Cosby’s consistency

Bill Cosby has gotten crabbier, Debra Dickerson writes in Slate. But he hasn’t changed his views. He’s always been a man with a plan for changing the racial equation.

While his humor is nonconfrontational, his attitude has been anything but; like Oprah Winfrey and Magic Johnson’s inner-city focused business empire, Cosby sees the acquisition of power as a civil rights strategy. He’s worked to be in the meetings where decisions are made rather than outside picketing them, though he was an ardent supporter of the civil rights movement and used his shows to pay homage to it.

And he succeeded. Once his star took off, Cosby was rarely without either a sitcom, a game show, an animated series, best selling non-fiction, or a comedy album riding the top of the charts. His power allowed him, among many other good deeds, to support black higher education by donating millions to schools, sending deserving, hardscrabble youngsters he’d read about in the newspaper to college, and challenging universities to ambitious fundraising goals by offering generous matching funds of his own — facts he’s been advertising in a PR counteroffensive after the harsh reaction his recent comments provoked.

So why now? Why is Bill Cosby suddenly so sour, so publicly? Perhaps it was watching one of his four daughters struggle with a drug habit in the 1980s. Perhaps it was losing his only son, Ennis, to random violence in 1997 . . . But perhaps the final straw was watching Eddie Murphy reprise his history-making I Spy role on the big screen in 2002, not as a jet-setting, high-minded patriot but as a jive-talking, barely literate boxer who couldn’t care less about national security; Cosby has long been vocal in his disgust with what he sees as the minstrelsy, vulgarity, and low artistic value of modern black comedy, film, and television. Don’t even get him started on rap music.

Cosby says he’s “tired” of fighting battles his generation thought would be won by now.

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  1. In the music biz, I often meet young black people who have no idea of the wonderful past of sophisticated music and culture in their own community.

    It is not uncommon for me to suggest to them that I introduce them to this seemingly long lost past. So, I take them to Showman’s, a club on 125th Street on Harlem. Showman’s has been around for, I believe, 65 years.

    If you haven’t been, go. You’ll find gentlemen out for an evening of jazz in their three piece suits and the ladies dressed to the nines in their Sunday go to meeting clothes. You’ll even find some rare hints that different sexual identities have long been tolerated, although politeness and gentility are expected of everybody. The music is oh so romantic and sophisticated.

    Showman’s even hires an elderly gentleman to tap dance between sets. He is also there to dance with the bi black women in their burr haircuts. And, he’s good.

    As always, looking into the past provides clues for how to return to sanity in the future.

  2. I always seem to come back to jazz when the subject of Mr. Cosby comes up. Mr. Cosby is a great benefactor of the jazz music scene. I’ve seen his generosity close up and I do appreciate it.

    In another post, I talked too much about some of the jazz musicians I’ve played with. The names might sound glamorous to you. Quite often, the jazz business is a starvation business even for the greatest players. I know several jazz masters who owe to Cosby the ability to continue to record at a high level. Some of the great jazz CDs of the past 20 years exist entirely because Mr. Cosby put up the money for them.

    Mr. Cosby doesn’t just talk about the negative. He puts his money in demonstrating the positive, and he is very smart to do this.

  3. I remember that Mr. Cosby was initially taken in by Tawana Brawley’s hoax, and in a very public way. I’ve often wondered if he just brushed that off, or if it contributed to some cynicism or even disgust at some types of people.

  4. Richard Cook says:

    Cos should take some vitamin e. African Americans seem to be well on their way to forgetting their history. Cos is really going to be tired.

  5. Bob Diethrich says:

    Interesting note about the comparison between Coz’s “I SPY” and the Eddie Murphy remake.

    I was too young to have seen I SPY but I remember reading about how groundbreaking it was with an educated American Black role model.

    I also have to give credit to Greg Morris, who played electronics whiz Barney Collier on Mission Impossible. I recall my Mother telling me how that was the first time on TV when a Black guy was shown to be the technical genius.

    Also kudos to Ivan Dixon and Kenneth Washington who played well developed, non stereotyped characters on the farce, Hogan’s Heroes.

  6. Mike James says:

    Actually, Bill Cosby’s son was murdered during what was apparently a carjacking by a 19-year old immigrant from the Ukraine, who didn’t speak much English.

    He didn’t descend into bitterness towards white people from what I can tell, although many men would have, in their grief, and that makes him an angel in my book.

  7. Richard Brandshaft says:

    “Cosby says he’s “tired” of fighting battles his generation thought would be won by now.”

    My generation (Bill Cosby is only a few years older than I am) was optimistic about a lot of things. Racism was never a big deal to me — I am white — but I too thought it would be solved by now. Then came the Vietnam War, the US got more conservative, and everything fell apart. (Yes, I know the sequence of events doesn’t imply causality.)

    I read a report somewhere that Whoopi Goldberg, as a child, had run to her mother yelling something about there being a black women on TV (Lt. Uhura) who wasn’t a maid. I don’t consider show businesses press releases reliable, but something of the sort would explain her presence in as a secondary character in Star Trek: The Next Generation. So things have changed. But you don’t have to be black to look back at our earlier optimism and be sad that the haven’t changed more.