Bill Cosby is getting ‘real’ these days.
The outspoken comedian, best known as the lovable father Cliff Huxtable on the long-running The Bill Cosby Show, has been holding court across the country and spreading the message that he is fed up with the festering socioeconomic conditions plaguing the African American community.
On last Wednesday evening, Cosby, who was a guest of Eso Won Books, kept the crowd enraptured as he discussed his new book Come on People: On the Path from Victim to Victors. The book, co-authored with Dr. Alvin Poussaint, tackles a myriad number of issues impacting black America: teen pregnancy, fatherless homes, poverty, and disillusioned young people.
“Wherever I talk, I heard people ask the same question, ‘Where did it go wrong?’ Cosby intoned to the crowd of approximately 400 who had gathered in Leimert Park to listen to Cosby’s pull-no-punches talk.
Cosby said that although the book takes clear aim at the socioeconomic woes, it also chronicles success stories of people who, with the help of mentors, were able to rise above their circumstances.
Since the book hit shelves two years ago, the tome has been stirring up national controversy and deep discussion among African Americans across the country, causing blacks to either agree with Cosby’s wry observations or to shake their heads in disgust.
A bit of light fun ensued before Cosby’s speech when veteran actor Robert Guillaume, best known for his role as ‘Benson’ on the popular television show of the same name, slowly ambled up to the podium on his cane. Peering solemnly at Cosby, Guillaume intoned, “I heard you’ve been doing a lot of talking and I came to hear what you’re talking about.”
The comedian said he was convinced that black America needed to go back to the timeworn lessons learned from their ancestors. “Let me tell you when it went bad,” said Cosby, as he leaned forward and peered into the crowd. “There is no one sitting in this room who hasn’t heard the mantra which was spoken in the cotton fields. It was spoken when laborers were scrubbing floors with 12 children around them. Every time a child was born, those people had a plan that the child would ‘have a better life than theirs,’” said Cosby, who during his talk indicated that the mantra passed from one generation to another included education, high moral values, self-pride and determination. Cosby was frank when he admitted during his hour-long talk that he strongly believed that the mantra had been abandoned.
“I’m 70 years old, and I’m just tired. I’m tired for the 80- and 90-year-old people who should be able to walk in the neighborhoods of their own people without fear,” said Cosby, referring to the violence plaguing many urban communities. “People should be able to go to an ATM machine and cash a check and have a young person come up and say, ‘May I help you?’ instead of fearing they will be knocked in the head. I’m tired of looking into the faces of 80- and 90-year-old people who look dazed and run over by their own people.”
Cosby also pointed a finger at blacks who blame everyone else for their shortcomings except themselves. “I could get you so worked up, you forget you brought your children,” said Cosby. “All I have to say is ‘The white man.’ But it gets quiet in here when it’s about you,” Cosby said as he peered into the crowd.
Cosby insisted that too many black parents are not doing enough to help their children obtain a solid education. “If you’re black and considered lower economic, your child is already labeled needy and disadvantaged,” Cosby pointed out. “You need to stand up and get your act together and say, ‘I’m going to make sure that my child has a better life than I had.’ Why wouldn’t you try to help the child do something?” Cosby reasoned.
Pausing, he added, “I listened to James Brown’s song, Sex Machine. If only he could have taken the word ‘sex’ out and put the word ‘studying’ in.”
With the rise of single parent households, Cosby said he was incensed that some black youth felt that making a baby is a badge of pride. “You have young boys talking about wanting to make some little ‘me’s,’ standing on the corner with the rest of the boys rubbing their privates like it’s a magic lamp,” he intoned.
“You have young girls that say, ‘I want someone who loves me.’ She didn’t say that she knew how to love. By the time her child is nine months old, the father is already gone. The girl does not even know his last name. Jesse Jackson said, ‘Babies making babies.’ And this is happening generation after generation after generation. Stop me if I’m lying,” Cosby asked to the roar of the crowd. “Way back when there was a mantra, there was the word ‘bastard.’ That word is not even on the rap records,” said Cosby.
Cosby also noted that a sense of disrespect has seeped into the culture in the relationship between parent and child. “I hear people in the supermarket cursing at the child and then you go down the next aisle and the child is cursing out the parents. Then you have this hip-hop music–telling your children that gun violence is okay. Leaning forward and looking concerned, Cosby said, ‘You’ve got to know something’s wrong.”
Cosby also bemoaned the dearth of black businesses in inner city neighborhoods. “You don’t like Koreans, but guess what–your women are wearing their hair. That is the craziness of it. You put their hair on and then go out and pout every day,” said Cosby. “All you have to do is comb and style your own hair and it will style any way it wants to. You don’t need 200 pounds of Dixie Peach. If your man wants to play with long hair, have him play with some drapes,” quipped Cosby, a comment that elicited chuckles from the female audience.
Cosby also expressed his concern about the plight of young people. “I ask them, ‘Where’s your father? They say, ‘In jail.’ Or ‘I never saw him.’ This is real. They build the jails to make money off us, so why are we committing the crimes?
He pointed a finger at generational dysfunction that exists in some black families. “You see the grandfather, father, and son in jail, or you see the grandmother, mother, and daughter pregnant at the same time. There’s no mantra and people are depressed.”
Commenting on the recent historic wins by Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama, Cosby said, “People are asking, ‘Is he black enough? Show me your credentials.’ Fools trying to sell you fool’s gold,” he noted. Noting the decisive wins Obama racked up in the predominantly white Midwest, Cosby intoned, “Obama won Utah? Obama won Idaho, the capital of the skinheads? Come on, people, it’s right here and you’re not building. Your child needs to be ready for it. Your child needs to see black people energized. They need to see us working and owning. Let’s get rid of this nonsense and foolishness with these pants down to the crack of the ass.”
Pausing, Cosby observed, “It starts with your child. And that child deserves to hear the mantra.”
Despite the controversy that his book and comments continue to stir up, Cosby said he will ‘stay the course’ and ‘tell it like it is.’ “I’m tired, but I’m going to keep this up,” concluded the comedian.