Bill Cosby Is Truly Free

Published August 1, 2004

There have been mixed reactions to the few minutes of old-fashioned common sense spoken by Bill Cosby as he was being honored at the NAACP’s black-tie event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. Some of the reactions indicate that, if white folks are present in the audience, common sense is no longer common in black liberal circles.

Debra Dickerson’s new book, The End of Blackness, describes such mixed reactions from a few civil rights leaders and others when she writes “[blacks] have yet to realize that black autonomy is not whites’ to bestow–it is blacks’ to exercise.”

What black person in his or her right mind, based on our traditional lifestyles and straight thinking, can disagree with what Cosby had to say, as reported by the Washington Post and Associated Press:

“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 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.”

I also watched Cosby on CNBC discussing his comments with other panelists. All one fellow could contribute was the typical rhetoric of denial: “You should not blame the blacks but the whites.” After a week, many headlines read, “Cosby remarks were dividing the black community.” That is sheer liberal hypocrisy for some; for others, the fights of the 1950s and 60s have never ended.

I read somewhere that the mind is the last to leave the plantation of dependency towards real self-reliance.

For the record, this is not the first time Cosby has criticized low expectations and mediocrity. I watched a C-Span video of a commencement address Cosby delivered at Howard University. His remarks were titled “Are You Dead?”–meaning, if you aren’t dead, then why aren’t you achieving more? Of course, it’s little surprise that an NAACP gala held at Constitution Hall would draw the attention of more national and community leaders than a commencement exercise at a black college.

I can still remember, when I was a youngster, my mother’s concern about my “proper behavior” when we went downtown. She would say to me, “Boy, don’t you embarrass me in front of white folks” (as if my behavior was important to them).

Today, many children have gone well beyond merely “embarrassing” their parents. For too many of them, their conduct is sending them right to jail uneducated … or worse, to an early grave. Yet much of our liberal leadership is in denial, or observes that behavior without comment, until the “white folks” hear what they already know too well.

The paradox is stunning. A black man, Bill Cosby, can afford to give millions of dollars to black colleges … and does. The country has a black Secretary of State and black female National Security Advisor. The Williams sisters are breaking records in tennis, and Tiger Woods has set records in the game of golf that will last a generation or longer. And yet black leaders, and by extension the black community, are still more concerned about what white folks think.

Aren’t we free at last? We should be thankful for Cosby’s honesty, for he has stimulated thought and discussion on where the black community goes from here to address the important social, educational, and economic issues we face.

Lee Walker is president of The New Coalition for Economic and Social Change, a conservative multicultural think tank headquartered in Chicago. His email address is [email protected].