Since 2004 when Bill Cosby made his famous “we can’t blame white people” speech, it occasionally makes its rounds of the internet. I have to link to the Snopes article for a full quote because the first few pages of Google were, unsurprisingly, racist assholes saying “See? We told you black people were awful!”
Now, some of what Cosby says makes sense. Some of it, however, is needlessly reductionist or more the result of him being an old man rather than some truth-teller about his own race. Let’s look at some of the claims, shall we?
They’re standing on the corner and they can’t speak English. I can’t even talk the way these people talk: Why you ain’t, Where you is, What he drive, Where he stay, Where he work, Who you be… And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. 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. In fact you will never get any kind of job making a decent living.
I find this remarkably amusing from a guy who has made a career on talking like a drunk man having a seizure. All joking aside, yes, there is a certain type of speech that is more highly prized in many places and careers, and it’s important to learn to use it. However, that speech isn’t somehow more correct or more English. Does Jeff Foxworthy not speak English? Or Ron White? Or Larry the Fucking Cable Guy? What part of speech is “Git’r’done”, anyway?
Did he not pay attention in 2004? You don’t even have to be well spoken to be President of the United States!
People marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education, and now we’ve got these knuckleheads walking around. The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids. $500 sneakers for what? And they won’t spend $200 for Hooked on Phonics.
Hyperbole alert! Going to need a citation on “$500 sneakers” since the Air Jordan IIs, released in 2004, retailed around $100. But I see the point he’s trying to make. He’s suggesting that people’s priorities are out of whack.
And I would almost agree with him, except as a person with a doctorate in education he should know that inner city schools are seriously underfunded, so Hooked on Phonics, which was designed as a supplement to regular schooling, would be useless. Also, while I’m sure that he lived in a magical time when everyone spoke the King’s English in black neighborhoods, deviating from the cultural norm in any way (which includes wearing the wrong shoes or speaking in a dialect that’s considered condescending by others in your neighborhood) is a good way to get yourself beaten up or worse. It’s very, very easy to say, “X person should just make themselves better” without recognizing that doing so too openly may actually cost them their life.
I am talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was 2? Where were you when he was 12? Where were you when he was 18 and how come you didn’t know that he had a pistol? And where is the father? Or who is his father?
I don’t know, Bill. Probably working multiple jobs at minimum wage to make sure they continued to have an apartment to live in and food to eat. Also, if you’re making a point about black culture being incredibly misogynist and not encouraging men to treat women as more than sex objects that can be abandoned if they get pregnant, you’re doing it wrong.
People putting their clothes on backward: Isn’t that a sign of something gone wrong?
No. It’s a sign of fashion trends. Says the guy who wears sweater vests. A sweater without arms? Isn’t that a sign of something gone wrong?
People with their hats on backward, pants down around the crack, isn’t that a sign of something?
Again, fashion trends. I may not like them, but there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with them. Just like men walked around without hats used to be very strange, but it’s the common trend now (though, thankfully, hats are coming back). Clothing changes over time.
Or are you waiting for Jesus to pull his pants up? Isn’t it a sign of something when she has her dress all the way up and got all type of needles [piercing] going through her body?
At this point, when he gives this speech, he breaks into a rousing chorus of “What’s the Matter With Kids Today“. I get it, you’re old and people didn’t pierce themselves as much in your day. Get over it. Also, the slut shaming is inappropriate.
What part of Africa did this come from? We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans; they don’t know a thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail.
All of them? Really, Bill? Again, I know this is hyperbole, but it’s also kind of ridiculous. You think that they’re in jail because of a naming convention and not because of a racist legal system that is more likely to target and convict people of color?
Also, as my Uncle Giacomo used to say, it’s important to not have ethnic-sounding names (see what I did there?). In some versions of this, it talks about how European-Americans don’t identify as such, which might surprise groups like the Florida Federation of Italian American Clubs (which gave me a scholarship for writing an essay about my heritage), the Polish American Culture Club, people who wear kilts and put on Highland Games, and any number of other European cultural identifiers that white people use to link themselves to their European ancestry. People like to be tied to their culture, which is why my family proudly identifies as Italian-American, along with untold thousands of others.
He says a lot of other things, which I have no specific response to. But then we get to this
Someone working at Wal-Mart with seven kids, you are hurting us. We have to start holding each other to a higher standard.
Oh, this is about standards. It’s not that Wal-mart comes in, destroys locally owned stores that might offer better jobs, and pays low wages for backbreaking work at all hours of the day with little to no job security or room for advancement. It’s just that the people working there like getting paid shit for ridiculous amounts of work and no benefits. They’re just not motivated to go get a job as a banker, which they could easily do if somebody would just tell them that they could do better! Thanks for pointing that one out.
Now, I’m not being entirely fair here. While Bill Cosby did say all of these things (except the Wal-mart thing, which was made up), they were part of a larger speech that was given at the NAACP commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Brown v Board of Education and then this monstrosity was cobbled together out of the speech in order to make it a wide spread excoriation of everything about black people rather than a targeted speech about the problem with education in urban neighborhoods. The original isn’t much better, but at least it’s more than Old Man Yells At Cloud-style ramblings on how lazy and ignorant black people are.
However, the victim blaming and reductionism is pretty blatant here. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the world is a lot more complex than people like to make it out to be, and while I think it’s important to fight destructive cultural elements, it’s equally important to properly identify them. The problem with poor, black neighborhoods is something that can be addressed by the neighborhood itself, yes (which was another one of the original points Cosby was making), but it can’t just be about going back to shaming people more often into behaving. It has to be about fighting sexism, standing up for those who don’t conform, encouraging better, comprehensive education, and getting police officers to start doing their jobs instead of targeting minorities because they’re less likely to be able to fight back legally.