Remarks entertainer Bill Cosby made earlier this month upbraiding some in the black community on issues ranging from grammar to complaints of police brutality have been variously described as an elitist attack on the poor or as unpleasant truths that needed to be dealt with.
Speaking at a commemoration of the anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation decision, the longtime education advocate cited elevated dropout rates for urban black students and criticized low-income blacks for not using the opportunities the civil rights movement won for them.
“These people marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education and now we’ve got these knuckleheads walking around,” Cosby said at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund observance held in Washington this month.
“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,” Cosby said, according to published reports. “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.”
He also turned his attention to the population of black prison inmates, saying: “These people are not political prisoners.... People getting shot in the head over a piece of poundcake.... We’re outraged [saying,] ‘The cops shouldn’t have shot him.’ What ... was he doing with the poundcake in his hand?”
Among blacks, reaction to Cosby’s remarks has been a mix of praise and criticism.
“I think he could have said a lot of the same things in a constructive manner instead of coming down hard on people who don’t have the same podium to defend themselves,” said Jimi Izrael of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, a columnist.
But the Rev. Conrad Tillard of the Eliot Church of Roxbury, Mass., said Cosby “could absolutely have” gone even further. “What’s so true about what he said is slavery and the pathology of Jim Crow have absolutely hurt us, but at the end of the day, we have got to turn the tide.”
Tillard said some of the concern over Cosby’s remarks was that others would use them to criticize blacks instead of admitting that discrimination still existed.
Others said they were concerned not with the topic of Cosby’s remarks but with his tone. “Judgment of the people in the situation is not helpful. How can you help them is the question,” hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons said.
In a statement issued the weekend after his remarks, Cosby said his comments were intended to be a call to action.
“I feel that I can no longer remain silent. If I have to make a choice between keeping quiet so that conservative media does not speak negatively or ringing the bell to galvanize those who want change in the lower economic community, then I choose to be a bell ringer,” he said.