Cosby's 'Black Guilt' Trip

Bill Cosby's latest volley of controversial remarks is stirring up fresh controversy in the nation's African-American media.
From the front page to the Op-Ed section, the African-American press is rehashing and dissecting actor and philanthropist Bill Cosby's recent tirades about blacks, with opinions ranging from full-on agreement to flat-out denial.

On July 1, Cosby hurled himself back into the hot seat by again criticizing the black community, this time alongside Jesse Jackson at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition annual conference.

In response to the charge that he is airing African Americans' dirty laundry, Cosby said, "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."

But it was the comedian's first public outburst that really got everyone talking.

On May 17, 2004, at a NAACP celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision that outlawed segregation in schools, 66-year-old Bill Cosby called the oversized clothing of many black youths "ridiculous" and attacked lower class blacks for not speaking proper English, not raising their kids properly by instilling corrupt and materialist-based values and for naming them silly names.

Following Cosby's lead, some commentators worry that blacks have not done enough to improve their situation.

"I agree that the African-American community must take responsibility for the loss of values which have enabled us for centuries to survive in a hostile environment," writes Bernice Powell Jackson in the June 21 edition of the Sacramento Observer weekly.

"Too many of us are making poor choices about life's most important decisions," Jackson writes.

Unlike Cosby, Jackson's indictment is not limited to lower class blacks. She expresses disappointment in middle- and upper-class blacks, saying too many have moved up and out of ghettos, "abandoning" their less fortunate brethren.

Ron Daniels makes a similar case in an article in the June 13 issue of The Final Call, the newspaper of Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam. Daniels defends Cosby's words but notes other factors affecting the black community, such as the lack of economic, educational and political opportunities.

Perhaps one of the most troublesome aspects of Cosby's comments to some in the black community is that he did not verbalize the significant problems that still plague African-Americans. Many believe Cosby is gravely out of touch, or just plain ignorant.

The gap between Cosby and his detractors was widened even further by the opinion of many that Cosby is a snob.

"He comes off like an elitist looking out the window of his Mercedes, dabbing Grey Poupon on a croissant and duck breast after a hard day on the links, lamenting the 'Negro Problem,'" writes Jim Izrael in a June 1 editorial for the New York Beacon.

Izrael, like others, wants to make clear the issues young blacks face today cannot be oversimplified and cannot be justified through divisive explanations like they are not doing enough.

Khalil Tian Shahyd reminded people that Cosby is not a sociologist, but just a man – a man who happens to have truckloads of money and fame, thereby giving him not just a platform to dispense his opinion but also an audience eager to agree with his beliefs.

"What surprised me was how Cosby's assertions were taken as fact without any shred of quantitative or qualitative analysis to back them up," Shahyd writes in the June 9 issue of the San Francisco Bay View.

"Too many times we see celebrities such as Cosby taken as the intellectual leaders of our community."

The notion that blacks have had such a large hand in creating their own situation is an idea conservatives have circulated for years – you can't help people who don't want to be helped, so why try? Cosby's sentiments instantly became fodder for the right. That conservative political doctrine has earned a popular black spokesman was the last straw for those who felt Cosby had gone too far.

Some, like 13-year-old Kiah Thomas, even felt that Cosby should apologize for his comment that kids with names like "Shaniqua" and "Mohammed" are all in jail.

The young author, in an article posted on June 24 on Black, appeals to the father in Cosby and says that making blanket assumptions based on something as shallow as a name is wrong. She reminds him that she has friends with such names that are not in jail and are very good people.

"Mostly (my parents) try to get me to understand that sometimes there's more to a person than meets the eye and that I shouldn't make assumptions."

Thomas' point is the heart of the message of civil rights leaders, community activists and pretty much everyone who wants an equal society.

"I hope that when I am ready to send in my resume for a job, that the person reading it will judge me by my qualifications and not the spelling of my name," she writes.

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Danielle Worthy writes for Pacific News Service and New California Media, an association of more than 600 print, broadcast and online ethnic media organizations and a PNS project.