The Rebuttal: “Bill Cosby’s folly” Or “Chet Kincaid? Meet Bill Duke”

Alright, since I’ve been called out – albeit surreptitiously – I’ll jump in.

I found Bill Cosby’s original comments largely vapid, divisive, and irresponsible. Yes, I know that he has done immeasurable good for higher education amongst Black people. Dr. Cosby has also constantly promoted and portrayed exceptionally positive images of Black families and Black fatherhood in particular. That still doesn’t place him beyond scrutiny or reproach, and it behooves us to be critical of him and any other people that occupy a place of leadership within the Black community.

First of all, let’s start here: ‘Bill’s Lamentations’ are no different than what has been said about Black people in America for centuries. I’ve heard that same routine at the barber shop, from the pulpit, in the rants of Black conservatives, on stage during Def Comedy Jam, and anywhere else you find self-flagellating Black people. To hear Black people berate and ridicule each other isn’t insightful, original, or unique. It’s old and it’s tired. Whether it’s from some brown-skinned buffoon in front of an audience on stage talking about, “Y’all know niggas don’t be payin’ dey bills on time!” Or, “you aint’ gon’ neva see no niggas wit no backpack fulla books. Niggas don’ be readin!” Or if it’s from the mouth of some “brother” like Rev. Jesse Peterson, who stated that “if whites were to just leave the United States and let Blacks run the country, they would turn America into a ghetto within 10 years”, the message is still all the same. I get it. Black people are screwed up.

That provides a segue into my second point: I am sick of hearing Black culture distilled into a discourse on pathology, peppered with over-simplified solutions. Of course I understand that there are significant problems and challenges in our community, and behaviors whose opposite would be ideal. But lamenting about or continuously highlighting these behaviors is not equivalent to providing solutions for them. Dr. Cosby said that parents ‘buy their children $500 sneakers’ but “…they won’t buy or spend $250 for Hooked on Phonics”. Yes, this is a problem. The solution, however, is not to simply reiterate that this is problematic. Or to wag a finger and tell them not to buy “$500 sneakers”. Try this analogy: Let’s say that for some crazy reason, I am fighting Kimbo Slice. If the best advice my trainer can give me from the corner consists of yelling, “Don’t get punched!”!?… Kimbo may knock me out, but my trainer is definitely going to be the next one going to sleep once I wake up. What a colossal waste! There’s nothing strategic or effective in either scenario. And while it may feel good for the one spouting to fire a withering and caustic barrage of insults at someone, the reality is, you can’t insult someone exhibiting pathological behavior into finding a solution for their behavior.

Finally, some of the things Dr. Cosby said during his rambling speech were downright inexcusable. In particular, this in reference to a child stealing a piece of pound cake who is “shot in the back of the head” by police:

“Then we all run out and are outraged: “The cops shouldn’t have shot him.” What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand? I wanted a piece of pound cake just as bad as anybody else. And I looked at it and I had no money. And something called parenting said if you get caught with it you’re going to embarrass your mother.”

This from a man who has a thorough understanding of America’s sordid history of police brutality and violence against Black people? A man who lived through the Bull Connor-era of police literally playing judge, jury, and executioner with Black people? A man who lived during the time when sheriff’s mobs hung his brothers and sisters like ‘Strange Fruit’ from southern trees? Since when would it be okay for a police officer to ‘shoot a child in the back of the head’ over a piece of pound cake? And while I understand that it is now en vogue amongst Black people to begin the eye-rolling and teeth-sucking at the mere mention of Al Sharpton, it would still be abject lunacy if we were to actually admonish Rev. Sharpton, were he to organize a protest and bring a lawsuit in Dr. Cosby’s hypothetical scenario. How many people would be willing to say to Mamie Till, “Well, you know your boy shoulda never whistled at that White woman in the first place.” And who would excuse them for doing so? But now it’s okay for Dr. Cosby to disregard this entire history and offer this exceptionally poorly thought-out scenario, simply because he’s angry? Someone else may be willing to do so, but save it if you’re going to argue the point with me. (Insert Bill Duke’s famous lines from Menace II Society here).

