NPR logo This Just In ... A Call from Cosby

This Just In ... A Call from Cosby

So, after we get off the air, who is burning up my phone but ... Bill Cosby. First, he called producer Douglas Hopper, who then passed the phone to me.

It seems he wasn't happy with our interview with Dr. Alvin Poussaint. I've interviewed Cosby before, so I wasn't exactly surprised. He has a habit of (how shall we say it?) ... expressing his views strongly about interviews after the fact ... even, apparently, interviews that don't include him.

But we chatted. It turns out he had a great story idea for us, which I'll keep in my back pocket because we do want to pursue it. Actually, he had two great ideas.

I asked him if he wanted to record something for our Friday BackTalk segment. He said he said no. But, I took notes from our conversation. A bit of which I do want to share ...

While on the telephone, Cosby seemed to be referring to one of my questions to Dr. Poussaint, where I asked him if Cosby's initial critique of dysfunction in black America was, however well-intended, perhaps a bit too caustic, too sharp ... even demeaning.

Here's what he said:

You gotta raise your voice — you gotta speak. If you don't ... there's too much inertia, too much entropy. How can anybody sit around and watch this stuff [happening] and not cry out? ... Talk to some of these kids ... They don't know who their father is ... They're being watched [or taken care of] by an aunt ... You have to look into their eyes and see what they've already absorbed about who they're supposed to be ... It's not a time for anything [else], except to find the depths of what we need to do [to help solve the problem]... and then do it.

So, there's the passion ...



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Michel Martin & "Tell Me More",I just want to say that I'm feeling all my Brothers, Bill Cosby, Dr' Alvin Possaint & Michael Eric Dyson; what I'm wondering, where are the Black women voices in this debate ? I just got thru reading a kick a** & compassionate book by Bell Hooks titled, "Rock My Soul,"(2003) in which she takes on self esteem in a more wholistic fashion than I've ever heard or read before. She shows,how it, or the lack, of self esteem is effecting the Black community.I have to say by her being a Black Feminist,& a cultural critic , she see's with a driffrent lense, & I found that refreshing !

What really got my attention about her book is, that she sees self esteem problems in the upper middle class, as well as lower class poor Black folks, thus being very equitable in her analysis.

I hope we will include voices such as Bell Hooks & other women thinkers to help us heal some of the social ills that beset the Black community, sincelely Robert H.

Sent by Robert H. | 11:44 PM | 10-16-2007

Having listened to your conversation with Dr. Alvin Possaint and Michael Eric Dyson I just wanna say. Come on people!

Just the other day Michelle you yourself in the Mocha Mom's conversation talked about the preteen kids calling you the B word because you dared ask if they were ok.

It is hard to deny that there is a growing gulf opening up between the rich and poor in this country. It seems to me that Michael Eric Dyson's stance has a whiff of paternalism in its view towards poor folk.

As many people of color know, all you have to do is go to a family gathering or any other places where folks speak candidly and you will hear the same version of the things Cosby is trying to communicate. As intemperate as Cosby's remarks maybe this is a case of shooting the messenger. With Michael Eric Dyson riding it all the way to the tenured bank.

In my humble view, though the civil rights movement brought many enormous changes to the lives of the entire country, it has failed to address the exclusion of many the poor. It is time for a new wave, a wave that seeks redress for people living in degradation while holding each one of us responsible for raising children who are healthy, self-aware, and capable of living up to their dreams and potential.

Sent by Raul | 1:25 PM | 10-17-2007

Please tell Mr. Dyson, to please shut up. I have listened to him on several shows complain about the "white" conspiracy. Next time he comes on your show please ask him 1 question "Where does he live?" For most of my life I have lived in an all black community and after spending 25 years of being referred to as someone who is "acting white" as soon as I graduated college I left.

Our culture's biggest enemy is ourselves. I have seen how we ignore our bad behavior and point out every bad thing that other races do to us. From the poor management at FAMU to the high number of black on black crimes, I am tired of hearing so called "black leaders" pointing the finger at others when we are the ones that are causing the problems. Cosby is only expressing the anger that many blacks see when we try to bring up our people and then turn around and see them rush to be on the next season of Flavor of Love.

For someone who teaches at a school, with a 7 percent black enrollment, I have issues with Mr. Dyson's credibility to talk about issues in the black community. If he would like to gain any credibility with me please ask him to quit the Georgetown job and apply at a HBCU. Maybe then he will realize some of the frustration that many of us feel.

