"Ladies and gentlemen, the lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal," he declared. "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 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? . . . With names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail. Brown versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person's problem. We have got to take the neighborhood back. We have to go in there -- forget about telling your child to go into the Peace Corps -- it is right around the corner. They are standing on the corner and they can't speak English."Many have since questioned the appropriateness of his remarks, which he later qualified as "I was talking to the movers and shakers," and intended his statements as "call to action." NAACP Executive Director Kweisi Mfume agreed with "most of what Cosby said... He said what needed to be said."
While I'm a firm believer in airing dirty laundry as the only way to truly get it clean, I understand the concept of a time and place for everything. As someone who has frequently been accused of speaking out at the wrong "time" and/or "place," though, I don't buy it.
There is no wrong time for the truth if you're sincere about effecting change. And there's no benefit to sugarcoating or whitewashing it, either. The fact that the majority of the uproar has been over that he said it, as opposed to what he said not being true is most telling.
The truth hurts, in general. When it comes from one of your own, it leaves a mark you can't ignore.
Understand where Cosby was coming from. This isn't Trent Lott talking out of his hypocritical ass. Cosby, a high school dropout and son of an "$8 a day maid and an absentee father," is a successful black man from a generation where opportunities for young black men were few and far between - and what was there was the result of hard-fought battles and many lives lost - he was speaking out of frustration over the sad fact that 50 years after desegregation not nearly enough has changed. His comments were harsh, no doubt, but if you're being objective, they included some general truths. And, what I think offended people the most was that they were often quite funny, too.
Which makes sense as Bill Cosby IS, you know, a comedian.
I said somewhere awhile back that I didn't consider comedians to be real activists. In the context of a comedic skit or rant, legitimate commentary is overshadowed by the entertainment factor. (Same thing applies to political poets, especially in the slam scene.) No matter how incisive the delivery, you can simply chose to laugh it off and not think twice about it.
Richard Pryor set himself on fire. Arsenio Hall was called an "Uncle Tom." Bill Maher lost his job.
Bill Cosby is much more than a comedian, though, and has been for years. That night, "for his philanthropy toward institutions that have worked on behalf of African Americans, Cosby was being honored by the three institutions, including the [NAACP] Legal Defense and Educational Fund, that share responsibility for winning the Supreme Court decision that broke the back of American apartheid."
He chose that moment to speak out, in a forum where his comments couldn't be laughed off like a Dave Chappelle skit, or dismissed like a Keenan Ivory Wayans movie, where the people in the audience - a well-heeled, successful group of "dignitaries," many of whom are more likely to receive a bonus check than write one out for charity - weren't the ones he was criticizing directly, but were no less guilty than those he roasted.
We all bear a portion of the guilt for the failures of our society.
Bill Cosby understands that and his life is a blueprint of someone trying to make a difference. He offered a "call to action," hanging the shit-stained bedsheets out on the front lawn, in the hope that they might finally be washed clean.
Instead of worrying about what "the neighbors" - ie: opportunistic conservatives who might use his out-of-context comments as ammunition in their war against affirmative action - might think, people need to go their closets, take the doors off the hinges and start picking through the messes they find therein.
You can't clean up the neighborhood when your own house is falling apart all around you.
And that's a message everyone should take to heart.