Thursday, August 5, 2004

The Funniest Prophet in the USA

Bill Cosby Was (Mostly) Right

But he overlooks the redemptive role of the church.

By Stan Guthrie | posted 07/28/2004 8:30 a.m.
(Christianity Today online)

I have no comments to make at this time about this commentary, other than to say it is superb. Guthrie's analysis pretty much speaks for itself. Enjoy!

Over the years, comedic icon Bill Cosby has taken on some humorous characters —Fat Albert and Dr. Cliff Huxtable come to mind—and shaped American culture for the better. But in his latest role, Cosby the prophet is excoriating young black culture, urging African Americans to take responsibility for their lives and to stop blaming the "white man."

"For me, there is a time," Cosby told a Rainbow/PUSH gathering in Chicago recently, "when we have to turn the mirror around."

In that meeting and in an earlier appearance before black leaders, Cosby, 66, spoke bluntly. Answering accusations that he was airing his people's dirty laundry in public, Cosby snapped, "Let me tell you something. Your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day. It's cursing and calling each other 'nigger' as they're walking up and down the street. They think 'they hip.' Can't read, can't write, 50 percent of them."

Cosby's tough-love message reminds me of Shelby Steele's groundbreaking book, The Content of Our Character. Steele noted:

The barriers to black progress in America today are clearly as much psychological as they are social or economic. We have suffered as much as any group in human history, and if this suffering has ennobled us, it has also wounded us and pushed us into defensive strategies that are often self-defeating. But we haven't fully admitted this to ourselves. The psychological realm is murky, frightening, and just plain embarrassing. And a risk is involved in exploring it: the risk of discovering the ways in which we contribute to, if not create, the reality in which we live. Denial, avoidance, and repression intervene to save us from this risk. But, of course, they only energize what is repressed with more and more negative power, so that we are victimized as much by our own buried fears as by racism.

We also must acknowledge that blacks have no monopoly on social pathologies. Other groups, including whites, have members who make self-destructive choices. Unfortunately, some of what passes for black culture these days is highly dysfunctional. ...

With a doctorate in education, Cosby, like a good professor, has set high standards. But I fear that he has overlooked the spiritual dimensions of this crisis. In so doing, he has missed the best hope for solving it—God's people working together in the power of the Spirit.

Among the pathologies Cosby decried:

1. Poor Educational Achievement. "I can't even talk the way these people talk, 'Why you ain't,' 'Where you is,'" Cosby said. "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. ...

According to the Education Trust, only 12 percent of African American fourth-graders reach proficient or advanced levels in reading, while 61 percent are below basic achievement levels. In math, just 7 percent of black eighth-graders reach proficient or advanced levels. Gains in reading and math during the 1970s and 1980s began to be reversed in the 1990s. Today, by the end of high school, the reading and math skills of African Americans are at the level of white students in the eighth grade. And while black college enrollment rates virtually match those of whites, only 41 percent of black students graduate in six years, compared with 61 percent of white students. More than 28 percent of whites aged 25 and older have four or more years of college. Only 16 percent of blacks do. While the gap is gradually narrowing and black incomes on average are rising, there is still a long way to go.

2. Sexual Irresponsibility. Cosby blamed music, movies, and television for encouraging young blacks toward sexual irresponsibility. ...

The illegitimacy rate among blacks in 1940 was only 19 percent. Unfortunately, the rate among African Americans has reached crisis proportions—more than 68 percent. In others words, two in every three blacks are being born into homes without a married father present.

3. Lack of Parental Control. ...

Unfortunately, as the above illegitimacy figures show, although some African American families may model the Huxtables, too many are simply staging areas for mayhem and despair. ... While blacks constitute about 12 percent of the U.S. population, they make up nearly 44 percent of the state and federal prison population. ...

To change this, blacks must ignore the same tired siren songs of liberals. ...

4. Lack of Respect. Cosby said many young African Americans have little or no respect for the sacrifices their parents and grandparents made to gain their civil rights. "Understand, your children have to know where you came from," he said. "Dogs, water hoses that tear the bark off trees, Emmett Till [a black in Mississippi who was tortured to death in 1955 after being accused of whistling at a white woman]. And you're going to tell me you're going to drop out? You're going to tell me you're going to steal from a store?"


Cosby is particularly incensed that blacks use the hated N-word among themselves. "This is an accepted word. You are so hip with 'nigger,' but you can't even spell it," Cosby said. Turning again to Steele, one could view this development as a way for blacks to insulate themselves from the demands of competing with higher-achieving whites by emphasizing their own "blackness." Steele said a black student told him he wasn't sure he should master standard English, because he "wouldn't be black no more."

5. Lack of Personal Responsibility. Black men need to take responsibility and stop blaming others, Cosby said. ... "You should have thought more of yourself in high school." Also: "The housing project was set up for you to move in, move up, and move out."

Blacks are disproportionately represented on the welfare rolls. While the nation's official poverty rate is about 12 percent, the African American rate is double that. Welfare reform—by instituting time limits and work requirements—has helped, removing thousands from welfare and slashing teen birthrates. Much more needs to be done.


Lost in this discussion of depressingly familiar statistics is the role churches and other faith-based organizations can play in helping African Americans to help themselves. In the battle to both prevent and eliminate black degradation, the key word is not independence (as Cosby seems to imply), but interdependence. We need one another.

A moral message—but bereft of spiritual power—has a certain appeal, but it is not the gospel. For decades, Muslim evangelists have found many American blacks to be receptive to a message of reform and submission. (For example, see Ed Gilbreath's interview with Christian apologist Carl Ellis.) Bill Cosby has once again shown the black community the law. It is up to Christians to demonstrate God's grace.


While interdependence is important, dependence (on God) is even more vital. Cosby says too few blacks are motivated to improve their lives, saying they "have no picture that is large enough to take you out of where you [are] going." Christianity provides that picture and is one of the greatest springboards to self-improvement known in world history. ... It's no accident that people rightly related to God vertically often improve their relationships with others horizontally. Evangelism and social uplift go hand in hand.

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