Pound Cake Speech

mike brown

cosby by pj loughran

The ‘Pound Cake speech‘ was an address given by comedian Bill Cosby in May 2004 during an NAACP awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the ‘Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court’ decision which desegregated US schools. In it, Cosby was highly critical of members of subsets of the black community. He criticized the use of ebonics (African American Vernacular English), the prevalence of single-parent families, the emphasis on frivolous and conspicuous consumption at the expense of necessities, lack of responsibility, and other behaviors.

Cosby accused the African American community of treating people who had robbed convenience stores like political activists: ‘But these people, the ones up here in the balcony fought so hard. Looking at the incarcerated, these are not political criminals. These are people going around stealing Coca-Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake! And then we all run out and are outraged, ‘The cops shouldn’t have shot him.’ What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand? I wanted a piece of pound cake just as bad as anybody else, and I looked at it and I had no money. And something called parenting said, ‘If you get caught with it you’re going to embarrass your mother.’ Not ‘You’re going to get your butt kicked.’ No. ‘You’re going to embarrass your family.”

Cosby also covered the issues of drop-out rates and young people going to jail. He blamed lack of parenting within these communities, saying, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the lower economic and lower middle economic people are [not] holding their end in this deal. In the neighborhood that most of us grew up in, parenting is not going on. (clapping) In the old days, you couldn’t hooky school because every drawn shade was an eye (laughing). And before your mother got off the bus and to the house, she knew exactly where you had gone, who had gone into the house, and where you got on whatever you had one and where you got it from. Parents don’t know that today.’

In the speech, Cosby says that African Americans should no longer blame discrimination, segregation, governmental institutions, or others for higher unemployment rates among Blacks or the racial achievement gap. He had praise for the efforts of the Nation of Islam in dealing with crime in the cities, saying ‘When you want to clear your neighborhood out, first thing you do is go get the Black Muslims, bean pies and all. And your neighborhood is then clear.’ After that statement, he pointed out the police’s inability to resolve the crime problem, saying, ‘The police can’t do it.’ He then had critical remarks for Black Christians’ seeming inability to create positive social change for the urban population he was referring to, saying, ‘I’m telling you Christians, what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you hit the streets? Why can’t you clean it out yourselves?’

Cosby’s cousin, theologian Merisa Parson Davis wrote a book responding to the speech titled, ‘Bill Cosby is Right, What Should the Church Be Doing About It?’ She discusses the role of strong families in the community and the church. Sociologist Michael Eric Dyson criticized Cosby in his book ‘Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind?,’ published in 2005. Dyson said that Cosby built up years of mainstream credibility by ignoring race in his comedy routines and in his television programs, but that Cosby has now chosen to address the issues of race by chastising poor Blacks rather than by defending them. Dyson says that, in blaming low income Blacks for not taking personal responsibility, Cosby is ignoring ‘white society’s responsibility in creating the problems he wants the poor to fix on their own.’


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