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FIRST-PERSON: Cosby unplugged

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP)–Those who thought Bill Cosby’s troubles with allegations of sexual misconduct would curtail his criticism of low-income African Americans have to think again.

In fact, it seems that as of late Cosby has rejuvenated his efforts and has single-handedly taken on what he describes as his “call outs”. He continues to target poor African Americans for their lack of responsibility, and has traveled to 12 cities in the United States spreading his message of personal responsibility.

In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Cosby spoke harshly of the low number of poor kids who finish high school, saying, “Nine hundred kids enter many of these high schools, and 35 walk out with diplomas. The rest are in prison, pregnant or wandering around doing nothing.”

Some critics of Bill Cosby have labeled his speaking tour as “Blame the Poor Tour.” The critics believe Cosby’s comments are not only negative stereotypes, but are extremely hurtful to the very poor people he targets. One of the most outspoken critics of Cosby is pop culture intellectual Michael Eric Dyson, who in his book “Is Bill Cosby Right? Or has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?” describes Cosby as a black elite, or what he terms “Afristocrat”. Dyson attempts to explain some of the social factors that contribute to the action of poor blacks.

Moreover Dyson’s critique of Cosby’s own failure at parenting is a blatant attack on Cosby’s character and his ability to rightly challenge the economic disadvantaged. According to Vernon Ford, writer for the Booklist journal of the American Library Association, Dyson’s critique goes so far as to mention “one daughter who fell victim to drug abuse, and another daughter, born of an extramarital affair, whom he supported but later charged with extortion.”

ABC “Nightline” interviewer Michel Martin asked Mr. Cosby if “your own failures of judgment disqualify you from speaking to others.” Cosby dismissed any notion that he was unqualified to address the issue, saying, “I couldn’t care less what you think of me as long as you begin to execute that which will save your children.”

Despite what one thinks of Cosby’s alleged character flaws, the reality is that his statements are more true than not. He is correct when he criticizes children who curse constantly and parents who spend more on athletic shoes than they do on education. Such conduct is unacceptable if at-risk kids are to succeed in American society. These are painful, yet true facts of many poor African American communities.

More attention should be given to what’s being said, instead of who’s saying it. Perhaps the critics could spend less time denouncing the four-time Emmy Award, eight-time Grammy Award and Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, and focus more on solving the real problems facing low-economic African Americans.

Keep the “call outs” going Mr. Cosby!
Terriel R. Byrd is associate professor of religion and director of urban ministries studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla.

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  • Terriel R. Byrd