Whenever I read about Bill Cosby these days, I expect the same verbal repetoire of “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.” Kind of like Booker T. Washington with more acidity. With his recent comments on Tupac Shakur, I did the same thing I always do; I shake my head, grumble a bit then move on. I do this mainly because while his comments border on the silly side, the fact remains that he speaks from something we aren’t ready to confront head on just yet. Which is that he speaks for more people than you realize. Members of your church or mosque. People you work with. Even your relatives. So why are you upset at Bill Cosby? Because he did a total 360 and did it in a way that cut us deep.
You’d think that Mr. Cosby would explain his stance better, been more eloquent. He does make a couple of points, things we all agree on about community and education. But he speaks from anger, bitterness and finally, sadness. He’s been a major part of black history and American history in general(whether or not those are separate entities is up to you), rising to fame in a turbulent time period. He’s put in work for black people; the man was tight with Coltrane, and he even financially backed Melvin Van Peebles’ “Sweet Sweetback’s Badassss Song”. You already know about the Quincy Jones projects.
Yet he saw dreams deferred. Assassinated and outright ostracized. His own efforts meant nothing in the grand scheme of things; the man did get turned down after an attempt to buy NBC. Then Mr. Cosby looked long and hard at us. And America. And while he knew there was change, he knew there wasn’t nearly enough.
And then his son was murdered.
The promising life he helped create was taken away by someone who represented the same demons he’d been sidestepping for years. He didn’t say it, maybe he couldn’t say it. But Mrs. Cosby called it what it was. Racism. It was there, right there in that moment of grief that the man you hear today changed. And he let loose. Unleashed everything he had inside. And directed it towards the usual suspects: poor black people and hip-hop. He couldn’t take on the system and call it what it truly is. Instead, we get quotes like, “Five, six children â€“ same woman â€“ eight, 10 different husbands or whatever. Pretty soon you are going to have DNA cards to tell who you are making love to.” Hiding behind shades as if he couldn’t stand to even look at us.
Maybe he blames us for his son’s death, as if we didn’t try enough to be a greater part of American society in the “right” way, not realizing that the system’s problems are more than a clear-cut case of black and white. Maybe he attacks Tupac Shakur and others in hip-hop out of bewliderment. Think about it; rappers are now and have been making economic power moves and can make more of a difference than other leaders in terms of outreach. Put plainly, Bill Cosby’s voice along with others doesn’t really affect the black community on a whole anymore. We listen with respect, but we don’t hear it. We know that all it amounts to is a bunch of loud talk that works thematically but is no real substitute for needed changes in the system this nation operates under economically and socially. Bill Cosby claims that he’s trying to tell us something. It aint nothin’ new, Bill.
Ask Stanley Crouch