Bill Cosby tells it how it is...

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Bill Cosby: A plague called apathy

The star on what’s wrong with our communities — and why the revolution needs to begin at home

  • Last Updated: 1:15 AM, June 9, 2013
  • Posted: 10:29 PM, June 8, 2013

He was the New York City dad we all wish we had Cliff Huxtable, the strict, funny and understanding father on “The Cosby Show,” played for eight years by actor Bill Cosby. Now 75, Cosby continues to be a father figure, speaking out about the importance of personal responsibility. He’s on a concert tour (he comes to White Plains in September) and has a new book, “I Didn’t Ask to be Born (But I’m Glad I Was).” Last week, he met with reporter Stacy Brown to share his thoughts about Bloomberg’s health crusades, children without manners and parents who need to be more involved. But the biggest issue facing us today, he argues, is apathy.

Illustration by Dale Stephanos

In terms of health, two things stand out that Mayor Bloomberg has jumped into to find some kind of remedy that will help cut back on illness — the abuse of sodas and tobacco.

No 1: Smoking — and a big howl went up from people who want to smoke. But when you look at it, everything points to smoking as a problem; whether a person dies from cancer or not, it’s still other things — emphysema, all kinds of breathing problems, second-hand smoke onto the children, let alone minute things such as you smell like cigar, cigarette or pipe — it’s in your skin, it’s in your hair. Mayor Bloomberg jumped in on that and people complained. Restaurants complained, people complained, why did they complain?

Money. That’s why. People are greedy. It wasn’t about somebody dying, it is all about money, so they use something called choice, which makes no sense at all. I have the right to smoke myself to death, they say. I don’t know if you ever had relatives who are sitting there and mentally they are in a state of addiction and they say, “No, I want to have my cigarette.” They have a metal bottle and two things going up in their nose and they have a pack of cigarettes in their pocket or pocketbooks and they keep saying, “I know, I know,” and people push them around in the wheelchair to have a smoke.

No. 2: Juvenile diabetes. Children are not being taken out of harm’s way. And there are many things that we also can do, but one is you don’t want your child consuming too much sugar. That is what the mayor tried to do with the sugar in the soft drinks.

It is my belief — my BELIEF in big letters — when people don’t make good choices, you can yell as loud as you want to at me about this is my body and I do what I want to do with my body, so OK yes you can. But now you are spreading it along generationally so that your daughter and grandchildren have it and everybody’s doing it. It becomes a term of apathy because people say my father had it, my aunt had it. People then ask you, “What your mother die of?” “Diabetes.” “Grandmother?” “Diabetes.” These things don’t have to happen if you make the correct choice.

The article is three pages, worth the read. He gets real on page 2 and 3.

So, in terms of what Mayor Bloomberg did, think about it and figure out what it is really about.

Toni Morrison spoke at Vanderbilt University graduation last month and she was saying that money was the reason for so many deaths, so many wars and people eating the wrong foods. And it’s true, man. But when you listen to the people who are selling “feel good,” it’s greed. They couldn’t care less about us — and because we have a feeling of apathy, we don’t care either.


Interview some school teachers. How many parents, on parent-teacher day, actually show up? Not to Dunbar or some school where people are saying they want their child to become an engineer or philosopher or whatever else that requires one to do some homework. Go to a school where people are not doing well. How many parents show up?

Illustration by Dale Stephanos

There is this situation where people tend to think that we are all victims. Victim meaning somebody else is doing this to us. That’s not true. And I said this 100 times and they keep throwing back, “victim.” What they don’t understand is that I haven’t forgotten anything.

What I remember is the things that were said that if you did certain things you could take care of yourself. If you took your child to the dentist and check for cavities the child likely won’t get them. If you take them just for emergency, that’s all they’re gonna get.

You got to have fight. Look up the word “fight.” We don’t have that fight, so life is problematic. You have intellectual news people, media, and they are talking about leave these people alone, these people can’t do better, you’re picking on the poor.

Years ago the philosophy was you’re going to get some help, I’m gonna give you some help. You’re having a problem, you need a job, you don’t have the skills, so you move to Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and there is housing, affordable housing, and we will support you with checks and you have to prove you are up and looking for work, and the idea is to move in, up and out.

