Opinion: Don’t erase Cosby’s poverty-fighting message


Looking back, it’s ironic to remember how the charges against Bill Cosby were not taken seriously until after they became a joke.

The joke was told on a stage in Philadelphia four years ago by rising Chicago-based actor-comedian Hannibal Buress.

Buress, 35, is probably too young to remember much of Cosby’s heyday as “America’s dad” on stage, screen and comedy albums and other lovely honorifics from the mid-1960s through the ’90s. His generation is more familiar with the more grimly serious and conservative social critic who emerged in Cosby’s historic “pound cake” speech during an NAACP awards ceremony in Washington in 2004.

In the speech which went viral on the internet, Cosby was highly critical of such social deficits in black America as the prevalence of single-parent families, conspicuous consumption at the expense of necessities and a general lack of personal responsibility.

“People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake,” he famously grumbled at one point. “And then we all run out and are outraged, ‘The cops shouldn’t have shot him.’ What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand?”

Cosby was criticized by some who saw his speech as being too harsh regarding the black poor, many of whom are trying hard to help themselves and their neighborhoods. But it also drew praise from many in the black community and especially from white conservatives, some of whom wanted him to run for president.

But Buress, who also is African-American, changed all that after a cellphone camera caught him during a nightclub set in 2014 ripping into mounting accusations of sexual misconduct against Cosby that had previously been aired but largely ignored publicly.

“Pull your pants up black people, I was on TV in the ’80s,” Buress said, mocking Cosby’s practice of scolding of black youth for passing up valuable opportunities because they were not behaving properly.

“Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby,” said Buress, stirring a mix of laughter with gasps of surprise. “So turn the crazy down a couple notches.”

The video marked a tipping point in the national Cosby conversation. Within days, national media were giving new respect to dozens of women who were coming forward with more stories of Cosby assaulting them sexually.

But statutes of limitation made most of the charges too old to be prosecuted. Then Andrea Constand, an employee at Cosby’s alma mater, Temple University, charged that Cosby had drugged and raped her in 2004. That trial ended in a hung jury last year.

But a few months later came another show-business-related event that has turned the tide for Cosby and numerous other famous and powerful men facing similar accusations: the outing of Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual predator, a scandal that has borne fruit in the #MeToo movement.

It is hard to say how much the changed atmosphere had to do with Cosby’s conviction on three counts of aggravated indecent assault against Constand. But there can be little doubt that complaints of sexual misconduct are no longer dismissed as casually as they used to be.

Cosby probably will appeal his conviction as he awaits sentencing. But the very fact that his conviction occurred marks a breakthrough, not only for the victims but also for the rest of us who, like me, are shocked and disappointed to see the parade of prominent men who have lost their jobs over charges that used to be taken too lightly.

Now reruns of “The Cosby Show” are disappearing from cable channels, where for decades they were a money machine. Harder to erase, I hope, will be two national conversations Cosby has helped to ignite, wittingly or unwittingly, about helping the poor to fight poverty and helping the victims of sexual predators to find justice.

Writes for Tribune Content Agency.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: From Russia with love

Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether President Donald Trump and the Russians colluded to rig the 2016 presidential election so far has borne little fruit. The Democrats and their media allies would love to find some Russian collusion and interference. I can help them discover some, but I doubt that they will show much interest. Here it...
Opinion: When Harry marries Meghan, a most uncommon commoner

Marrying up. That’s what we usually say about a commoner who marries into a royal family. But by marrying Meghan Markle, you might say that Prince Henry of Wales — better known to most of us as Prince Harry — is marrying up too. After all, Markle, 36, is more than just a pretty face. Before the Northwestern University theater graduate...
Opinion: One family’s hell at the hands of an abusive justice system

The words that Rosie McIntyre chooses to describe what occurred in the police detective’s office are as searing as the allegation. “I felt like I was a n——r slave,” she said through tears. For a black woman, there’s hardly anything more degrading, she went on, explaining through wavering emotions. The feeling was...
Opinion: The fall of the German empire

The first modern German empire was announced by Otto von Bismarck at Versailles in 1871; it died on the Western Front in 1918. The second German empire was forged in a swift march of annexations and blitzkriegs; it lasted seven terrible years, from the Anschluss to the bunker, and died with Hitler and his cult. The third German empire is a different...
Opinion: Trump breaks bread, glasses and party at lunch

POTUS coming to Tuesday lunch. Translated, the president of the United States is joining 50 Republican senators in the Capitol to crash their private Tuesday lunch. Nobody is glad to hear this on the Senate side. We love the constitutional separation of powers. The Senate is the last citadel of democracy, they say. We in the press are free as birds...
More Stories