Sent by D. Thomas | 1:33 PM | 10-17-2007

Where's the love, D. Thomas? If you're as bitter as you sound, I doubt you're doing the students at your HBCU a service by teaching them. Let someone who wants to be there do the job. There's plenty of work at the Post Office.

Sent by Stanley | 3:04 PM | 10-17-2007

My husband works at an inner city elementary school that has majority African American students. A percentage of the parents there make sure their child is mentally and physically prepared for the school day (i.e. well rested, had breakfast, groomed and in clean clothes, walked to school by the parent, homework in hand, smiling etc.). A much larger percentage of the parents send their child to school ill prepared to learn (i.e. tired - they stay up as late as they want to on school nights, same school clothes on for days in a row, last ate the evening before, never receives help at home with homework so they don't do it, sullen etc.)

Mr. Cosby's picture of the life of a good number of inner city African American kids, is a reality. I am an admirer of Mr. Dyson also, but would ask him to spend some significant time at the inner city African American schools and less time attacking Mr. Cosby and the reality of the issue. Don't they both ultimately want what is best for the child? Don't parents play a huge role in that child's life? Let's not attack each other ... Let's help each other.

Sent by Cassandra B. | 4:13 PM | 10-17-2007

Having grown up in Inkster, MI wherein Dr. B Carson and Dr. M Dyson grew up at the same the same community, I feel both these brothers and communally agree with both (neither is saying that the other is speaking wrong, though one may be trying to get appreciation thru for "word" effects upon us). Both are saying the same thing that Dr. W. Cosby is saying, his having grown up in a similar community. WE are watching and living in our communities trying to effect a change for the better during a time that WE are not called to be precise, nor restricted to expressing upward attitudes by the common public. After all we grew up in communities that our teachers were predominantly African and our neighbors were predominantly African. We could not go to stores, parks or funeral homes that were not allowed. We lived in families that had members working that had not the opportunity to work in jobs in different neighborhoods and different positions. [African teachers (PhD) could only teach highschool in a predominantly African school district.] We had those people who moved up from sharecropping, leaving school early to move to get a better job and quality of life. These people were brought up within a non-tolerating society...I mean african society. A neighborhood was defined. Single notherhood was going on then, also but not seen a correct way to be for the mother or the children. And the other people in the neighborhood watched out, fed, played with and influenced their neighbors on purpose as a requirement. We could not ask the police, nor banks, nor government officials to take responsibility for correcting our problems. In fact, we knew that our problems were going to be either ignored or compounded by the government. Now we have a few government officials trying to effect a change & we've unload responsibility upon them. Our responsibility on life has been allowed to unanswered by us. Since the 1960's at least, we have allowed ourselved to fall down due to not standing up to serve OUR duty to ourselves and OUR communities. The rules never changed. Cosby, Poussant, Dyson, & Carson are speaking the truth. But will we enact a change in our acting out the correct path of life. We do know what to do!!! We must live the truth! Only!

Sent by Doc Oliver | 12:49 AM | 10-18-2007

For the most part, I like Michael Dyson. However, in his ongoing criticism Dr. Dyson has become an apologist for and an enabler of bad behavior in Black America.

What annoys me most about Dyson is that in his criticism of Cosby, Dyson never offers Black America an alternative set of ideas and solutions for addressing the pressing issues facing Black families today.

Therefore, I ask Tell Me More to invite Dr. Dyson back to present the set of tools and strategies that he thinks Black mothers, fathers, and grandparents - who struggle EVERYDAY to protect and save their children from the ills of street life and low expectations - should be using to fight this battle.

Parents and children need a remedy TODAY! We cannot ask them to wait until we straighten out White America and eradicate systemic racism before their children can get an education, or a job, or have a future!

I wonder if he asked his daughter to wait; to defer her dreams.

Sent by C. Robinson | 1:33 PM | 10-18-2007

I'm tired of 30 something Gen X'rs talking about Cosby has no background in the subject. In addition to the millions he has donated to education of African Americans and others he grew up in the Philly Ghetto and was one of the main trail blazers getting out the message to strengthen Black esteem (Remember Black History "Lost Stolen & A strayed?"). His contributions date back decades before the Cosby show and the lowering of standards by educators in our schools (in many schools they no longer honor A students with posting there papers on the board because it may offend the students that did not excel). Give me a break. Since when does telling a friend he/she has a bugger (bad attitude) has to sound like anything but "wipe your face." We have heard Dr. Dyson and Dr Cosby, great! They both agree that the problem needs to get fixed, or is Dyson making too much money on books giving an opposining view.

Sent by Joe | 8:06 PM | 10-19-2007