I started talking about the projects and a guy looked at me and said, “What’s wrong with the projects?” I said, “Nothing, only if you realize this is only to take advantage of the things afforded, take advantage of education opportunity, things available to you.” He started yelling over me and I said, “Sir, there is something wrong with you wanting to stay here forever because it means as long as you’re excepting these two checks, you’re apathetic.” He cursed and I said, you can yell all you want. But you have certain people who have been pacified by those who don’t want to hurt their feelings or argue with them.

It is almost becoming a faith. We have to continue to say these words, we must not give up.


There should be marches in every neighborhood every day telling the people about the negativity of drugs and how the drugs help us to behave negatively.

Now, if a white person does it, sells drugs to black people, then we’re up in arms, then we’re marching, but when a black person sells another black person crack cocaine, heroin or something that will give us addiction and cause us to not want to support our children and even give our children the same disease, nothing is said, nothing is done. But it has got to be hammered over and over.

Illustration by Dale Stephanos

We can fight. How can you not realize that? Some say, “Don’t bring out our dirty laundry.” How much sense does that make?

What are you doing with your dirty laundry? You walk around with it! Your children are walking the streets loudly using profanity feeling kind of powerful as they storm the subway or whatever. I’m not asking people to not be children, but this is anger stuff. They get on the subways and they’re disrespecting elders. What happened to the old saying, “I didn’t raise you like that.” It’s true! You knew that your mother and father didn’t allow you to go around and disrespect elders. So, the dirty laundry is very simple, man: You wouldn’t have it if you did something about it.

A guy said to me, why don’t you go over there and talk to the white people about dirty laundry. I said I’m not concerned. I wasn’t brought up being concerned about how white people behave. Except when they were looking at us and saying I don’t like you because of your color and that’s when I’m concerned because they’re crazy. If you look at my color and all you’re concerned about is the color of my skin than you’re crazy because you are disregarding black colleges, people who grow up and become great at things that the racists tried to prevent.

There were abolitionist whites who did more than a whole lot of black people, abolitionist Asians, abolitionists of every color, some Jews, some Catholics, Irish, everybody joining in. They knew that racism and slavery is wrong — but they also knew that apathy is not good.


When you have all of these things going wrong, we go back to the drink and the cigarette smoking. There are things that, if we behave better, eat better, we will feel better, think clearly. We will begin to challenge the apathy.

I’ve said it 100 times, the revolution is in the house. Now if you don’t want to be a part of the revolution, you say to the school system, “I want you to raise my child.” No, the revolution is at home.

Earl Lloyd, the first black NBA basketball player, tells a wonderful story of coming home and his mother said, “Where have you been?” He said, “I was out.” “No, no,” she said, “where have been?” He said, “Momma I was just . . .” She said, I asked you a question; he said, I was on the court. She said, I told you not to be out there with those boys. He said, I wasn’t doing anything.

And she said, “Look, when you’re not in the picture, you can’t be framed.”

Now, that’s the kind of stuff parents need to be doing. Stay away from the guys on the corner fighting to be nothing. The revolution is in the home.

It even happens with celebrities. People knew what Michael Jackson was doing, people knew what Whitney Houston was doing, and then they became addicts.

Michael should have been kept in rehab. Where was the family? Why weren’t they making sure Whitney and Michael got help? Michael, well, why is it that his family stood by and allowed him to have a Dr. Feelgood when they knew Michael had sleep, drug and other problems? Why didn’t Whitney’s family take the crack pipe away from her?

These people had more than enough money to do what was right. Everyone looks to protect their own interest — but not the person, which in Michael’s case, he was a company unto himself.

I’m a Christian. But Muslims are misunderstood. Intentionally misunderstood. We should all be more like them. They make sense, especially with their children. There is no other group like the Black Muslims, who put so much effort into teaching children the right things, they don’t smoke, they don’t drink or overindulge in alcohol, they protect their women, they command respect. And what do these other people do?

They complain about them, they criticize them. We’d be a better world if we emulated them. We don’t have to become black Muslims, but we can embrace the things that work.

We need people, not just in the church but in the community, who are not afraid to speak up because they want to hear a child’s laughter — not a child’s blood-curdling scream because a bullet hit them. We want them playing outside.

Telling welfare recipients to take responsibility for their children and their lives will no be popular.

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