Some Blacks Find Nuggets Of Truth in Cosby's Speech
Others Say D.C. Remarks About Poor Blacks Went Too Far
By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 26, 2004; Page B05
It has been a week since Bill Cosby delivered a series of blistering comments about the parenting skills and personal values of low-income blacks, and the phone lines into Joe Madison's morning show on WOL-AM are still jammed.
Like many of his callers, Madison is conflicted about Cosby's speech at a Constitution Hall gala celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation ruling. He said he thinks Cosby touched on truths about the black community's failure to take responsibility for high school dropout rates, unwed mothers and young men in prison.
And then, he also thought the famed comedian and author went too far.
"Cosby went overboard when he absolved white America and the government of any responsibility for the ills of the poor black community," Madison said. "He made it seem like the problems affecting black people in the community are pathological. You can't paint the poor black community with a broad brush."
Cosby's speech, delivered late on May 17, received scant press attention at first.
"I am talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit," Cosby said. "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? . . . In all of this work, we cannot blame white people."
As word of his comments spread, so did the reaction -- on talk radio, in churches and high schools and among law enforcement officials and black leaders.
NAACP Executive Director Kweisi Mfume, who hugged Cosby after his speech, said he agreed with most of what he said.
"The issue of personal responsibility is real," he said. "A lot of people didn't want him to say what he said because it was an open forum. But if the truth be told, he was on target."
Mfume did part company with Cosby when he said that people from "lower socioeconomic" groups have not kept their end of the deal when it came to realizing the promise of Brown.
"It is not just the lower socioeconomic groups, it is the new black millionaires, the new wealthy as well," Mfume said. "We all need to take more responsibility, not just poor people."
Prince George's County State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D) said he thought Cosby's comments were "over the top" but with a "kernel of truth in it."
A lot of African Americans, he said, are asking, "What is up with our community right now?"
Particularly troubling is an "opt out" mentality -- students who won't go to school or take advantage of opportunities that past generations fought so hard for.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company