I felt pity for Cosby. The old comedian could no longer bear the breakdown of the family structure he used to know. The African-American society that produced his beloved Fat Albert can now only boast of the likes of Jah Rule and Snoop Dog. Cosby was obviously disgusted by the urban language, style and the whole culture of America that African-America hip-hop culture has created.
As expected, Africans applauded Cosby’s remarks. He apparently said what many Africans had always felt should be said to their African-American cousins. But just like the Africans, Cosby was more or less criticizing his own people in a vacuum. The breakdown in the African-American society did not start suddenly. It had an origin and a psychological basis and the prevailing degradation was a gradual process, and could not be genuinely analyzed outside the parameters of its creation.
Cosby’s critics charged that he was pandering to white America. In today’s America where conservative ideology rules, blacks blaming other blacks for challenges in black communities receive the endorsement of white Americans who are scared of making such chastening themselves for fear of being labeled racists. Cosby, who has never been known for challenging the Establishment opened himself up for such criticism.
It is ironic that Africans whose various countries are in a mess are the ones hailing Cosby. The Africans could see the simple solution to African-American’s redemption but not a single solution to their own countries’ redemption. The Africans would prescribe attitude change for African-Americans but not for themselves. In rare cases when Africans prescribe the same for themselves, they still find space in their hearts for possible impediments.
The underplayed aspect of this debate is how intertwined the fate of Africans in Africa and Africans in the Diaspora are. While Cosby is busy complaining about the emerging style and substance of African-Americans, the African pastor, student, entertainer and scholar are busy emulating the African-American sense of culture and self.
As a naïve African living in Africa, I had imagined that one day, accomplished African- Americans like Bill Cosby would come and save Africa from it maladies. Little did I know that they had more than enough problems in their communities to deal with.
I fear Cosby’s diatribe because it risked pushing everything that defines the essence of this generation of African-Americans as part of its excesses. Buyonce’s “bootylicious” has nothing to do with Method Man’s bling-bling.
Before the Civil Rights movement, pockets of individuals were individually and collectively putting up fight against the system that was designed to cripple the African-American communities. The achievements of these individuals were hardly visible and rarely acknowledged. An African-American in Cosby’s mood could have charged in the 1950s that African- Americans were neither doing something to change their situation nor capable of achieving those changes. Cosby’s charges downplay the fact that many African-Americans are personally and collectively making progress. What is needed is a movement that would lift up those who can not lift themselves.
No doubt, in order to arrest this obvious process of retrogression, prominent African Americans like Cosby must speak up. But speaking up must be done in such a form that the context would be retained and with a clear understanding that attitudes developed over a long period of time could not be erased without a major movement aimed at confronting it. The unfinished mission of the Civil Rights movement, lost in a premature hurrah, ought to be revived and fulfilled.
What blacks across the globe face is what Albert Einstein implied when he said that, “weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character.” The matter of attitude is a central one that needs to be addressed.
According to Charles Swindoll, “Attitude … is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what other people say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is that we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you… We are in charge of our attitudes.”
That’s what Cosby should have said. Or better still, the basis on which Cosby should have launched The Final Stretch movement that would bring the Civil Rights movement to its logical end. If Cosby had said something like that, he would have been talking to not just African- Americans but also black people who live in continental Africa.