Remarks on Blacks Draw Fire, Support
By DEEPTI HAJELA
Associated Press Writer
Remarks Bill Cosby made earlier this month upbraiding certain
segments of the black community on issues from their grammar to
complaints about police brutality have been attacked by some as
a classist, elitist attack on the poor.
Others say the entertainer revealed unpleasant truths that need
to be dealt with. Speaking at a commemoration of the anniversary
of the Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision, Cosby,
a longtime education advocate, cited elevated school dropout rates
for inner-city black students and criticized low-income blacks
for not using the opportunities the civil rights movement won
"These people marched and were hit in the face with rocks
to get an education and now we've got these knuckleheads walking
around," Cosby said at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund observance.
"I can't even talk the way these people talk, 'Why you ain't,'
'Where you is' ... and I blamed the kid until I heard the mother
talk," Cosby said, according to published reports. "And
then I heard the father talk ...
Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads.
You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your
mouth." He also turned his attention to the population of
black prison inmates, saying "These people are not political
prisoners. ... People getting shot in the head over a piece of
poundcake. ... We're outraged (saying) 'The cops shouldn't have
shot him.' What the hell was he doing with the poundcake in his
Among blacks, reaction has been a mixed bag of praise and criticism
for the entertainer. "I think he could have said a lot of
the same things in a constructive manner instead of coming down
hard on people who don't have the same podium to defend themselves,"
said Jimi Izrael, of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, a columnist for
Africana.com. But the Rev. Conrad Tillard of the Eliot Church
of Roxbury, Mass., said Cosby "could absolutely have"
gone even further. "What's so true about what he said is
slavery and the pathology of Jim Crow have absolutely hurt us,
but at the end of the day, we have got to turn the tide."
Tillard said some of the concern over Cosby's remarks was that
others would use them to criticize blacks instead of admitting
that discrimination still exists. There is a fear, Tillard said,
"that people who are racist ... will seize upon that and
try to castigate the African-American community. The conservatives
and liberals are far too quick to seize upon a statement and say
to the rest of us, 'See, see, it's not us, it's you.' What they
have not wanted to acknowledge is that there are still legacies
Others said they were concerned not with the topic of Cosby's
remarks but with his tone. "If he was going to make such
a strong point, he should have chosen his words very carefully,"
said Wendy Williams, host of the afternoon show on WBLS-FM in
New York City. She said callers to her show were split fairly
evenly in their opinions on Cosby's comments. Hip-hop mogul Russell
Simmons also questioned Cosby's tone. "Judgment of the people
in the situation is not helpful. How can you help them is the
question," he said. Izrael said he was appalled by Cosby's
remarks about prisoners and police. "That's irresponsible,"
he said. "In this day and age he ought not be giving license
to anyone to shoot our kids in the street for petty crime. It
negates everything he had to say. He's coming from this really
In a statement issued the weekend after his remarks, Cosby said
his comments were intended to be a call to action. "I feel
that I can no longer remain silent. If I have to make a choice
between keeping quiet so that conservative media does not speak
negatively or ringing the bell to galvanize those who want change
in the lower economic community, then I choose to be a bell ringer,"
The Associated Press sought additional comment from Cosby through
his spokesman, but he declined to comment.
Renee Jones, mother of three and grandmother of three, approved
of Cosby speaking out.
"If there's a problem, it needs to be addressed," said
Jones, 51, while waiting for a friend in Harlem. "He was
right on for making people understand and see this is a problem."
But Otis Parker, 67, thought the need was for action, not talk.
He questioned whether the speech patterns of black youth were
really the concern.
"I was raised to say, 'Yes, Ma'am,' that didn't stop me from
going to penitentiary," the retired building superintendent
said. He turned his life around after a prison term for armed
Parker acknowledged that there are those who don't make good choices,
but said criticizing instead of reaching out to encourage and
help them isn't the way to go.
"You've got to help them all," he said. "You've
got to step in."