You Kids Get Off My Lawn

by digby

I just suffered through one of the most excruciating experiences of my life. I watched Bill Cosby ramble on like he was drunk, dominating the conversation, for nearly an hour on Meet The Press, most of the time speaking pure gibberish.

(Imagine him doing it in his patented Fat Albert voice as well...)


MR. COSBY: “Somewhere in my life a person called my father has not shown up, and I feel very sad about this because I don’t know if I’m ugly, I don’t know what the reason is.” And so there’s a great deal that a person has to put up with.


MR. COSBY: times of need, etc., etc. So when you look at education, it is my belief that it is there with a very ugly head. However, it is also my belief that this is not the first time my race has seen systemic or institutional racism. There were times, even worse times, when lynchings were acceptable. Sure, the newspapers wrote about it, but it happened. Juries were set and freed the, people who did the, the lynching. Therefore, we knew how to fight, we knew how to protect our children, protect our women. Today, in lower, lower economic areas, some people—not all—some people are not contributing to that protection. Therefore, when you see these numbers, you see, you see numbers and the character correction has not happened. Many times it’s the TV set, a BET or, or videos played, kids look at it and they admire it. It’s the proliferation of drugs into the neighborhood.


MR. COSBY: Drugs work. Drugs work. It—there’s a domino effect that the dealer—and we’ve heard this over and over—feels, “Well, what else, what else can I do? I might as well do that.” But I don’t think people draw enough to the reality that “I sell you, you use it.”


MR. COSBY: If a young girl says, “I want to have a baby because I want something that, that loves me,” that young lady is saying something. And we’ve got to talk to her about herself and her idea of love. She hasn’t graduated from high school, she’s willing to, to have a child. All of these character corrections are not being done while record companies are putting out records inviting people to continue that kind of behavior, to, to not talk about get an education. It’s just as easy to put that to a rhythm.


MR. COSBY: But you see, when youth does that, you have to understand that youth—these are, these are kids, they, they don’t have the responsibilities that, that we have. They don’t have to have a job. They don’t have to support a family. They don’t have to buy insurance. They—so they’re, they’re free-forming and they’re freewheeling. It’s the people who make these records. It’s the, it’s the guy in the boardroom. I have another friend of mine who said to me, “I, I write rap lyrics.” He said, “And I went to a man”—I mean, “I went to work, and the guy said, the executive said to me, ‘I want lyrics about rape. Rape is good.’” He said, “And I looked at the guy, and I said, ‘You’re talking about my mother.’ And the guy said, ‘Well, if you don’t want to write it, then I’ll get somebody else who will.’” But, see, all these things, this dopamine-raising level. Alvin has a very interesting viewpoint on whether or not kids are listening to the lyrics. Because if you, if you challenge them, you say, “Why are you listening to that?” They say, “I’m not listening to the words. I just like the beat.”


MR. COSBY: Yes, because the people know exactly what I’m saying. See, a great deal of, of the negative is about people not wanting so much attention in that area, but it has to come out. If it is what it is and that is a horrible, horrible problem, then we must direct ourselves to it. I keep thinking about a parent who’s called in to, to the principle’s office because the child is misbehaving, and so many teachers have, have said, “And the parent comes in yelling at us that their child would never do that and why are they called, and all of a sudden it’s, it’s no longer about ‘We’re, we’re here to talk about making corrective behavioral changes in your child,’ but about the parent who is using all kinds of language and threatening people.” It’s something that goes into the person.

Now, just let me, let me say this. When I say it the way I say it, I felt and I still feel that it has been said so softly, so intelligently, so carefully that people are used to it and they’re not responding. There’s inertia and there’s entropy. Now, when I was in the service, the first great shock I had was when this man with a cigarette hanging, smoke going up into one eye, with his Navy hat on in charge of us, and I had done something—I don’t even remember what it was. It was sort of innocent, but I was only two days in the Navy. And this man up this face to mine—it was a white man—they never curse. He never called me the N-word, but they had words they would call you like a one-eyed maggot. You know, and it hurt. You said, “What?” But what he said was, “I’m not your mother.” And, man, I wanted to knock him out, but I knew that I didn’t want to go to the brig. And, and what’s happening here is when I used that, that, that language and I use it that way, I’m trying to wake people up, that inertia, I’m trying to move them from that entropy because we’re, we’re in the stage now we can’t take much more with all—we need our men to be fathers. The book you wrote, the book you have about your father, kids grow up with, not—I mean, they know somebody was the other half, but they don’t know who. And by the time, if they ever met the person, they, they would have to go way, way back and not realize why—and within themselves, they, too want to Domestic violence—what are the numbers on the domestic violence?


