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
* * *
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
* * *
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
* * *
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
|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
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.
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.
* * *
* * * *
1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus
By Charles C. Mann
a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous
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
1493, Mann has taken it to a
new, truly global level. Building on the
groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby
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,
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.
* * * * *
The New Jim Crow
Mass Incarceration in the Age of
By Michele Alexander
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
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
posted 25 November