I could continue, but I think you get the gist. If you want to rehash this debate, please respond to what I wrote and not what you’ve heard or read before from someone else. I’m not a straw man, and no, you probably don’t “know what I think” when it comes to related issues. I understand that this is an emotionally charged issue, but let’s keep it intellectual.

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0 Comments

  • Maurice

    Reply Reply June 26, 2008

    How much of the problem is systemic racism vs. pride/self-esteem of our young women? Kids do suffer from their environment, so I’ll hold them blameless (this may fall into your over-simplified solutions category), but following that train of thought, we have to take a closer look at the parents, in particular our young women.

    Since men tend to be men, women need to hold themselves to a higher level and refuse to let these would-be absentee fathers become absentee fathers by impregnating them. Why would someone continue to short circuit their life and their children’s lives by continuing to have babies they can’t support?

    As a parent I think we should focus our immense social programs on empowering our young ladies so that they can say no to unprotected sex and break the cycle of out of wed-lock pregnancies and the ensuing poverty that follows.

  • Mo

    Reply Reply June 29, 2008

    The root of the problem is the system of White supremacy, and the fact that Black American people have accepted it as a surrogate for our culture. Rooted in Black American culture is the idea that we are second-class citizens. You hear it not only in blatantly derogatory messages – like the material-challenged Black comedian who trots out racist stereotypes to get a laugh – but in more nuanced ways such as Bill Cosby’s so-called “Pound Cake speech” or in Barack Obama’s Father’s day address. People who believe in their own inherent inferiority constantly refer to their community in terms of “crises”, “pathology”, and “what we ain’t doin'”. If that’s all our children hear, then what other conclusion are they to draw?

  • Maurice Dolberry

    Reply Reply June 11, 2009

    First of all, thanks for the response, P.S. III., and for your contribution to this debate.

    I disagree with you on whether we “allow” White supremacy. Not only is it in media – which you aptly pointed out can be filtered – but it is socially accepted, propagated, and even legislated. America was founded by men who believed in the inherent, “God-given” inferiority of Black people. She legislated it in her Congress, solidified it in her Supreme Court, and used scientism and the media to feed it to her people. For centuries. At best, it is intellectually dishonest to distill or dilute that historical aspect for our children. It also severely warps our perception of the present to look at it without understanding that the system of White supremacy is the underlying theme. At worst, we set ourselves up for failure by coming up with the wrong solutions to problems we’ve misdiagnosed.

    And that – properly solving problems in the Black community – is what this is all about. Except I don’t look at it from that perspective. I see Black people not in terms of what’s wrong, but in terms of what’s right, which is why I’m not sure why you hear a “poor me” tone. I look at us as having the solutions already at hand. We have a list of “best practices” within our community that must be taught and passed on. There are literally millions of Black Americans who are not only beating the inferiority that has been programmed into our society, but they are teaching others to do it as well.

    That instruction, however, must come as just that – “instruction” – and not as a series of admonishments. “Quit hangin’ out on the corner” or “stop having babies you can’t take care of” isn’t sage advice or wisdom. It’s immeasurably useless hot air. “Instead of hangin’ out on the corner, here is a list of different activities you can do – some are just for fun, some are just productive, some are both – and I will help you to organize them” or “here are the values that we want to have in our community, and we want to protect our greatest resource, which is why we are doing these classes on parenting and child-rearing that we want you to attend” are actual solutions. And they work.

    I agree with you that America is full of opportunities, but offering someone an opportunity is not the same as teaching them to take advantage of an opportunity. And no, you shouldn’t have to convince the adult elephant that is bound by a piece of string that it isn’t the chain that bound it in its youth (shout out to Be on that one) , but it is absolutely necessary. Then, that elephant must learn how to survive outside of captivity. Other elephants will guide and teach it to do so. The same holds true for us. Freedom and prosperity are not synonymous, and the former does not necessarily produce the latter. We have to teach each other how to first earn our “freedom”, and then to put it to good use.

    Bootstraps are great to pull up, but they’re useless to the man wearing tennis shoes.

  • Jefferson Abner

    Reply Reply December 23, 2009

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