MR. COSBY: Yeah. Doesn’t that make sense? I mean, vote. If you’re—in Detroit, the population, OK, is at 75 percent. It’s even higher now. So here’s what a woman says. I called, I said, “What, what’s the number of your kids in the, in, in, in the jail?” “Well,” she says, “let’s say 190.” I said, “Thank you.” Then I went to a policeman, I said “I want you to get—find out how many of them are medicated.” Because I didn’t want to get it messed up. Then he came back, he said of the 100 and whatever, whatever, 75 percent of them are medicated. So I said, “OK, the next question is, you medicate a kid for 18 months or whatever. When that kid gets out, what happens to the medication?” So a call comes, and it’s a woman on the phone. I say, “Yes, ma’am.” She says, “Well,” it’s a black woman. She said, “The white ones get the medication, but the black ones don’t.” I said, “But the population of Detroit is 75 percent. Why are you letting this happen?” I got no, I got no clarity. There’s something about inertia.


MR. COSBY: May I say something, though? Is it all right?

MR. RUSSERT: Please.

MR. COSBY: I have a friend. Her name is Jessica Pope, and she spoke at a—or two or three of the callouts. She’s a graduate of Swathmore. She’s African-American. She’s from Memphis, Tennessee. And she spoke to the people and she said, “I want you to think of your children like you think of, of a genie in the lamp.” In that we all know the story of the genie in the lamp. There’s a genie, and she also equates genie with genius, genie/genius. So in order to have the genie come out of the lamp and grant you your three wishes, you rub the lamp. You rub it, the genie comes out and grants you three wishes. She then says, “Think of your child that way. Rub your child. Stroke your child like this magical lamp. The genie/genius will come out.” And then I add to it, and the other two wishes you can put in your hip pocket and save for a rainy day.

MR. RUSSERT: Bill Cosby, Alvin Poussaint, thank you both very much.

I didn't make any of this up, I swear.

Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, was on the show as well, and was allowed to speak a little bit from time to time on the subject. Mostly though, the transcript says:


This gibberish epidemic is getting way out of hand.

Update: To be clear, I'm not saying that Dr. Poussaint didn't have anything to say, but merely that Cosby babbled and filibustered so much he was barely able to get a word in edgewise. The discussion would have been much more informative if Poussaint had been the one doing most of the talking, I'm sure. You can click the link to the transcript if you're interested.

Dr Cosby, who holds a Phd in education, was on Meet The Press for a hour incoherently lecturing the black community about the language they use. I do find that a bit bizarre. But it's not just him. It's becoming a common problem among many public figures, as I wrote here.
In Cosby's case, the problem certainly isn't because he's speaking in some urban African American street vernacular that a middle aged white broad like me can't possibly understand. Indeed, he'd be appalled that anyone would suggest he used anything but the King's own English --- that's his whole point. Cosby was speaking in rambling, white bread gibberish, the same kind that George W. Bush uses all the time.

I didn't comment on the substance of Cosby's thesis, although I find it depressingly familiar and facile. The problem with his performance today is that it takes an interpreter to figure out what it is.

Update II: From the "It's Always Something" files:

It did not come easy for us in this country, under the weight of the vast influx of immigrants and the residual effects of the frontier tradition, to consolidate a secure internal order based on custom and respect for constituted authority; but finally we managed. This internal order is now in jeopardy; and it is in jeopardy because of the doings of such high-minded, self-righteous “children of light” as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his associates in the leadership of the “civil rights” movement. If you are looking for those ultimately responsible for the murder, arson, and looting in Los Angeles, look to them: they are the guilty ones, these apostles of “non-violence.”

For years now, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his associates have been deliberately undermining the foundations of internal order in this country. With their rabble-rousing demagoguery, they have been cracking the “cake of custom” that holds us together. With their doctrine of “civil disobedience,” they have been teaching hundreds of thousands of Negroes — particularly the adolescents and the children — that it is perfectly alright to break the law and defy constituted authority if you are a Negro-with-a-grievance; in protest against injustice. And they have done more than talk. They have on occasion after occasion, in almost every part of the country, called out their mobs on the streets, promoted “school strikes,” sit-ins, lie-ins, in explicit violation of the law and in explicit defiance of the public authority. They have taught anarchy and chaos by word and deed — and, no doubt, with the best of intentions — and they have found apt pupils everywhere, with intentions not of the best. Sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind. But it is not they alone who reap it, but we as well; the entire nation.

It is worth noting that the worst victims of these high-minded rabble-rousers are not so much the hated whites, but the great mass of the Negro people themselves. The great mass of the Negro people cannot be blamed for the lawlessness and violence in Harlem, Chicago, Los Angeles, or elsewhere. All they want to do is what decent people everywhere want to do: make a living, raise a family, bring up their children as good citizens, with better advantages than they themselves ever had. The “civil rights” movement and the consequent lawlessness has well nigh shattered these hopes; not only because of the physical violence and insecurity, but above all because of the corruption and demoralization of the children, who have been lured away from the steady path of decency and self-government to the more exhilarating road of ‘demonstration’ — and rioting. An old friend of mine from Harlem put it to me after the riots last year: “For more than fifteen years we’ve worked our heads off to make something out of these boys. Now look at them–they’re turning into punks and hoodlums roaming the streets.

Will Herberg, “‘Civil Rights’ and Violence: Who Are the Guilty Ones?”, The National Review Sept. 7th, 1965, pp. 769-770.