Fact Check

Bill Cosby on Blaming White People

Did comedian Bill Cosby's remarks form the basis of a 'We Can't Blame White People' essay?

Published Oct. 15, 2005


Claim:   Comedian Bill Cosby's remarks form the basis of a 'We Can't Blame White People' essay.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, October 2005]

They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English. I can't even talk the way these people talk: Why you ain't, Where you is, What he drive, Where he stay, Where he work, Who you be... 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. In fact you will never get any kind of job making a decent living.

People marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education, and now we've got these knuckleheads walking around. The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids. $500 sneakers for what? And they won't spend $200 for Hooked on Phonics.

I am talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was 2? Where were you when he was 12? Where were you when he was 18 and how come you didn't know that he had a pistol? And where is the father? Or who is his father?

People putting their clothes on backward: Isn't that a sign of something gone wrong? People with their hats on backward, pants down around the crack, isn't that a sign of something? Or are you waiting for Jesus to pull his pants up? Isn't it a sign of something when she has her dress all the way up and got all type of needles [piercing] going through her body?

What part of Africa did this come from? We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans; they don't know a thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail.

Brown or black versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person's problem. We have got to take the neighborhood back. People used to be ashamed. Today a woman has eight children with eight different 'husbands' — or men or whatever you call them now. We have millionaire football players who cannot read. We have million-dollar basketball players who can't write two paragraphs. We as black folks have to do a better job. Someone working at Wal-Mart with seven kids, you are hurting us. We have to start holding each other to a higher standard.

We cannot blame the white people any longer.


Origins:   On 17 May 2004, at an NAACP event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that struck down school segregation, entertainer Bill Cosby gave a speech on the theme of blacks in America taking responsibility for their own lives. In his exposition to that assembly, the man known to television viewing audiences as lovable, kindly, yet permanently bemused patriarch Dr. Huxtable spoke harshly about his

Bill Cosby

perception of the ills affecting black American society. He cited elevated school dropout rates for inner-city black students and criticized low-income blacks for not using the opportunities the civil rights movement has won for them. Blacks, by their unplanned pregnancies, poor parenting, lack of education, non-standard English, counter-culture dress, and involvement in crime, fail the black community as well as themselves, he said.

That May 2004 speech has been both praised and condemned, and excerpts from it have been cobbled together (often in forms that rearrange and present them out of context) and circulated on the Internet under titles such as "We Can't Blame White People" and "Bill Has Done It Again."

Bill Cosby has not repudiated his controversial pronouncements or attempted to distance himself from them. Instead, he has chosen to expand upon his theme on subsequent occasions and to make himself a spokesperson for black self-empowerment through education and better parenting. In the service of this cause, he has drawn upon his celebrity to make his voice heard; but, unlike many entertainers who take to the soapbox to decry their bêtes noires, he brings far more to the podium than merely a recognizable face and a fan base. This man who is best known to the world as a comedian holds a doctorate in education. He is also highly regarded in the African-American community, where he and his wife, Camille, are prized for their philanthropy. (The Cosbys were present at the NAACP event that sparked the e-mail quoted above in order to be honored for their open-handed generosity in donating money to black colleges.)

Dr. Cosby defended his comments almost as soon as he made them. The day after, he said in an interview: "It makes no sense to claim that these are things that belong quietly in the black community. We have to figure out how do you get parenting back into the home. This is a problem of epic proportion." Then, in a statement released shortly after the NAACP gala, he made clear his purpose: "I think that it is time for concerned African-Americans to march, galvanize and raise

the awareness about this epidemic, to transform our helplessness, frustration and righteous indignation into a sense of shared responsibility and action." In another interview, he said: "I feel that I can no longer remain silent. If I have to make a choice between keeping quiet so that conservative media does not speak negatively or ringing the bell to galvanize those who want change in the lower economic community, then I choose to be a bell ringer."

In July 2004, he again took to the public soapbox to expound upon his thesis. In a speech given at Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition/PUSH Coalition conference in Chicago, he said: "You've got to stop beating up your women because you can't find a job, because you didn't want to get an education and now you're (earning) minimum wage. You should have thought more of yourself when you were in high school, when you had an opportunity."

In December 2004, he addressed a panel at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, telling them: "Stop waiting for a leader. Get Up! Tell your friends. And if they can't get up, we must see about them because they are true victims ... It's time to study four hours a day with your children. Teach them how much they'll be worth when they have A's instead of F's."

Barbara "sag your pants, sag your chances, says Cos" Mikkelson

Variations:   An August 2009 variant prefaced Dr. Cosby's remarks with the following claim regarding their origins:

Bill Cosby's response on the Bailout in America

This is actually word for word what he said to a gathering of students who asked about the bailout in America Great response. This man deserves a Nobel Prize.

As noted above, this item dates from a talk Dr. Cosby gave in 2004, so his words had nothing to do with any economic bailouts provided to businesses in 2009.

Last updated:   19 May 2014


    Hajela, Deepti.   "Some Angry, Some Agree with Cosby Criticisms of Black Community."

    Associated Press.   29 May 2004.

    Harris, Paul.   "The Paradox That Divides Black America."

    The Observer.   9 October 2005.

    Mitchell, Mary.   "Cosby Gave It to Us Straight — and It's a Valuable Lesson."

    Chicago Sun-Times.   3 June 2004   (p. 14).

    O'Connor, Austin.   "A Beloved Comic, Now Crusader."

    Lowell Sun.   18 November 2004.

    Suggs, Ernie.   "Cosby, Unbowed, Defends Remarks."

    Cox News Service.   2 July 2004.

    Associated Press.   "Cosby Continues to Challenge African-Americans."

    15 December 2004.

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