Tired men don't care what white people
Leonard Pitts Jr.; July 11,
Our question for today: Do white people
It's Bill Cosby who inspires me to ask. In May, you'll recall,
he made headlines for criticizing the "lower economic people" in African America
for what he saw as their ungrammatical locution and dysfunctional behavior. On
July 1, he was at it again, saying in an appearance at the annual Rainbow/PUSH
Coalition Conference in Chicago that black youth are the "dirty laundry" many
people would prefer he not criticize.
“Let me tell you something,” he
said. “Your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day, it's cursing and
calling each other the N-word as they're walking up and down the street. They
think they're hip. They can't read. They can't write. They're laughing and
giggling, and they're going nowhere."
Predictably, that set off
another heated debate, even though Cosby is not saying anything black people
have not said themselves, albeit privately. What makes Cosby's comments
extraordinary is not what he is saying, but where. Meaning, forums to which
white people are privy. Because the danger of black self-criticism is always
that bigots will use it to bolster their bigotry.
Cosby addressed that
concern in May during an interview with Eugene Kane, columnist for the Milwaukee
Journal Sentinel. The comedian, who turns 67 Monday, said he's simply at an age
where he no longer cares what white people think of black people's dirty
"I'm a tired man," he said.
Make no mistake: It's
much easier for a black multimillionaire to dismiss white people's opinions than
it is for a black man or woman living paycheck to paycheck. But, even granting
that not-insignificant caveat, I must confess that I find Cosby's attitude
refreshing, mainly because it points toward a freedom blacks have never enjoyed
before. Meaning the freedom to stop pretending perfection.
calculus of the freedom struggle once required that, demanded that, we
constantly prove our worth. Conversely, some people - black and white - began to
romanticize black folk, idealize us, as if the very fact of long suffering made
us better, nobler. Such thinking was considered a sign of enlightenment.
Actually, it was just a quieter bigotry that suggested we had to be better in
order to be equal. It never allowed us to be simply human with all the frailties
Blacks have never gotten beyond that mindset. Sometimes,
we act as if conceding the slightest blemish would validate the whole canon of
white racism. Never mind that nobody is perfect and every culture contains
dysfunction. We know that a white boy on crystal meth will be called troubled,
while a black one on crack will be called proof that 37 million people are
Maybe, however, it's time we reconsidered the lengths we
go to change the minds of those who subscribe to that kind of "thinking." Maybe
we ought to question whether we can ever win the approval of such people and
frankly, whether we'd want it if we could. Do white people - bigoted ones, at
least - matter?
Especially if the price of their approval is to stand
silent while the future burns?
have only to visit the schoolhouse or jailhouse to see the flames. And one need
not be blind to racism’s role in the equation to know that we bear some
accountability, too, that elements of black pop culture are toxic, that some of
us have undervalued fatherhood, disinvested in education, rationalized
should make us all sick to our souls to watch our children die - spiritually,
intellectually, physically - knowing that black people can do and, indeed, "have
done" so much better than this.
So when Cosby calls himself a
tired man, I read it less as a statement of fatigue than one of frustration. And
who can blame him?
Hell, I'm a tired man, too.
2004, The Miami Herald
Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column
appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: