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Not Your Average Cosby Kids

Short Version: mp3, 2.53 MBs, 3:37
Speech Version:
mp3, 3.83 MBs, 4:47

[Col. Recorded 6/19/04]

The recently publicized critiques by TV legend, Bill Cosby, has granted the US media, and Black Americans, their latest cause for controversy. Speaking at an NAACP commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the landmark *Brown V. Board of Education* decision, Cosby spoke out against the failure of poor blacks to do better:
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 their 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" ... 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. [*JET*, 6/14/04, p. 7]
Cosby also spoke about the dangers of Black-on-Black violence, and of the failure of some Black parents to challenge their kids to stay in school.

His remarks have been amplified and echoed by much of the nation's white media, although when asked about his comments, he told listeners to the PBS broadcast Tavis Smiley show, "You all are late. I said this at Howard University six years ago. I've said it in the company of audiences — African- American audiences." [*JET*, 6/14/04, p. 8]

Predictably, his comments have ignited various responses; controversies have a way of doing that. Some whites have rushed to embrace his comments (oddly enough, few of these folks seemed to agree with the remarks made by his wife, Camille Cosby, several years ago, when she blamed pervasive white supremacy after their son was murdered). Some Blacks have been critical of Cosby, and this writer has even heard several critiques ventured by Black folks here — in prison.

Bill Cosby's contributions to TV, and especially to these younger folks who color the screens today, is vast.

His work, now over a generation old, continues to shimmer with brilliance, beauty, humor and hope. Many of the most recognizable actors on stage, screen and TV began their careers on his shows.

Further, the Cosbys have been record-breaking in their generosity to historically Black colleges, like Spellman in Atlanta. That is all to say, 'the Coz' has paid 'the cost to be the boss' (to quote the great R & B soulman, James Brown).

Cosby's humble origins in the ghettoes of North Philly, also gives him a knowing perspective from which to view the poor. He doesn't speak as a tourist, but as a participant; about people from which he came, and I am convinced, whom he loves. If his art radiates anything, it is his love for Blacks.

Yet, Cosby's critique comes, not from where he was, but from where he *is*. It comes from his present class position of privilege and means; or learning and wealth. It comes from a world that is increasingly foreign to generations of Black youth who see one world on TV, and who must navigate a brutally cruel world on the other side of their project door. And while the world that gleams back from the box may indeed be attractive, for too many folks, it doesn't seem 'real'. For them, what is authentic too often is the pathological, the cold, the 'street.'

His critiques implicitly promise, a 'deal', that if one works hard, gains a good education, and speaks standard English (as opposed to Ebonics), a good living is in the offing. The tragedy is that that promise, that 'deal' isn't real in the new American apartheid economy, where jobs are increasingly outsourced to India, where another kind of post-colonial English is spoken, and where America descends into a service, not a manufacturing, economy. Too many corporate minds in America would rather ship jobs abroad, rather than train Black Americans for jobs at decent living wages here.

The world, and the Black world, has changed since the 1940s, and '50s, when ghettoes were less harsh environments. Those places have descended into hells of benign neglect, where Black *lumpenization* has become the norm, and dreams die — hard.

Copyright 2004 Mumia Abu-Jamal


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Text © copyright 2003 by Mumia Abu-Jamal.
All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission of the author.