- The Washington Times - Monday, July 5, 2004

About this Cosby controversy: Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

It’s one thing to point the finger at someone more vulnerable and less fortunate, but it’s more productive to give them a hand while you are pointing out the better way.

Surely everyone has heard actor Bill Cosby berating poor black folks by now. His disturbing diatribes — which don’t need to be repeated here because they have been replayed so much by the mainstream media in recent days — sound like a serious racist soundtrack from a KKK rally (or Fox-TV).

Poor blacks are shiftless, lazy, illiterate, uneducated, uncouth and they are all unwed mothers or abusive husbands, or so the harsh litany goes. “Those people” are the product of their own irresponsibility and lack of initiative, he says.

If you believe all that nonsense, I feel sorry for your ignorance.

Poor black people hardly have an exclusive claim to bad behavior. They just make easy targets, especially for folks who already believe the hype and don’t really want to help them out.

Survive a day in their shoes walking in horrible environments not entirely of their own making with few resources and little hope, then pass judgment.

Generalizations always miss the mark, particularly when they are dished out with a platinum-plated forked tongue. Children learn by example, and they have been bombarded with poor role models in adults of every hue.

Still, it’s all right for Mr. Cosby, or Cliff Huxtable, “the father of all fathers,” as one Northeast man calls the comedian, to indict poor blacks en masse because he is, after all, black; just not poor anymore.

I heard one white radio caller tell the listening audience that Mr. Cosby’s remarks now give license to racists who can hide behind the comedian to say publicly what they have been saying privately all along.

Truth be told, Mr. Cosby’s criticism of young blacks, in particular, is not new nor is some of it untrue. In fact, I would be the last to excuse some of the abhorrent behavior I see exhibited by people who can’t or won’t help themselves — regardless of age or gender or race or class — or have no regard for their fellow man.

Black hip-hop rappers, for example, are not the only people I’ve heard using the “n” word freely, as Mr. Cosby points out. Don’t we have a sitting American vice president who used the “f” word in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Capitol recently?

Acting stupid, silly and rude or forgetting one’s personal responsibility is not evident only in poor, black communities. Don’t we have a former American president who is making millions with people lining up for blocks to buy his book about his lapses in personal judgment?

What’s shocking is seeing “the dirty laundry” being aired out in public.

“It’s inappropriate for Mr. Cosby to be making those statements in public because no other group publicly ridicules it own,” said Joseph Young, 48, of Northeast. “Jews don’t condemn Jews, or Italians condemn Italians, but their children go astray as well and their husbands beat their wives as well, but they don’t address it in the press. They address those issue behind closed doors. And we should as well.” The retired government employee is concerned that Mr. Cosby’s words “will be held against us for the next 20 years and used to deny us goods and services.”

“In these smoke-filled rooms when decisions are made about how much money the school system will get or the police department will get, some, who do not have the interest of black people at heart, may use Cosby’s remarks for not justifying those programs,” he said.

Further, Mr. Young, who is also a father, said, “I think, of all people, Mr. Cosby should know that because your child goes astray, one is not necessarily a bad parent. His own daughter was a victim of drug abuse; his son was a victim of crime unjustly, and more importantly, we found he was having an extramarital affair. [Mr. Cosby should know that] it doesn’t matter how rich or well-off you are, you can still be a victim of some of the difficulties experienced in the black community,” Mr. Young said.

Referring to the well-worn African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” Mr. Young said, “the community itself has failed black children,” and all the institutions that used to help parents raise children and keep them in check such as churches, schools and police “have relinquished [their] roles and responsibilities.”

Finally, he said, “I honor the single black mothers who have somehow managed to raise their children in the midst of the drug trade, violence and a poor school system.”

Bill Cosby may have meant well, but his simple words to address a complexity of problems will be used by some simple people who do not intend to do well for the lost, the least and the left out who tend to be disproportionately poor and black. The fatherly comedian ought to raise a fiery ruckus about all that inequity and lack of opportunity, too.

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