Bill Cosby Lives in a Glass House and Shouldn't Throw Stones
by B.B. Robinson, Ph.D.
Throughout my life, I have always been an eager viewer of the television offerings of Bill Cosby.
As a child, I remember rising early on Saturday mornings to watch "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" cartoon. As a young adult, I have fond memories of our Thursday evening family ritual of gathering around the television to watch the "The Cosby Show" and "A Different World."
It is unquestionable that Bill Cosby is a great comedian and a creative genius when it comes to developing television comedies. Of late, he has become a social critic of what he considers a breakdown of black community values.
But Dr. Cosby and the rest of us might benefit from a little introspection before young black folk and their parents are lambasted for the abhorrent conditions in certain black neighborhoods. Why introspection? Because we must ask ourselves what role we may have played in generating the outcomes that we criticize.
I fully comprehend the need for individual responsibility. Despite great, inspirational examples of people lifting themselves up from the lowest levels by their own bootstraps, most people don't exhibit such strength and fortitude in reality. "Nurture," therefore, plays a very powerful everyday role in shaping our behavior and our outcomes.
So, before criticizing our black youth, Dr. Cosby should ask himself, "Did I provide the perfect - or even a very good - nurturing environment for young black minds?" Black youth can see that Dr. Cosby pulled himself up. That's very positive. But, while this is inspirational, there are other aspects of his offerings that may cause some blacks to love themselves and each other a little less.
For example, the lovable appeal of Dr. Cosby's "Fat Albert" character made it permissible for black youth to become obese. While I don't think he did it on purpose, I do believe Dr. Cosby's actions created a more acceptable environment for childhood obesity. In 2003, black kids between the ages of ten and 17 bested their white and Hispanic counterparts in obesity statistics. While this has only become a national concern in recent years, it would be interesting to see if there were any spikes after the show's premiere in 1972.
Going further, how many black youth grew to love watching television too much because of Dr. Cosby? How many succumbed to the excessive consumption of television programming; that is, how many succumbed to television "addiction"? Government administered time-use surveys and other sources reveal that black Americans watch more television than any other group in America.
Dr. Cosby has only had a few - albeit very successful and high-quality - shows amongst television's "vast wasteland." He should consider whether or not his shows were already a "gateway drug" that fostered black addiction to the boob tube. And, since a great many shows contain negative portrayals of black America, it begs the question as to how many people's addictions - mixed with this content - caused them to internalize this negative imagery to their own peril and the peril of the black community?
Where are the people demanding that televisions be turned off across black America - where are the efforts to break television addiction?
Could the very behavior Dr. Cosby rails against come from negative nurturing via television - an addiction that may have been in part due to his work? Should Dr. Cosby ask misbehaving black youth where they learned their values, a likely answer might be television.
Citing individual responsibility, Dr. Cosby would likely respond that his programs are not responsible for individual's behavior. But, numerous studies prove television has the power to shape behavior. The greater the television addiction, the greater the probability that television will shape behavior. If blacks were not addicted to television, or if television provided fewer adverse stereotypical images, then maybe Dr. Cosby would not have a reason to come down so hard on black youth.
Another view is that television is simply a waste of time. The time black youth spend watching television would likely be better spent engaged in more productive ventures such as reading or studying, serving the community, and learning entrepreneurial and cultural skills.
We must remember that we have no perfect humans walking among us. Before we criticize, we should ask, "What role did I play in creating the condition or situation that I choose to criticize?"
I live in a glass house. Dr. Cosby lives in a glass house. We all live in glass houses. Let's take care in deciding when and how we throw stones.
# # #
B.B. Robinson, Ph.D. is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints
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