Friday, July 02, 2004

Who you talkin' to, Cos? 

Captain Ed has discovered Bill Cosby.
Cosby, who has dropped his normally humorous approach of late and has taken to scolding and shaming audiences, told people that their problems were primarily of their own making, and to quit spouting excuses -- lessons that apply far more broadly than most analysts give Cosby credit. Like most outlets, the AP repeatedly emphasized the ethnicity of the attendees.
Ed's point is that this is more than just a problem for blacks,
I heard more of that part of his speech on the radio, and while I can't quite quote Cosby verbatim, he railed about the popularity of a word created by racists who spent decades stringing black Americans up in trees and burning them out of their homes. But beyond this specific point, Cosby could well have been addressing Nob Hill parents, or the PTA meeting at Beverly Hills High School, and on two levels.

The specific cultural degradations to which Cosby referred -- a lack of emphasis on child-rearing, the abdication of parental responsibilities, and the failure to hold children and teenagers accountable for their education, dress, speech, and behavior apply to all social and ethnic strata in American life today. Go to the mall and see how our sons and daughters dress in public today. The boys look like hoods, dressed in gangsta chic, where beltless pants droop sometimes below the buttocks and ludicrously large shirts overwhelm narrow shoulders. But the boys are only the secondary issue. Our daughters go to the mall dressed in the same outfits streetwalkers wore ten or fifteen years ago, covered in makeup and showing almost as much skin as at the beach. At the rehearsal for my goddaughter's confirmation, many of the girls showed up in that mode of dress -- in church. I'm not talking about 18- or 19-year olds; these were girls as young as 14, and the ones at the mall get younger than that.

Since when did American parents get so comfortable pimping their daughters out to society?
They're not comfortable, at least not the parents I talk to, but they have as much difficulty telling their teens what to do as our parents had with us. And certainly to that extent, Cosby is right to tell parents to grab the reins. He fits in with the work the late Steve Allen did in getting parents to reclaim their TVs. But Cosby has been specific about speaking to people of color.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal," he declared. "These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids -- $500 sneakers for what? And won't spend $200 for 'Hooked on Phonics.' . . .

"They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English," he exclaimed. "I can't even talk the way these people talk: 'Why you ain't,' 'Where you is' . . . And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk. . . . Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. . . . You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth!"
The phenomenon Ed is discussing is different than that which Cosby originally addressed in May (see also my graduation address post for another Cosby lecture.) One is rejection of parental values, something I seem to recall has happened before. The other is nihilism. Suburban white kids impersonating ghetto culture is different than commenters to this story about a cop's funeral justifying their death. Suburban idiots make Jackass or Eight Mile, not Menace II Society.

UPDATE: Joanne Jacobs:

Cosby's invitation to speak at the Rainbow/PUSH event is significant. Jackson knew what Cosby would say, more or less, and gave him a forum. An awful lot of blacks must be fed up with the old rhetoric.