Bill Cosby is a funny man, but what he has been saying over the past few years about the conduct of certain black people is not so funny. More recently, Cosby told the Spelman College “Class of 2006” – where he was the commencement speaker – that the continuing decline of black men makes it necessary for black women to take charge. “Men as young boys are dropping out of high school, but they can memorize lyrics of very difficult rap songs and know how to braid each other’s hair,” Cosby said. These comments echo remarks he has been making for the past several years urging black people to assume more responsibility for fixing the problems that plague their families and communities.

Unlike others who share his perspective and have dared to express their views in an equally public manner, Cosby is inoculated from the name-calling that usually occurs when blacks betray the unspoken vow that thou shall not speak ill of other blacks in the presence of whites, unless the subjects of the criticism happen to be “black conservatives,” of course. Although Cosby has also been called “Uncle Tom” and “race traitor” for his comments, he dismisses such criticism by reminding his critics that he “lived in the projects and knows what it’s like.” In addition to living in “the projects,” Cosby’s Teflon coating that prevents attacks from critics is the fact that he and his wife, Camille, have been generous donors to Spelman and other black causes. The couple gave $20 million to the school in 1987 to help build the Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Academic Center and an endowed professorship program bearing their name.

Two of their daughters attended Spelman, and their late son, Ennis Cosby, was a Morehouse graduate. Thus, no one can say with any credibility that he is “anti-black.”

It is useful to review what Mr. Cosby has said.

"They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English. I can't even talk the way these people talk:

‘Why you ain't?’

‘Where you is?’

‘What he drive?’

‘Where he stay?’

‘Where he work?’

‘Who you be?...’

“And I blamed the kid, until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk.

“Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth. In fact, you will never get any kind of job making a decent living. People marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education, and now we've got these knuckleheads walking around.

The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal.

“These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids. Five-hundred- dollar sneakers, for what? And they won't spend two hundred dollars for Hooked on Phonics. I am talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit.

“Where were you when he was two? Where were you when he was twelve? Where were you when he was eighteen, and how come you didn't know that he had a pistol? And where is the father? Or who is his father?

“People with their hats on backward, pants down around the crack, isn't that a sign of something? Or are you waiting for Jesus to pull his pants up? Isn't it a sign of something when she has her dress all the way up and got all type of needles [piercing] going through her body?

“What part of Africa did this come from? We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans; they don't know a thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail.

“We have millionaire football players who cannot read. We have million-dollar basketball players who can't write two paragraphs. We as black folks have to do a better job. Someone working at Wal-Mart with seven kids, you are hurting us.

“We have to start holding each other to a higher standard. We cannot blame the white people any longer.”

Since the days of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, American-born blacks have been held to a different standard than other Americans. Some justify this practice because blacks were held to a different standard prior to the Civil Rights movement, but then the difference was to the disadvantage of blacks. Today’s favored treatment is no less disadvantageous; it just takes a different form. Cosby’s criticism illustrates why.

While it is strongly suggested that immigrants learn English, most of us stop short of encouraging blacks to speak proper English. As is usually the case with black-white public interaction, our collective guilt about the historical discrimination visited upon black people conspires with our desire to avoid, at all costs, being viewed as uncaring or, worse, "racist." This conspiracy results in a patronizing mentality that essentially says to blacks: no matter what you do, we will look the other way, because we believe you are not responsible for your conduct.

There was a popular comedian a few decades ago named Flip Wilson. Wilson popularized the phrase "the devil made me do it" to explain bad behavior for which he sought to deflect responsibility from himself. With black people, we are too quick to believe that the devils of slavery, Jim Crow and persistent discrimination from whites, still lurk in the lives of blacks thereby relieving them of responsibility for self-destructive behavior as well as conduct that is harmful and costly to the rest of American society. Cosby seeks to exorcise these demons. He is saying what many of us have been thinking – and a few have been saying – for a long time.

Cosby calls attention to a culture – language, dress habits, deviant behavior – that has been acquired and nurtured over the past few decades. In essence, he is challenging the attributes of what has become known as “black culture.” His message is for black people to assimilate rather than isolate. Without saying so in specific terms, Cosby is challenging the way of life that is taught in nearly every "black studies" class on every college campus that offers such classes. He is saying, give your kids American names, teach them proper English, make them obey the law, stop making excuses, and accept personal responsibility for their actions.

It is crucial to our nation that the campaign of Bill Cosby is taken seriously. But, Mr. Cosby cannot succeed in liberating black people from their state of “victimhood” by himself. It is of no value to demand a greater level of personal responsibility among all blacks but do nothing to promote that condition. This effort should become national in nature and it should begin with the elimination of all government programs that parade in the name of “affirmative action,” but which take the form of holding black people to a different standard than others. Let’s get rid of such programs. Personal responsibility and victimhood are mortal enemies; they cannot co-exist. One is based on self-reliance, while the other is based on dependency. “Affirmative action” preferences are the most public expression of American acceptance of black victimhood and dependency. It is time to believe in and demand true equality for all Americans, including black people; and applying the principle of true equality often requires the “tough love” to tell Jamal to pull his pants up, turn his cap around, learn to speak proper English, stay out of trouble, stay in high school, graduate, and make something of his life besides being a ward of the state.

Thank you, Dr. Huxtable.

(Ward Connerly will be speaking at a “Women for Victory” luncheon on Wednesday, June 14 at Fess Parker Double Tree Resort in Santa Barbara. For more information, please call 805-969-7458.)