For eight television seasons (NBC, 1984-92), the Emmy Award-winning The Cosby Show,
written by and starring comedian Bill Cosby, beamed an unflinching, yet
humorous black family portrait into living rooms across America. Cosby,
as Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, presided over this historic foray into
black upper-middle class life. The sitcom was a window into a certain,
often enviable kind of black familial and romantic love, a showcase for
amazing talent and a place where the situations or “problems” of a
black family were mostly just the same as any other. The No. 1 hit celebrates its 25th anniversary.
In this second installation of Cosby’s exclusive interview with The Root,
the show’s creator shares the story of his political evolution,
including strong words on black fatherhood, women in the Huxtable
house, Joe Wilson, Jesse Jackson and rap music.
The Root: I read a recent speech
on education you gave on Detroit--that’s policy, not just politics. Did
you feel like you needed to do more?
Bill Cosby: You have to do more! …. The Detroit speech was my reaction to 460 young men, black and Hispanic, between the ages of 16 to 25, being murdered by their own. This is insane.
And then when you look into the areas where the education is 70 percent
dropout. You start with a class of 100 kids in ninth grade, and by the
time they reach the twelfth, 30 people graduate.
They need love. They need Huxtabling. I have said
out loud: The revolution is in the house. It’s in the apartment. The
revolution is in your apartment building; it’s on your street, it’s in
TR: You’ve suggested Barack Obama is a unique phenomenon--is he so exceptional?
You can’t get elected because of somebody you see on TV ….
Now, there are people crying because they
don’t want [Obama] to tell their children something where he may
influence them. What is that about? These people are calling him all
kinds of names. They’re begging politicians to ‘stop him.’
They’re calling him a Marxist socialist, and then in the middle of a
speech where a man is trying to straighten out the lies that are being
told on health care reform, and a man stands up and says ‘You lie!’
TR: When your TV son, Theo, asked
to be “a regular person,” Cliff yelled at him. You’ve brought that
disciplinary instinct across the country, to your ‘call-outs,’ and to
your infamous "Pound Cake Speech” to the NAACP. Is this, as Jesse Jackson says, “talking down to black people”?
Gloria Steinem said, “The truth shall set you free, but first it’ll piss you off.”And when you [hear about what] I said in 2004, they leave out a statement on purpose. That statement is: Our children are trying to tell us something.
And we’re not listening. I brought up the dropout rate from our
schools. I brought up our children leaving school and walking down the
street and loudly cursing, using profanity.
Next thing I know, some bright person writing for
TIME magazine says ‘Bill Cosby is putting our dirty laundry in the
street.’ That makes no sense. I’m not putting your dirty laundry in the
street …. If you go around the room, you will hear people [agreeing
with what I said] --but [saying] ‘Why did he have to say it in public?’
Well, excuse me. If I can’t say it an affair held by Howard
University--when I last looked it was a black college--and in partnership
with the NAACP--when I last looked the last two letters meant ‘colored
people’--where can I say it?
TR: There is no Cosby Show today, no strong black family on TV. Does today’s entertainment culture contribute to this state of affairs?
I don’t know. I do know that because of A Different World and The Cosby Show back to back that enrollment in black colleges went up 50 percent all
around. Now, Cliff and Clair are married. But somewhere along the line
in some neighborhoods, the male drops and the female is head of the
house. And at some universities the ratio of female to male at some are
as high as 70 to 30 ….
Years ago, Jesse Jackson, [Louis] Farrakhan and
[Rev. Al] Sharpton and maybe someone from the NAACP called a meeting
with the rappers and these people. And I’m saying, ‘Hello, black fellows--you’re talking about your black women.’
I’m not talking about the ones where there are lyrics and they’re
pretty good. But in terms of what are you saying except: ‘You’re wet;
I’m wet, let’s do it.’ We got 28 percent in terms of venereal disease
that our children are giving each other. We’re knocking each other out
of the box. Sexually.
TR: Is it harder for young black women, or for young black men to be successful?
Theo was the one who caused this ‘regular people’
problem. But on the first show, Sondra is at Princeton. The next child
is Denise. She’s got problems, too. [Cliff] has to go around that whole
house and deal with kids. So it wasn’t just the males--that house was
loaded with women ….
But there’s a need to look at the numbers where
the children happen to be failing. There’s a need for us to address and
attack why some children cannot fathom jobs or a career, and we need to
… discuss it with the children. These are our children … I’ve
seen the difference with the parents who give love and recognize where
the dangers happen to be and do their darndest to protect them … So
these things have to be taught. Our black children, by the age of 12,
should get from the home as much black history as possible, so they
feel like they know their blackness and know the black people who have
done well and not only succeeded but came from damn near worse
conditions than where they’ve come from.
TR: Fatherhood is very important to both you and to the president. Have you ever spoken with him about this?
I could throw a dart in a room and hit somebody
and ask: ‘Do you know your father?’ And it’s: ‘He’s not in our life.’
People need to do something about it, instead of saying it and walking
away as though it’s a part of life. This is a part of life we need to
make corrections on. Our children are trying to tell us something.
If we have a black president and black first lady
and black first children and black first grandmother and all that, we
have got to pull up and say: ‘This is it everybody; this is the
example; we had excuses before, but here it is.’
If you don’t teach your children about it, we’re
never getting better. It’s not on Obama. It’s really still on us. And
there are many who don’t like the idea that somebody brings up all
these ills. It proves that our people are not perfect. Dislike me for
whatever harshness. But I want people to take note. Somebody’s gotta
say, ‘Don’t go there.’ When you say it nicely--they keep going there.
Read Part I of Cosby’s exclusive interview with The Root.