Bill Cosby And the Cult of “Why Can’t Black People Be More Like…”

June 13, 2013  |  

L. Gallo / WENN

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:

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  • Sunshine

    “Basically, it takes more to raise well-rounded and adjusted people than the “pull your pants up, remember your manners and go to school” riot act we like to give black children, particularly poor black children”
    Okay so it seems you have the answers. What is that “more”? If you parents should have taught you anything its that we dont have the luxury of pointing out what other people do as an excuse to do it too. So what about the asians and other ethnicities. I’m concerned about MY people and Bill is too! If you talk to your grandma grandpa older wunts or uncles, the all same the same things Bill says, just behind closed doors. It not about talking down to your own race, its about being tired of being the last or the lowest in every category! Wake the F up!!!

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  • mekka love

    Preach dammit! And while we’re at it…lets look at our stats…we are the only race whose entire identity becomes their disparity..yes we have work to do…but if 30% of black kids drop out of high school 70% do not…we are way optimistic about everyone else except ourselves.

  • You can love or hate Bill Cosby, but at least he’s being honest and at the same time proposing solutions for the black community. For you [the write of this article] to point out other nationalities’ short-comings seems like you’re trying to excuse the sorry state the community is in. “THEY DO IT TOO!”

    This article illustrates the problem with the black community today. We lack an understanding of the world around us. We need to get with the times or get left behind.

  • Cindre

    Black people seem to have forgotten how our foreparents sustained and made it through and across generations. What are we doing lately ? Rosa Parks, Dr. King, Medgar Evers, and others have given their safety and lives laying foundations. Now we have an opportunity to sit anywhere on the bus, vote, sleep/eat/buy just about anything we need and want. Some of us seem to be led by whatever is in vogue in our society whether its with our dress, behavior, and value system. I really believe some black people feel they do not need God. Tell me when as a people we do not need God as much suffering all over the world black people do? What we need to do in 2013 is rededicate ourselves to: Embracing God, marriage & family values, education, and social responsibility. Take a look around you in your community, what areas need help physically and socially? The government cannot do it all. Watch your local news channels 6:00 and 10:00 reports and tell me if we are in trouble as a people? I am sure a man of Mr. Cosby’s status know very successful black people so
    why get mad at Bill Cosby for telling the truth from his perspective? Mr. Cosby is one person. What is your truth about the black community? Don’t you know the truth will set you free?

  • Leah Ashton

    the change starts at home. Every race every religion has its own bs. Not really feeling Mr Cosby. We teach our kids the right way. just because some one has a child or children before they get married doesn’t make them a bad person. I don’t regret having my kids. i wish i had been married but if that had been true i would have been divorced.
    if we had more examples and less people who tolerated the bs maybe things would be different.
    i choose to live my life the way god tells me, not this person or that person. I don’t follow celebrities why bother? I am so sick of people saying that we as black people should do this or do that. FOH with that. We don’t see Hispanics telling their people they are no good, not smart or beautiful in their natural state, nor do we see it with white people and yes they do act just as ratchet if not worse than us.

    No one black man can speak for a whole race so cut it out. if he sees something that he doesn’t like do something to change it. Mentor, donate money to programs that help kids and parents get right otherwise have several seats

  • mena

    He is on point. I have been to many churches with plenty of black single mothers*. I never saw black single mothers in the mosque growing up Muslim.

    *Black Churches really? Obesity in the church= gluttony.
    Single mother who did not just have a divorce=premarital relationships.
    And more….

  • Actually what Cosby is saying is very true. It’s easy to see the deterioration of the black family and a high incarceration rate of black youth. This wasn’t the case even as recently as the 50’s. To gloss it over is simply not confronting the truth.

  • Clark Toni

    Cosby is a joke his do you you remember that Uncle Tom cartoon that he did. Fat Albert that was stereotyping his own folks. I remember it was a time Cosby did not want to be involved in the civil rights movement. How can that character be a judge of all black people. He is a joke and every-time you hear something from him it is all negative about black people. I tune Cosby out and off.

  • Yvette

    Bill Cosby is a hypocrite. Was he the loving husband who protects his wife when he cheated on her? Have a seat Mr. Cosby and stop sitting in glass houses throwing stones! I call bullsh*t!

  • Truth0312

    Yes to all of this! I get that Bill’s passionate about helping folks in the Black community, but what exactly is he doing? Is in these poor Philly hoods pitching in? Is he encouraging Black folks within these neighborhoods to help out? Is he reaching out to affluent Blacks from these neighborhoods? Personal responsibility is important, but it has it’s limits because we are all products of our environments. Bill’s delivery, misses the mark, as usual.

  • Nathaniel Whitt

    It makes me laugh when I hear the term “black-culture” used in these articles and blogs. Here, in America, we [blacks] don’t have a culture. We have an image. And that image changes depending on how far north, south, east or west one travels. So please, understand this when writing these non-nonsensical blogs. Thanks

  • folamix

    Like I have always said,
    Blacks suffer from that plantation mentality, always looking for someone else to take care of their problems. We have been free how long and the government hasn’t really done it, so I think the message should be clear that we need to take care of ourselves. Until we understand that and start working together, we will always be at the bottom of the barrel.

    • Fair and Balanced

      I concur completely!

  • guest

    A coke and a smile! LOL. Richard Pryor was one of the best!

  • Tiffany

    Race is a social construct. The issues in the black community are much deeper than just race and religious values.

  • I understand what he is trying to say. No culture is better than the other, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t adopt some behavior patterns that are more beneficial, without forfeiting our Black identity as a whole. For example, it’s true that not all Jews are financially stable. But they do tend to have a stronger sense of unity, sticking together and helping each other out, even when they can’t stand each other. No, Asians are not smarter than other racial groups. But they do tend to be more economically stable, keeping their businesses and income within their communities. My problem lies in the assumption that our culture is somehow inherently deficient, and that Blacks aren’t able to distinguish between their right and left hands. We do have a lot of issues that we need to fix, (many of them stemming from the mental scars of slavery), and they do need to be brought into the light in order to find a solution. And we have to start taking control of these issues now. But most Black people are trying their best to get their education, provide for their families, and improve just like everyone else.
    Furthermore, Bill Cosby needs to work on his delivery, big time. When someone wants to help people, they can’t alienate them. Even if he has a point, people are not going to want to listen because they are immediately put on the defensive. Why doesn’t he be a part of the solution, using his power and influence to provide help and guidance to those who really need it? Even if he helps five people, and they in turn help five more, it can create a cycle of positivity. You can’t berate someone for being dirty and lecture them on why being dirty is bad without providing them with soap, and making sure they stay clean in the future.

  • Guest

    The black community is not perfect and neither are any other communities. Our failures are far more criticized and exaggerated than other ethnic groups. Overall black people have come a long way, higher graduation rates, lower teen pregnancies rates, higher college grads rates, etc. than anytime in our past. We have a unique history in this country and given that fact, the fact that we have survived and prospered at all is what we should hold out there as an example for our children to follow. Yes we have our problems, but we are also singled out more than others, targeted more than others and undermined more than others. The author of this article is right. Other ethnic groups are experiencing alarming rates of negative changes. We ARE NOT as F*UCKED UP as the media and the power structure would have us to believe!!!! We still have work to do, but we have made great progress as well !!!!

    • hollyw

      THANK YOU!! It’s gotten really ridiculous with the Haves complaining about the Have Nots, trying to set themselves apart from them, all the while giving useless criticism and ‘advice’ that resolves no problems. Unless you are personally doing something about the ‘epidemic’, please keep your theories to yourself…

  • What we are currently doing isn’t working in the grand scheme of things. What is wrong with adopting some practices that we see actually work? Having a united family front mother, father and children in ONE household pulling together makes for a successful model. We see the results overall for those communities that do so in large part. Their children are more likely to gain degrees, less likely to use drugs or end up in prison and are more likely to go on and marry and create a stable family. Those are cold hard facts. What too many are doing multiple baby daddies and mommas, single parent homes living in poverty, high incarceration rates, high unemployment rates etc. Those are NOT working. What’s wrong with saying that? What’s wrong with taking a magnifying glass and hone in on that ish that needs to stop?

    • Me

      Adopting practices that work and criticizing those that don’t work is bull$hit according to the author.

      • LOL apparently so. Bill ain’t saying we need to change into Buffy and Biff what he’s saying is let’s do those things that make sense and have proven to work for other communities.

    • Leah Ashton

      surprisingly there actually are whole families that are working but these families are so few we don’t notice unless something tragic happens

  • maggie

    I think we need to do some more self-reflection about what it means to be black and successful. Africans come to this country and obtain the most graduate degrees out of any immigrant group today. So we can culturally be ourselves and be successful, we are just confused about what it looks like. The blueprint is there, we may have to push aside religious texts for history texts to find answers.

  • Nikkita Michelle

    No one group of any people have their act together as a whole. Maybe, Mr. Cosby should have said the black Muslims he knows. But we need to quit acting like we don’t know what he’s talking about. As far as we have come there’s probably more work to do than ever before.

  • Guest360

    I get what he’s TRYING to say but its coming out all wrong. I definitely agree that Muslims are horribly misunderstood. However, not ALL of them are as loving and respectful as he tries to make them out to be. Just like every other religious group, you’ve got your secular sects, orthodox groups, and people who claim religion but don’t practice what they preach in life. Instead of pointing out an entire group we should be emulating, he should have just spoke on the principles of love and respect that many of all walks of life have. Might have helped his message.

  • Nikia D-Shiznit

    Okay, I get it, but what blacks represent now isn’t helping them. We are a.notch above Natives when it comes to failure for everything. I don’t see anything wrong with adopting some of the values and customs of other groups, if that means we have a chance to do better. NOT “chastising” for a lack of a better word, hasn’t helped. Sweeping our problems under the rug hasn’t helped. Maybe bringing them to the forefront will help.

    My problem is that we keep being told what we are doing wrong, how we are miserable failures, and how bad we are, but I fail to see any viable solutions. Bill has the money and means to help his community, and of all people, he should know that upwards mobility for people of color, poverty or not, is difficult. I get what he’s trying to do, but he can do it without being Samuel L. Jackson’s character on Django.

    • Dragon Senait

      Preach. We can’t win for losing..smh.

    • Gayle

      What is your degree in? Now if its engineering okay, but a lot of people are coming out with useless degrees. Also Black women have a large number of men to choose from. They just have to date out and not restrict themselves to one choice.

      • Swaggerd

        Exactly! AND… if a black woman gets knocked up by any race, the offspring is still a black baby! That’s one of our racial Superpowers and it can’t be wasted. We need to use it for sustained growth. Every race has a few natural Superpowers:
        A Few Examples:
        Whites: Resistance to Cold Weather
        Hispanics: Increased Fertility
        Blacks: Strength and Size
        Asians: Discipline

        • Toni

          This is not the 19th century. Slavery is over. The one drop rule does not apply. My children, for one, will not deny their father because of pressure to identify with one ethnic group over the other. They will be of two ethnic backgrounds and will be encouraged to learn and identify with both. Why? Because skin color does not define who we are as people. Also, your generalizations of Whites, Hispanics, Blacks and Asians are Draconian at best and bigoted at worst.

      • FamuRattler85

        Dating out is easier said than done for a black woman. Granted, there are some who do it successfully, but there are even more who no “other” man is checking for due to the stereotypes attached to us.

        • Pivyque

          You’d be surprised by how many are willing to test those stereotypes out for themselves!

      • black women have plenty of black men to chose from. it’s just a question of do they have a large selection of men that they desire or not.

    • Swaggerd

      Oh c’mon… getting a good job and getting married before having kids isn’t THAT hard. Stop crying. Sorry to call it out, but if you have a Masters and can only get a $15/hr job, you picked a silly useless major. Or you’re just not that driven. If you can’t find a black man, go find a white, asian, or hispanic man. I chose to marry a black woman. But if you want to marry within our race, or outside of it, who gives a fucc? Not me. And if anyone DOES give a fucc, them fucc’em. In the grand scheme of things, no one really cares what you do with your life.

      Life is short: stop complaining, get hitched, have a few rug rats, and drink a beer.

      (…time for me to leave work, go see my wife and kids, and drink beers.)

      • Nikia D-Shiznit

        Actually, that’s exactly what’s going on with jobs. I pay close attention to politics, and while there is a demand for people with high degrees, the pay for jobs just isn’t there, or jobs are shipped off. I’m not making excuses for anyone, nor did I highlight all of the problems or solutions. We can do better. We have seen the bottom and have been there for a while. At some point, he have to get to the top.

    • Truth0312

      Tell it, sista! You can’t put the whole responsibility of the conditions of Black folks on Black folks without looking at the structural impediments to success that existed pre-Civil Rights era and that still persist to this day. Let’s look at how our public schools stack up against those in suburban areas? Funding is low and quality teachers/administrators are in short supply. Let’s look at how the Black males are set up EARLY to feed the prison industrial complex by being looked at as criminals in classrooms. Let’s look at how single parent homes(an issue since the 60s) due, partially, to economic insecurity for Black folks. I could go on and on, but you knocked it out of the park.

    • Dominic Blais

      pull up your pants, have some abortions( or use birth control ), and stop thinking sports are everything how about math science and engineering. still never met a black engineer and i spent 20 years around one of the worlds best schools

    • Black people need to get out of slavery times era of thinking. It is now 2014. We have all types of opportunity available to us that has never been available before. Instead of thinking “college then job” … how about think about developing a way to infiltrate in demand fields? Do you have to be employed by a white person to make a living, or can you make a living for yourself? Can you be an innovator? Can you develop a new way to perform an important task? An invention? Why aren’t there very many of us on TV shows like Shark Tank? Seems like we just resort to basic things that don’t take much critical thinking like sports and music. Whose fault is that?