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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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.

“The key word was ‘sometimes,’ ” added Cosby, as he rolled out those classic admonitions from his own childhood. The fuller sentiment suggested that, with loving support and correction, even a misbehaving child might have a solid adulthood.

He continued: “But I’m telling you that I’m worried and very, very concerned today when a mother, speaking about the son being in jail, says, ‘I’m happy. He’s in a safe place.’ You cannot take that casually.”

That mother’s assertion is emblematic of the powerlessness, surrender and defeat explored in Come On, People, a 2007 tome co-authored by Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Poussaint and Cosby, who earned a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts in 1976. Come On, People, released after Cosby’s various May 2004 observations about poor blacks drew a backlash, takes on the lack of black self-empowerment and related topics.

Some commentators argued that his strident observations lacked empathy. Some faulted him for airing blacks’ “dirty laundry.”

“The dirty laundry is reported with the murders,” Cosby said. “I want the murders stopped. I want the children stopped from dropping out on their education … If you cannot read or write, you’re going to wind up having difficulty getting a job. You’ll find yourself being of low value to yourself.”