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Over the years, comedic icon Bill Cosby has taken on some humorous characters —Fat Albert and Dr. Cliff Huxtable come to mind—and shaped American culture for the better. But in his latest role, Cosby the prophet is excoriating young black culture, urging African Americans to take responsibility for their lives and to stop blaming the "white man."

"For me, there is a time," Cosby told a Rainbow/PUSH gathering in Chicago recently, "when we have to turn the mirror around."

In that meeting and in an earlier appearance before black leaders, Cosby, 66, spoke bluntly. Answering accusations that he was airing his people's dirty laundry in public, Cosby snapped, "Let me tell you something. Your dirty laundry gets out of school at 2:30 every day. It's cursing and calling each other 'nigger' as they're walking up and down the street. They think 'they hip.' Can't read, can't write, 50 percent of them."

Cosby's tough-love message reminds me of Shelby Steele's groundbreaking book, The Content of Our Character. Steele noted:

The barriers to black progress in America today are clearly as much psychological as they are social or economic. We have suffered as much as any group in human history, and if this suffering has ennobled us, it has also wounded us and pushed us into defensive strategies that are often self-defeating. But we haven't fully admitted this to ourselves. The psychological realm is murky, frightening, and just plain embarrassing. And a risk is involved in exploring it: the risk of discovering the ways in which we contribute to, if not create, the reality in which we live. Denial, avoidance, and repression intervene to save us from this risk. But, of course, they only energize what is repressed with more and more negative ...
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July 2004

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