Cosby's criticism still
The comments last week from entertainer Bill Cosby
beseeching blacks to stop blaming whites for their problems continue to
serve as talk-show fodder and pundit subject matter. Radio hosts and
columnists have ranted and raved about the merits and downsides of the
comments and show no sign of relenting.
Speaking to a 75 percent black audience at Constitution Hall on May 17,
Mr. Cosby blamed blacks for many of the ills that have befallen the race, a
sentiment that is anathema in many quarters. The occasion was the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People's 50th anniversary
commemoration of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that
desegregated public schools.
"People used to be ashamed," he said. These days, he said, "a woman has
eight children with eight different 'husbands,' or men or whatever you call
Ron Walters, a political science professor at the University of Maryland and
director of the African American Leadership Institute, said Mr. Cosby "hit a
nerve, and to some extent, that nerve is generational."
"His comments were part of the post-Brown discussion about progress," Mr.
Walters said. "A lot of older blacks are sensitive about this; they feel
that the generation that has come behind them has let them down in terms of
Mr. Cosby's succinct message "will be front and center for a long time,"
said Harvard law professor and civil rights attorney Charles Ogletree.
His words echoed the sentiments of early black leaders such as Booker T.
Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, Mr. Ogletree said. "Mr. Cosby was speaking to
an audience that could do something about it," he said. "It will lead,
hopefully, to a greater sense of responsibility. It could be a call to
The comedian said black children today do not recognize the plight of those
who participated in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
"These people marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an
education, and now we've got these knuckleheads walking around," he said.
"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 won't spend $200 for 'Hooked on Phonics.'
"I can't even talk the way these people talk: 'Why you ain't,' 'Where you
is' ... You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your
The crowd applauded gently. Mr. Cosby was being honored for his generous
financial contributions to historically black colleges. The comments
surprised many there, but have become more widely reported in recent days.
"I think that the context of the situation, the Brown case, was
interesting," said William Spriggs, executive director of the National Urban
League's Institute for Opportunity & Equality. "The key point of the efforts
of Thurgood Marshall and Charles Houston was that no matter how hard African
Americans try, that discrimination was a permanent barrier to further
advancement. I think [Mr. Cosby's] comments missed the point of how real
those barriers are."
He added that Mr. Cosby was speaking of a generation that has achieved more
than any other black generation. "The reality is that since Brown, African
Americans have attained unbelievable educational achievements," Mr. Spriggs
said. "The current generation is better educated than Bill Cosby's. His
comments misplaced the anxiety of the older generation. I don't see these
comments generating much more interest."
Mr. Cosby was embraced by NAACP President Kweisi Mfume as he left the
podium. Mr. Mfume later said that he agreed with Mr. Cosby and that, in
fact, he, himself, has expressed the same dismay with the black community.
But Theodore Shaw, the head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, spoke after Mr.
Cosby and said that many troubles faced by blacks are not "self-inflicted."
Many blacks fear the comments from Mr. Cosby, a known supporter of
Democratic causes, will be used to further the assertions of conservatives
that many of the problems in the black community are, indeed,
"He told the truth," said Imagene B. Stewart, a conservative radio host at
WOL-AM. She led her Sunday morning show with the Cosby comments last weekend
and she will do so again this week.