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July 2, 2004
Cosby Wasn't Just Speaking To Blacks

The news media was buzzing last night as Bill Cosby's caustic address to the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition conference sped around the country. Cosby, who has dropped his normally humorous approach of late and has taken to scolding and shaming audiences, told people that their problems were primarily of their own making, and to quit spouting excuses -- lessons that apply far more broadly than most analysts give Cosby credit. Like most outlets, the AP repeatedly emphasized the ethnicity of the attendees:

Bill Cosby went off on another tirade against the black community Thursday, telling a room full of activists that black children are running around not knowing how to read or write and "going nowhere." He also had harsh words for struggling black men, telling them: "Stop beating up your women because you can't find a job."

Cosby made headlines in May when he upbraided some poor blacks for their grammar and accused them of squandering opportunities the civil rights movement gave them. He shot back Thursday, saying his detractors were trying in vain to hide the black community's "dirty laundry."

"Let me tell you something, your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day, it's cursing and calling each other n------ as they're walking up and down the street," Cosby said during an appearance at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition & Citizenship Education Fund's annual conference.

"They think they're hip," the entertainer said. "They can't read; they can't write. They're laughing and giggling, and they're going nowhere."

And so on; Cosby gave plenty more examples of his point, which was that the degradation of culture began in the homes with the parents. Some of his examples were specifically aimed towards the black community, especially in his tirade against the use of the "n-word", which I find so foul that I refuse to use it even in quotes. Cosby apparently agrees, despite, or perhaps because of, its resurgent popularity:

Cosby lamented that the racial slurs once used by those who lynched blacks are now a favorite expression of black children. And he blamed parents.

"When you put on a record and that record is yelling `n----- this and n----- that' and you've got your little 6-year-old, 7-year-old sitting in the back seat of the car, those children hear that," he said.

I heard more of that part of his speech on the radio, and while I can't quite quote Cosby verbatim, he railed about the popularity of a word created by racists who spent decades stringing black Americans up in trees and burning them out of their homes. But beyond this specific point, Cosby could well have been addressing Nob Hill parents, or the PTA meeting at Beverly Hills High School, and on two levels.

The specific cultural degradations to which Cosby referred -- a lack of emphasis on child-rearing, the abdication of parental responsibilities, and the failure to hold children and teenagers accountable for their education, dress, speech, and behavior apply to all social and ethnic strata in American life today. Go to the mall and see how our sons and daughters dress in public today. The boys look like hoods, dressed in gangsta chic, where beltless pants droop sometimes below the buttocks and ludicrously large shirts overwhelm narrow shoulders. But the boys are only the secondary issue. Our daughters go to the mall dressed in the same outfits streetwalkers wore ten or fifteen years ago, covered in makeup and showing almost as much skin as at the beach. At the rehearsal for my goddaughter's confirmation, many of the girls showed up in that mode of dress -- in church. I'm not talking about 18- or 19-year olds; these were girls as young as 14, and the ones at the mall get younger than that.

Since when did American parents get so comfortable pimping their daughters out to society?

The verbal skills are not much of an improvement, either. Everything Cosby says about black youths and the English language applies to suburban white and Asian youth as well. Perhaps they all get it from the same source -- rap music and the hip-hop culture -- but in any event, it's not an ethnic issue now, if it ever really was. We are raising a generation of verbal illiterates, and I tell you that it's not an affectation. I interview dozens of people a year for jobs, and I hear more and more of what Cosby describes during these meetings. I sit back in wonder that the applicants haven't a clue as to the immediate disqualification that creates for customer-service positions.

People can continue to assume that parental abdication and the degradation of our youth is strictly a problem in the black community. A few will take Cosby's message and use it to bash African-Americans. Even Bill Cosby may have focused on the community closest to his heart in order to wake it up. But we all are deceiving ourselves if we think that his criticisms don't apply to our entire society.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 2, 2004 6:27 AM

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» Who you talkin' to, Cos? from SCSU Scholars
The phenomenon Ed is discussing is different than that which Cosby originally addressed in May (see also my graduation address post for another Cosby lecture.) One is rejection of parental values, something I seem to recall has happened before. The o... [Read More]

Tracked on July 2, 2004 11:48 AM

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