. I wonder would Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali fit into this category. Whatever success that they have acquired, whatever achievements they have made, account for nothing in Mr. Cosby's catalog of socio-moral sins.

What stand out starkly for me are Mr. Cosby's feelings that these people have had a negative impact on his own sense of racial identity. Here are two such statements: 1) "We have to start holding each other to a higher standard." and 2) "The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal." As we have seen the "higher standard" and "holding up their end" have to do more with cultural image than wealth; it is how the poor and sportsmen (or those from impoverished backgrounds, which probably include hip hop artists, as well) represent themselves in the public sphere. And seemingly, even though Mr. Cosby is exceedingly wealthy, he is thus unable to escape this "blackness," the “deal” (a tacit arrangement Negroes have with each other), which includes those who are culturally below him.

Of course, Mr. Cosby is right one cannot blame whites what his "knuckleheads" have made of their restricted lives. My concern here is not so much what his "knuckleheads” have made of themselves as far as “success.” For I see creativity in their lack where Mr. Cosby sees a degraded state of being. Mr. Black Comedian himself sees his “people” living far below the animal state. For he says, "These people are not parenting." That is indeed a broad brush. One can say one failed at parenting but Mr. Cosby says they are not parenting at all. That they are totally lacking in "parenting." One must wonder what he attempts to accomplish in such insults on humanity.

Does he think such racial shaming and stereotyping will somehow cause these situations to disappear? Or do such superficial criticisms relieve him of some steaming embarrassment he feels in being identified or grouped with such persons he feels so unlike his own cultural standards? In any case, Mr. Cosby’s soapbox antics undermine his own social value and worth and suggest that he has serious personal and ethical issues he has neglected.—Rudy

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Dear Rudy,

I admire the patience with which you have attempted to respond rationally to Cosby's irrational position, and I think you do as well as can be done, given the impossibility of the task.

At least you have accurately pointed out the innumerable irrationalities and weird generalizations in Cosby's position, and it is worthwhile that you have taken the time to do so.I sincerely wonder what audience Cosby has in mind.   No social problems can be solved with a series of one-line stereotypes.—Wilson

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Bill Cosby on Knuckleheads

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,
What he drive,
Where he stay,
Where he work,
Who you be...
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.
In fact you will never get any kind of job making a decent living. People marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education, and now we've got these knuckleheads walking around.

The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal.

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.

I am talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit.

Where were you when he was  2 ? ?

Where were you when he was 12 ? ?

Where were you when he was 18 and how come you didn't know that he had a pistol ? ?

And where is the father?? Or who is his father?

People putting their clothes on backward: Isn't that a sign of something gone wrong?

People with their hats on backward, 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 and got all type of needles [piercing] going through her body?

What part of Africa did this come from??

We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans; they don't know a thing about Africa. 

With names like Shaniqua, Taliqua, and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail.

Brown or black versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person's problem.

We have got to take the neighborhood back.

People used to be ashamed. Today a woman has eight children with eight different 'husbands' -- or men or whatever you call them now.

We have millionaire football players who cannot read.  We have million-dollar basketball players who can't write two paragraphs.

We, as black folks have to do a better job.

Someone working at Wal-Mart with seven kids, you are hurting us.

We have to start holding each other to a higher standard.

We cannot blame the white people any longer.  

William Henry " Bill " Cosby, Jr., Ed.D.  

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I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama's political success and Oprah Winfrey's financial success, legal scholar Alexander argues vigorously and persuasively that [w]e have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it. Jim Crow and legal racial segregation has been replaced by mass incarceration as a system of social control (More African Americans are under correctional control today... than were enslaved in 1850). Alexander reviews American racial history from the colonies to the Clinton administration, delineating its transformation into the war on drugs. She offers an acute analysis of the effect of this mass incarceration upon former inmates who will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives, denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Most provocatively, she reveals how both the move toward colorblindness and affirmative action may blur our vision of injustice: most Americans know and don't know the truth about mass incarceration—but her carefully researched, deeply engaging, and thoroughly readable book should change that.—Publishers Weekly

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

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posted 25 November 2007




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