Why Bill Cosby Deserves The Benefit of Doubt

| November 20, 2014 | 0 Comments


By Dr. Boyce Watkins

I recently observed the dialogue that took place between the legendary Bill Cosby and the not-as-legendary Don Lemon on CNN about the state of the black community.  I have a hard time stomaching these conversations because it seems that most of us are comfortable scratching the surface of issues without having the courage necessary to dig to the root of a problem.

It’s easy to conclude that people who make choices that are different from our own are somehow irrational, ignorant and subhuman.  But if you believe that all men and women are created equal, you must confront the possibility that the reason someone responds to the world differently from yourself is because they are dealing with a very different situation.

I am neither a liberal, nor a conservative.  In fact, I am not sure which group annoys me the most.  Overly liberal thought can sometimes promote the idea that any form of behavior is acceptable, and that simply pushing people to be more disciplined and responsible in their lives is somehow a restriction on their individual liberties.  Also, legitimate tough love is often replaced by a long list of excuses for what are ultimately selfish, myopic and irresponsible choices.  In other words, telling brothers to pull their pants up and do their homework doesn’t make you an elitist.  It makes you a productive role model.


The truth is that we live in a community where one person’s actions affect the other.   If half of the ship is sinking due to poor choices, then those of us who care have the obligation to stand up and say, “No, you’re not going to do that anymore.”  That’s the entire premise of our New Paradigm Tour that we’re doing this year.  In fact, I dare say that anyone who seeks to harm the black community is an enemy of the community, even if that person is black.  Those who harm our children must be threatened with exile and even annihilation (this is why I don’t regret what we did to the artist Lil Wayne).  We don’t have time for the mass promotion of self-destructive ignorance, there is too much at stake and our future husbands and fathers are falling into too many avoidable deαth traps, like sheep being led to slαughter.

Unfortunately, conservative thinking can sometimes prop up white supremacy by concluding that the reason some people are less successful than others is because they are simply choosing to fail.  It refuses to question the growing gap between rich and poor or the difference between the status of black elites vs. the rest of us.  Elitism is easy to point out and hard to combat because black folks in high places are powerful enough to squash the voices of those who disagree with them:  Hence, you have Don Lemon and Bill Cosby using a predominantly white network to make unchallenged and narrow-minded remarks about black people in front of a majority white audience.

If Lemon and Cosby were to be equally bold about the role that white irresponsibility has played in the perpetuation of racism, they’d be yanked off the air before you could say, “I’m sorry boss.”   Courage should not be a part-time job.

With that being said, here are five things I love (and hate) about the great Bill Cosby:

1)      He’s a very wise, intelligent and responsible human being:  Bill Cosby is our grandfather.  He is the man who has shown a consistent concern for the black community for decades.  Even when you critically analyze what Cosby was trying to do with the Fat Albert show, you can see that he was thoughtful and conscientious about promoting good values and educational achievement.  Also, no one forced him to promote HBCUs on The Cosby Show, but his work led to a spike in popularity for predominantly black colleges and universities.  He is the one who has seen and done more than most of us will do in our lifetimes.  For that reason, Cosby deserves to have a legitimate voice on matters that affect his community.  He has earned his stripes and his life is one that should be celebrated.

2)      He can be a bit arrogant, stubborn and self-righteous:   When listening to Cosby, we immediately notice that his listening skills are not as well-defined as his speaking ability.  Even when he was young, Cosby gained the habit of rambling incessantly, going on for so long that he’d even forget the question that was asked.  The host would rarely interrupt him because of his stature, which could lead to a torturous experience for the listener.  This borderline narcissistic way of responding to the world around you can make you appear to be a know-it-all who always believes that your words are the most important comments being made in the room.  Most of us have that parent or grandparent who thinks that teaching should always be a one-way street.  This can be a counterproductive dialogue, for we must be willing to learn from young people as much as we expect them to learn from us.

3)      He cares enough to speak up and put his money where his mouth is:  Even when I don’t agree with Cosby, I am happy that he cares enough to speak.  I’ve seen quite a few celebrities who’ve concluded that an affiliation with blackness is unprofitable and uninteresting.  Cosby has remained loyal to the black community and has done a remarkable number of free speaking engagements to share inspirational messages with those who want to hear them.  This doesn’t count the fact that he’s given more money to HBCUs than nearly every other celebrity combined.  God bless him for that; I wish Jay-Z would get the memo.  I won’t even mention Dr. Dre’s $35 million dollar gift to a white university (USC) that doesn’t even hire or admit very many black people who can’t dribble a basketball.   I find myself astonished at how much we enjoy giving our money away to those who seek to oppress us.

4)      He’s almost definitely an elitist:  Bill Cosby appears to believe that he has credibility when addressing poor black people because he also grew up poor.  But that was a different time, with different challenges, values and opportunities.  Jim Crow was strong and poverty was even stronger.  But families were stable, the prison industrial complex had not become what it is today, and kids weren’t having their ears blasted with toxic hip-hop messages from companies like Clear Channel.   We won’t even mention the violence, where it’s easier for a black man to get a gun than it is for him to get an education.  Let’s note that black people do not run Clear Channel (or even BET for that matter), and black people also do not make the guns that blow the brains out of school children on their way to class.  Cosby should be speaking about the sources of these problems, not just those affected by them.

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