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Revolution Starts at Home, Says Bill Cosby

The legendary artist talks to The Root about his new book and how black folks need to help themselves.

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Lest anyone forget, Bill Cosby is still a comic.

"I'm going down there to make people laugh," he told The Root, a few days prior to a mid-January performance for a North Carolina audience that is paying to hear Cosby's comedy.

From his Massachusetts home, he was winding down an almost hourlong conversation in which he mentioned his newest book of humor, I Didn't Ask to Be Born (but I'm Glad I Was), but mainly continued his unabashed critique of what ails some parts of black America, which has put Cosby in the headlines and, with certain critics, in hot water.  

"These are liniment salesmen," he said, dismissing the critics, including some fairly famous black ones. "They're selling things for their own good. It doesn't make any difference [to the salesmen] if people are getting well or not."

His public pointedness about the travails of black people, who account for some of the worst statistical markers of life in America, is no different from what many a black preacher says on any given Sunday. It's what an average black person on the block routinely says to a neighbor, Cosby said.

For his own part, he has been disavowing black-on-black crime, lambasting disproportionately low black academic performance and workplace strides, and the failure of some blacks to call black dysfunction what it is and then set out to correct it.

"I don't know how many decades ago it was, but I remember Jesse Jackson saying 'babies having babies' ... We really did not address the psychology of this. We were busy trying not to offend the teenager, to scar the teenager for life," Cosby said.

Until an uptick in 2006, the black teen birth rate (pdf) had declined by 45 percent during the prior decade. But babies born to black teens, along with Latino teens, still disproportionately outpace the figure for whites. The manifold consequences of these facts are staring black America in its face right now, Cosby said.

His 75th birthday is in July. Aging, life experience and his involvement in various public endeavors -- whether as a barrier-breaking, Emmy-winning TV producer or as a philanthropist -- have heightened his determination to speak up. Though several prominent commentators have accused Cosby of blaming a black underclass for its troubles, the comedian said, his dead-on tackling of those issues is part of a longer-standing black tradition.

"As a child, if you do something that doesn't match up with what you were being disciplined to do, you hear somebody say, 'You know, I worry about you sometimes.' It was their way of asking, 'Is this child really going to be able to make it in life, or is he as crazy as he's acting right now?' " said Cosby, born to native Virginians and reared in a public housing project in Philadelphia.