Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Remember what Bill Cosby said last year?

Copyright LJM 2005

Vincent Lavar is 22-years-old and lives with his girlfriend Nicole Gordon, 19 in the Dixie Manner Apartments—which is subsidized housing in Boca Raton, FL. Neither had heard about the comments made last month by actor and comedian Bill Cosby.
When Cosby gave impromptu comments on the state of the African American community--he could not have realized the whole world was listening.
During a speech last month in Washington D. C. Cosby criticized poorer African Americans for reportedly, “not holding up their end of the bargain.”
Cosby made his infamous comments in front of a mostly well to do, well heeled, crowd at a gala commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.
Reportedly the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Kweisi Mfume and Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert were present.
Essentially, Cosby validated the perception that African-Americans who are economically disadvantaged have bad work ethics, low morals, misplaced priorities and distasteful lifestyle choices.
And they have no one to blame for their predicament but themselves.
Cosby, in effect, validated a stereotypical African American image that is hard to shake.
However, Levar and Gordon might not have heard of the unfortunate comments because they are too busy raising their two children.
Gordon has a 3-year-old son James Swain and the couple has a 9-month-old son who is named after his dad, Vincent.
Lavar is caring for his girlfriend’s oldest son as any stepfather would—accept that the couple is not married and epitomize some of the negative images in the black community that Bill Cosby spoke about last month.
But the pair feels as if they are good parents.
“I don’t care because I handle my business,” Lavar said.
Gordon said she doesn’t mind that Cosby made the statements because it’s not important to her and it doesn’t apply to her.
“It will probably make Black people look bad,” she said.
Locally, prominent and working class Palm Beach County African Americans gave comment on Cosby’s views. Many had only heard very little about the statements but enough to know that they were unvarnished comments.
Wayne Barton, founder and Chief Economic Officer for the Wayne Barton Study Center in Boca Raton said he agrees with what Cosby meant to say—that the disintegration of the Black family has taken its toll.
“We’re getting away from the original way African American families were raised years ago. Everything we did center on the church. Now, we just go there to die,” he said.
“Bill Cosby didn’t candy coat the issue. We need to really stop and think about what is going on in our households,” Barton said.
Barton said Cosby might have made the comments to, “wake up the black community,” because African-Americans are living in liberal times and youth are, at times, encouraged to be disrespectful when parents withhold discipline.
Dixie Mannor resident, Pollie Shivers, is a single mom and she agreed with what Cosby meant to say but not how he said it.
“What he said is true some of us are giving excuses for not getting a job—I don’t think his comments should have been broadcast. It’s bad enough we have (people outside of the African-American race) saying those things let alone some one of our own color,” she said.
But it's not as if Cosby's life has not been touched by tragedy.
The actor's late son, Ennis Cosby was killed in 1997. That same year he was accused of having a child out-of-wedlock. A woman named Autumn Jackson allegedly tried to blackmail the comedian. Cosby admitted he helped her financially.
At the height of "The Cosby Show" popularity, he was heavily criticized for not realistically portraying African-American family life.
He defended his characterizations of upper class blacks and so did the rest of America.
“He has more leeway to say it because he was talking about African-Americans and he is African-American--but Cosby now has the burden,” Nelson Hall, a Professor of music at Florida Memorial College in Miami said. Hall is Cuban-American. He is also the Director of Music at First United Methodist Church in Boca Raton. He said many of his friends are African-American and they seemed to agree with Cosby when he charged that some blacks don’t take responsibility for their actions and like to blame others for their bad decisions.
Rivera Beach City Manager, Bill Wilkins said that Cosby has the right to express his opinion and that the furor surrounding the comments is counter productive.
“Criticism will minimize the ongoing struggle for equal rights…everyone knows the strides we've made. Sometimes controversial comments wake up the consciousness in people,” Wilkins said.
Delray resident H. Ruth Pompey, widow of the late local civil rights activist Spencer Pompey, said she agrees with Cosby’s comments.
“I think people should think more about education. If it were me, Id’ be putting that money in a bond or something so my child could go to school. We don’t like to hear things like that--sometimes because we think that people like that don’t care--Cosby wasn’t born rich, he made sacrifices,” she said.
Pompey’s husband helped to bring an end to racial pay disparities between white and black teacher’s salaries in Delray during the 1940s.
Cosby’s comments at least have inspired spirited debate among members of the African American community.
Two friends talked about it after leaving work Tuesday in Boca Raton.
“I don’t think he should have said those things in public,” Paul Rollins said. He was dropping off a friend from work--a man who identified himself as Johnnie R.
Johnnie R said Cosby spoke out loud what is often only whispered within the African-American community.
“There are certain things you don’t say in public--but what he said is true,” he said, stating that the family unit is no longer a priority among some—even when children are involved.
However, he cautioned, “no man should judge another.”
Joe Smith, of Delray is 45 years old and says he didn’t marry the mother of his children until the youngest was 3 or 4 and he doesn’t see anything wrong with it. Cosby’s comments about lifestyle choices offended him.
“That’s why he made those comments—he doesn’t know and he is on the outside looking in,” he said.
In fairness, Cosby is familiar with certain lifestyle choices. He has had struggles of his own but a boot-strap mentality isn’t always reserved for the born-rich. Sometimes, we just forget from where we come.
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