Bill Cosby And the Cult of “Why Can’t Black People Be More Like…”
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Eddie Murphy once told the story about the time when Bill Cosby called him to complain about bad language in his comedy act. Distraught that one of the living legends of this comedy ish would feel the need to chastise him, Murphy called his old buddy Richard Pryor for some moral support. To which Pryor told him not to worry about it and then said do the jokes that make the people laugh: “Do the people laugh when you say what you say?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Do you get paid?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, tell Bill I said have a Coke and a smile and shut the F- up. Jello pudding-eating motherf**ker.”
That punchline comes to mind every time Cosby goes on one of his “Pull Your Pants Up” rants about black people. This time it is an editorial in the New York Post, in which The Cos maunders on about black-people problems and how Black people, more specifically Black Christians, should be more like Black Muslims:
“I’m a Christian. But Muslims are misunderstood. Intentionally misunderstood. We should all be more like them. They make sense, especially with their children. There is no other group like the Black Muslims, who put so much effort into teaching children the right things, they don’t smoke, they don’t drink or overindulge in alcohol, they protect their women, they command respect. And what do these other people do? They complain about them, they criticize them. We’d be a better world if we emulated them. We don’t have to become black Muslims, but we can embrace the things that work.”
I’m not going to talk about Cosby’s black conservatism as way better thinkers and writers have done a good job of dissecting and discrediting his bullcrap, including Nikki Giovanni, who in particular, once spoke of Cosby’s brand of “tough love” as being, “full of sh!t.” But I do want to address this thinking, which I have heard rather frequently cross the lips of many black folks everywhere. I’m talking about this whole culture-envy. That there is something more special that other races, ethnic groups and religions are doing better than we are. And if only black folks would start doing this special thing like [insert racial/ethnic/religious group here], then all of our problems would be “solved.” This thinking has always bothered me because not only does it sound pitifully insecure, but it is also largely inaccurate.
I don’t have the exact numbers but Philly, the hometown of both Cosby and myself, has a very large black Muslim community. In fact, it is not unusual for a family to be made up religiously of Christians and Muslims (and some other stuff as well). As a whole the black Muslim population is varied by sects, socio-economic status and devotion (ie. moderate and orthodox). In other words, the Black Muslims here are diverse and fully integrated into the fabric of local black culture – including the bullshit. I am in no way gonna disparage an entire religion no more than I will take Cosby’s route to unnecessarily hype it up as a solution to all of our troubles. But I will point out rather factually that there are plenty of guys named Mohammad, who are faithful to Islam, and yet are also high-school dropouts, who drink, smoke, sag their pants and are disrespectful to women.
But just in case you don’t hear me though, here are some real facts: