Bill is Still Right (part 1 of 3)

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Many blacks want to know just who the hell Cosby thinks he is. Some believe he is a sellout, a proverbial Uncle Tom who has crawled through one of the few crevices open to a minority of blacks, and now he’s arrogant and selfish enough to be hypocritically disdainful of those who didn’t make it through.Cosby has criticized and tried to motivate black individuals and families, he’s done so speaking as a citizen who has put his money where his mouth is. His philanthropy to black colleges and causes is wholly impressive and virtually unmatched

*Comedian/Actor/Philanthropist/Activist and of late, social commentator, Dr. Bill Cosby spoke to almost a thousand people on a Saturday a couple weeks on how we fix public education.

That’s highly salient issue here in Los Angeles, as it is in almost every major city in America. So when two of the area black school board members (Saundra Davis of Culver City and Marquerite Lamotte of LAUSD) paired with Assistant Superintendent of Pasadena Unified School District and legendary educator extraordinaire, George McKenna to form an African American Educational Civil Rights Agenda, Cosby.in his own words, “wanted to ride on this bus.”

Bill Cosby, “America’s Dad” turned Black America’s most vocal social critic, has pulled no punches on his frustration with the state of Black America. He’s done everything one can do to try and change it. He’s joked about it. He’s role modeled it (in I Spy, the Cosby, Fat Albert, and Little Bill).

He and his wife, Camille, as philanthropists, have thrown millions at it. He’s inspired thousand of college graduates to be the best they can be as one of the nation’s leading commencement speaker, and lately, he’s criticized us for not being the best we can be. If one has earned the right to criticize black America, Cosby has.

But lately, when Bill Cosby speaks, people do one of two things; they listen, or they cringe. Sometimes they do both. His most recent statement at the Maranatha Church in Los Angeles was no less controversial. Cosby said “They (BET-type programming) got you pinned on something called, Bullsh*t.” People listened and laughed. People cringed. But this time, Cosby was right.

When Cosby made his famous (or infamous), “These people [lower economic people] are not holding up their end of the bargain (speaking about what many thought was a sweeping indictment of poor people)” speech, at an NAACP commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education in May, 2004, half of Black America screamed bloody murder, and the other half praised Cosby for his straight talk on what we all knew was true.

Critics, with Scholar Michael Eric Dyson leading the discussion, said the discussion should have been held “among family” and not out in public. Dyson took the debate public by writing a bestselling book, Is Bill Cosby Right? (Or Has The Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?) but Bill Cosby was the lightening rod to make Black America re-evaluate its value system, particularly around education, and supporters challenged him to help address the problem. Cosby has accepted this challenge.

In this latest endeavor, communities are ready to examine this disinvestment in education that black community is experiencing, and Cosby just didn’t want call out the problem-he also wants to be part of the solution. For the better part of two hours, Cosby spoke and engaged in a panel discussion with the audience around how we improve black achievement in education. Everything was “honky-dory” until a young lady asked how we can change the mindset of young people when “our culture” are constantly bombarded with programming (she specifically mentioned BET, though the problem is not exclusive to them) that promote negative images and glorify unhealthy lifestyles (sex, drugs, violence and false wealth [immediate gratification]). Cosby reached his hand, like he was waiting for the teacher (moderator LaMotte) to call a student-then he said it, “I’m troubled by this term ‘culture.’ BET is not our culture. Look, if you don’t like what you see, why don’t you just turn it off?” Then the rant began, at which Cosby made a very articulate point that what BET (and others promote) is not really our culture-that our culture promotes education and family and progress, but loud music, no father, no education is not part of our culture. Cosby’s point was that we can’t see it when “they got you pinned on something called ‘bullsh*t.” He concluded his point that it was time for our children to get with people who want to study (like Asians and other do), instead of engaging in the negative. Cosby was applauded for his analysis, but the local preacher got offended and engaged in a five minute diatribe on respecting “God’s House.” Cosby apologized, but emphasis he meant what he said. But the point was lost and another controversy about “what Cosby said, again” was all that was reported. It’s not fair.

As an aside, we don’t need to hold meetings anyplace where we can’t have straight-talk among family. While I know this is not necessarily the policy for all churches, this church shouldn’t have held the meeting if it couldn’t be understood (inferred or stated) that our community is trying to purge ourselves of our sins, and if a curse word comes out, as part of exorcism-then that’s part of the process. As much bullsh*t as goes on in half these churches out here, it wasn’t the time for the pot to call the kettle, black. If Jesus, himself, came back today and sat in some of these churches on Sunday, he’s say, probably after a half of a sermon, “This is some buulllsh*t!!!” And if he went back home and turned his TV on to BET, after about three videos-he would say, This is some buulllsh*t!!! So for Cosby to be admonished at the time, was a bullsh*t moment of all bullsh*t moments. It was a moment where you got to see Cosby’s unrestrained passion for the condition of his people, and for a very important point to sink in. It should have been tolerated.

We can hold up Bob Johnson as a black billionaire, but we can’t continue to ignore the vehicle he created to make all that money, has been a leading vehicle in the promotion of filth and degregation of a whole race of people. “Backwater culture” has been mainstreamed because of BET. Instead of advancing programming to counter the music piece, we’ve witnessed to “commoditization of the filth” (as Maulana Karenga once said), where now Viacom is the “pusher” and Bob Johnson is counting his billions. Black people want to see themselves on television and in high places of the dominant culture, but we can play more than the buffoon, the dancing fool, the jiggabo, the gansta, the pranksta, the bumpshaker, the babymaker, the pimp, the preacher (the false prophet, y’all) and the outcasts of society. It’s time we get back to making doctors, lawyers, teachers, real preachers, business folk with principle, homeowners, fathers and mothers. The common link in all of the above is knowledge (education) and wisdom (an experienced life).

This is where Black America needs to go, and we need to have this conversation every chance we get, wherever we can have it. Naw, I don’t give a sh*t what anybody says.

This time, Cosby is right.

Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum (www.urbanissuesforum.com) and author of 50 Years After Brown: The State of Black Equality In America. He can be reached at http://www.AnthonySamad.com

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