Issue 100 - July 22, 2004


The Myths of Bill Cosby

by Earl Ofari Hutchinson


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This commentary originally appeared in The Hutchinson report.

Comedian Bill Cosby can't help himself. In his latest shoot from the lip outburst against blacks he still claims they can't read, write or speak coherent English, and that they beat their wives. Cosby didn't cite one fact, statistic, survey or study to back up his repeat of the same silly and wrong-headed outburst he let loose in May. It was a near textbook example of not letting facts get in the way of a good, headline-grabbing yarn.

But that didn't stop the legion of black leaders that have weighed in on Cosby's remarks, and that includes Jesse Jackson, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and a horde of black commentators, from stumbling over themselves to hail Cosby as the ultimate truth-giver. Cosby is entitled to publicly air black America's alleged dirty laundry but when there's more myth than dirt in that laundry, than he must be called out on it.

Cosby myth: "You've got to stop beating up your women because you can't find a job, and you want to get an education and now you're minimum wage."

Truth: It's not clear what bed and living rooms in poor black households Cosby peeped in to make that charge, but a Justice Department study in 2000 found that since 1993 domestic violence plunged among all groups. It further found that the murder rate of black females killed by their partners sharply dropped, while the murder rate jumped among white females killed by their partners.

The Justice Department study and a UCLA School of Public Health study in 1996, however, found that blacks are more likely to report domestic violence than whites, Hispanics and Native Americans. In the UCLA study, the blacks that physically abused their partners were young (under 30), lived in urban areas, had lower income and were less educated. The study noted that only about five percent of the men resorted to physical violence during their marital arguments and that the "vast majority" reported discussing their disagreements with their partners calmly and without resort to physical violence.

Cosby Myth: "They think they're hip, they can't read; they can't write, they're laughing and giggling, and they're going nowhere."

Truth: But many do think it's hip to read and write. The U.S. Dept. of Education found that in the decades since 1975, more blacks were enrolled in school, had improved their SAT scores by nearly 200 points, and had markedly lowered their dropout rate. It also found that one in three were in college, and that the number of blacks receiving bachelors and masters degrees had nearly doubled.

A 2002 survey of student attitudes by the Minority Student Achievement Network, an Illinois-based educational advocacy group, found that black students were as motivated, studied as hard, and were as serious about graduating as whites. Many of the blacks that now attend historically black colleges and probably other colleges are from lower income, disadvantaged homes. In a majority of cases they are the first members of their family to attend college.

Cosby Myth: "Well, Brown versus Board of Education: Where are we today. They paved the way, but what did we do with it. They don't hold up their part of the deal."

Truth: The ones who aren't holding up their part of the deal are Cosby's lower income whites, and middle- income blacks not the black poor. According to the latest census figures, a higher percentage of lower income blacks were registered to vote, and actually voted, than lower income whites. The same can't be said for their more well to do black brethren. The census found that a lower percentage of higher income blacks were registered, and voted, than their higher income white counterparts. The quantum leap in the number of black elected officials in the past two decades could not have happened without the votes of thousands of poor blacks.

Some poor young blacks can't read or write, join gangs, deal drugs, terrorize their communities, and beat up their wives or partners. Many whites, Hispanics, and Asians also engage in the same type of dysfunctional and destructive behavior. Cosby did not qualify or provide any factual context for his blanket indictment of poor blacks. He made the negative behavior of some blacks a racial rather than endemic social problem. In doing so, he did more than break the alleged taboo against publicly airing racial dirty laundry; he fanned dangerous and destructive stereotypes.

That's hardly the call to action that will inspire and motivate underachieving blacks to improve their lives. Quite the contrary, it will further demoralize those poor blacks who are doing the best they can to better their lives. It will do nothing to encourage government officials and business leaders to provide greater resources, and opportunities to aid those blacks that need help. In doing that, Cosby, not poor blacks, failed miserably to hold up his part of the deal.

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