Playboy: As you know, most whites think the concentration-camp theory is a myth.
Cosby: Look, it's possible to have concentration camps in Chicago -- or in almost any large city -- by simple blocking off the ghetto, putting barbed wire around it and not letting anybody in or out. This isn't going to happen until we give the whites a little more of a reason for putting us in a concentration camp, but it isn't too far away. Black people are not going to stop burning their own neighborhoods for a while, but if nothing is accomplished as a result of this, they'll become even more desperate; and when there's nothing left to burn in black neighborhoods, they're going to spread out -- into white neighborhoods, into downtown districts, to hit those stores. Farfetched as it may sound, black people will actually go to war if they're driven to it. Not all black people, but the ones who feel they're willing to give up their lives in order to mess up this country, to bring America to its knees. I'm not talking about just burning some buildings but about black guerrillas cutting wires, darkening the cities, ending communications. All-out war.
Playboy: Of course, black people couldn't possibly win such a war. Don't you think it could result only in massive repression and bloodshed?
Cosby: Yes, I do, and there's just no arguing that point. The terrible thing is that there's no way the troops are going to be able to distinguish between the bomb throwers and people who are peacefully sitting in their homes.
Playboy: Do you think this war can be averted?
Cosby: That's up to the white man. He's at the point now where he will either have to allow the black man his civil rights or try to wipe him out. History has shown, I think, that in order for the black man to achieve a positive response to his protests, he has to keep escalating his methods of dissent, not because he wants to but because the white establishment forces him to. We have been forced to go from singing to sit-ins to marching to letting them beat us up, to watching them burn and bomb our churches and assassinate our leaders and, now, into being coerced into burning our own neighborhoods. The next step is to start slaughtering us en masse, and the step after that is out-and-out war.
Playboy: Malcolm X often claimed that "the squeaky hinge gets the oil" -- that America redresses black grievances only in response to violence. But if shooting were to break out tomorrow on a national scale, do you think it's likely that the white establishment, with its domestic order threatened, would respond by ensuring equality for black people?
Cosby: Well, this much is certain: It'll be the hinge's loudest possible squeak. But I really think that, all along, the white man has been oiling the hinge with the secret intention of slamming the door. And when he finally slams it shut for good -- and has his genocidal war -- he won't have to worry about the squeak anymore. What will be left won't exactly be a country, but at least the place will be well run. Except that America will have to find someone else to dance to its music. The Mexicans will folk-dance for a while, and then there's the Puerto Ricans, and then the Chinese people will be dancing; but soon enough, that squeaky-hinged door will be slammed shut, too -- and padlocked.
Playboy: Do you think the world will sit by and quietly watch while all this is happening?
Cosby: As long as most of the world powers are white, why not? When the French, Poles and Czechs come off the boat, they're welcomed to America, "the land of the free, the home of the brave." The Statue of Liberty welcomes them, but it doesn't welcome the man who was born here -- the black man. There's no lamp lit for him; so the black man has to climb up there and light it himself. World opinion? If all these European countries are so groovy, then how come when their guys get off the boat, they turn out to be bigots?
Playboy: If the world is ready to passively witness genocide in the U.S., doesn't black violence, as preached by militants like Rap Brown, strike you as ill advised, to say the least?
Cosby: Rap and the other militants all speak the truth when they let America know that the black man is not going to take any more bullshit; we've been here for 300 years and we've had it with waiting. But when Rap makes a speech and says we should get guns and use them on Whitey, it doesn't strike me as a cool move tactically. I, for one, would never let people know I was planning to shoot at them. If you mean it, you just don't talk about it. This goes back to my street-corner days. Unless he's got another card to pull out, it's not the brightest cat in the world who stands around telling a guy, "I'm gonna get a gun and blow your head off." When the guy sees you don't have that gun yet, he pops you right in the teeth or, if he's got a gun, he uses it on you.
Playboy: Do you think the easy accessibility of firearms in America heightens racial tensions?
Cosby: The way I look at it is that guns are sold to protect whites against blacks. The leaders of bigotry have got to keep the poor, ignorant white cat really upset and nervous, so that their friends the gun manufacturers can sell him some guns and maybe even some bazookas as well.
Playboy: But you'd have to admit that the black militants' threats are at least one of the reasons whites are buying guns.
Cosby: Yes, and you have to admit that every time the black man has made a nonviolent move to gain acceptance, he's been laughed at or cursed or hosed down or killed.
Playboy: You seem to be saying that race war is inevitable. Is that what you believe?
Cosby: I hope it's not inevitable, but I don't know. I think if we really want to make sure nothing like it ever happens, we have to get on the stick now, and just maybe it can be avoided. Because we know the answers.
Playboy: What are they?
Cosby: Well, if it's not too late already, one answer is through black political power, such as what happened in Cleveland with Carl Stokes and in Gary with Richard Hatcher being elected mayor. But that doesn't solve the problems even in those cities, because if the administration doesn't have black people on its board of directors or as city planners, there's very little that a mayor can actually do. Supposedly, the mayor has power, but he's only as powerful as the various city boards that go along with him.
Playboy: Do you think that elected officials such as Stokes and Hatcher will be able to persuade white city board members to go along with them on plans for improving black neighborhoods?
Cosby: If they're not able to, it won't be because they haven't tried. They were elected by black people; and if they want to be re-elected, they'll have to produce. But the black politician of today knows that his people don't really trust him. Especially if he has a white man over him, in which case he'll be called the white man's politician.
Playboy: Do you think that many black legislators are white men's politicians?
Cosby: It used to be like that because of a policy that dates back to the days of slavery, when one black man on a plantation would be allowed to work indoors. He was called the house nigger and lived and ate well, and wouldn't do anything to make the boss angry, or else he'd wind up in the fields pickin' that cotton. Black politics has always had a little of this house-nigger mentality, but now it's changing. You can see it in a cat like Julian Bond, who could have been a house nigger but who, in effect, said, "Now, look, I don't mindworking in the house, but I just want you to know a couple of things," for which they tried to throw him out of the house -- Georgia's Statehouse. But there's still a lot of resentment and envy of the black politician, because the guys working in the fields know that the cat in the house is eating real good. They know he's not getting chitlins or the last part of the pig thrown to him.
Playboy: Do you feel that the majority of recently elected black congressmen are working as hard as they can to advance the cause of black equality?
Cosby: I'd rather see guys like S.C.L.C.'s Jesse Jackson or even Rap Brown in Congress than some of the black cats who are there now. I think Rap would make one hell of a Vice President; to use Dick Gregory's line, nobody would shoot the President then. Most black congressmen seem like they're just trying to belong. But here again, what they may be doing is walking that tightrope to prove it can be done, to make it easier for other black men to get elected. You can never tell what a guy's philosophy may really be, because while we're putting him down, he might just be quietly paving the way for other black legislators. That's sometimes in the nature of a great sacrifice, especially when we, as selfish individuals, tend to look only at immediate results. So I'd really like to believe that a man like Senator Brooke is giving the cats in the Senate a fast shuffle, so that he can clear a path for more black senators. If he's doing that, then beautiful. But if he's really into the whole Republican thing, if he was genuine during his campaign for Nixon and for that great friend of the black man, Spiro T. Agnew, then Brooke hasn't done a thing for us.