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Playboy Interview: Bill Cosby
  • February 21, 2012 : 20:02
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Playboy: Do you think a guaranteed annual income might be one answer to the poverty problem?

Cosby: I'm in favor of a guaranteed job; no man, black or white, really wants to be given a paycheck or handed a loaf of bread or a book of stamps. Men want to work and they want to be paid decent salaries. When I look at myself as a young man who can retire in a few years and receive an income from my investments, I still know that I could no more sit on my ass and let that check come in than I could lie paralyzed in bed for the rest of my life. I've got to do something with my hands, my feet and my brain. To me, it won't make any difference if it's a job as a part-time schoolteacher, paying $30 a week -- because I'll still have that big dividend check coming in every week. But I'll be working. Jobs are what the black man wants. But if I'm washing down hospital wards, or sweeping floors in a restaurant, and if my paycheck at the end of the month is smaller than a relief check, why work? When a guy on welfare gets a job, he no longer gets welfare; would you work to lose money? We could set up better plans that would cost a lot less and be more helpful to this country if we really wanted to.

Playboy: Have you any in mind?

Cosby: Sure. Men on relief should be taught skilled jobs. That's only half of it, though, because it isn't enough just to teach skills. We must also make sure there are jobs available to use the skills. And all of us also have to be grownup enough and intelligent enough to realize that all people are not the grooviest in the world and that even after you teach a guy a skill, he may not be able to hold a job or really want it. We have our con men and our criminals. No matter how cool your society is, you'll still have people who'll kill and rape and steal, regardless of color.

Playboy: While we're still on the subject of color: Perhaps for the first time in America, the awareness of skin color is being used constructively in the "black is beautiful" concept. What does that phrase represent to you?

Cosby: With me, it isn't a matter of black is beautiful as much as it is that white is not all that's beautiful -- which is what black men are taught. We need a self-love to throw off all that bullshit that's been laid on us for the past 300 years. And this is a groovy way to teach our kids to be proud of what they are. We black people have our own culture, which has always been laughed at because it's different from the white man's. I remember when I was in junior high school at Christmastime, and we'd been allowed to bring records in. I never owned any, but a couple of colored girls brought Mahalia Jackson's version of Silent Night, while the white kids brought things like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Hallelujah and Bing Crosby's White Christmas. Well, the black treatment of a Christmas carol was something the white kids snickered at, because of their own ignorance; and, at the same time, we were embarrassed because it wasn't white. Mahalia just didn't sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and Clara Ward didn't sound like Bing Crosby. But this no longer happens, because of the black-is-beautiful re-education, because of the fact that our culture, our music is something to be proud of. We're into a different style, a different way of doing things, and we're not going to let anybody laugh at it just because his face is white. And we're not going to be ashamed of if. What we are is beautiful -- what we are is black.

Playboy: After centuries of being told they were inferior, have black people themselves had difficulty in accepting this new self-pride?

Cosby: It hasn't been easy to throw out all the brainwashing, but we're doing it. Let me give you a personal example: Black people from the South have a common accent; it's almost a foreign language. I can't speak it, but I understand it, because my 85-year-old grandfather speaks it. I remember hearing him use the word "jimmin" and I had to go up to my grandmother to find out what he was saying. She told me he was saying "gentlemen." That was black; it's the way my grandfather talks, the way my Aunt Min talks, because she was down South picking cotton while I was in Philadelphia picking up white middle-class values and feeling embarrassed about hearing people talk like that and wanting to send them to school to straighten them out. I now accept this as black, the same way I accept an Italian whose father from the old country has a heavy accent. I accept it as black the same way chitlins and crab fingers and corn bread and collard greens and hush puppies and hog jaws and black-eyed peas and grits are black. This is what we were given to eat; this was our diet in the South, and we've done some groovy things with it. Now even white people are talking about Uncle So-and-So's sparerib place.

Playboy: Why do you think black food and black music have become so fashionable in much of white society today?

Cosby: White people are trying to get a little soul -- which has to do with sentiment and sorrow, sympathy and guilt. It's like the hippies who go around dressed as if they're poor, although their parents live in big suburban homes. A lot of white people want soul and they think they can get it by eating the food, learning the dances, digging the music. Many white chicks feel they'll get soul if they ball a black man they don't even care about.

Playboy: Do you think that's a major motivation for interracial sex?

Cosby: I can't really say. While soul is the attraction for the white person, I feel that the black goes to the white because of the white's status in this society; the black person is supposed to in some way gain from making love to a white. And the white is giving up status to make love to a black. It's almost like a materialistic thing now: If a white chick is with a black guy, she's saying, "Look at me, look what I'm giving up, look how I'm going against society. Man, am I brave!" Now, I'm not talking about love, just balling. If he or she wants to have soul, like, go on ahead and ball, but that ain't gonna make you soulful. I've been with white cats who've looked at black chicks I wouldn't be seen with anywhere and heard them say, "Man, she is fantastic-looking." And, by the same token, I've seen white girls look at a black man and say, "That guy's really beautiful." But what they mean -- and I'm talking about whites who have a desire to make love to a black -- is that they dig that African or extra blackness that says this person is 100 percent black. To them, this blackness represents soul.

Playboy: Doesn't it represent the same thing to black people?

Cosby: Of course not. Ever since America was founded, we've been trying to overcome the dumb idea that skin color, of its own nature, determines the character of the person who's inside it. After all that's happened to the black man in this country, it would be even crazier for us to believe in racism than for whites to. Up until six years ago, black people, because of their identification with white society, didn't want to be black. In cities like Washington, D.C., in fact, there are many Negroes who still feel a great deal of resentment if a dark Negro comes to date a light-skinned girl. The parents of that girl want to keep breeding lighter, so they can finally get rid of that badge and walk free. But most black people have finally discovered they've been deluding themselves.

Playboy: About what?

Cosby: Through the civil rights movement and through Martin Luther King Jr., America's racism was forced out into the open, so the world could see it. Black people found out that most whites just didn't want them to have a growing place in America's future. Once we found that out, we turned to ourselves for help, as we had to. It's like when a cat leaves home to see the world but gets robbed and can't find a job; the only place for him is back home. Well, we need to make a place for ourselves, a place where we can be received and accepted, and this is happening through black identification -- realizing that one is black, not white, and being proud of it. But many black people today go to extremes in their rejection of white power, white imperialism and white values.

Playboy: Which white values?

Cosby: The main white value -- greed. Through greed, whites have been fooled into thinking that freedom for black people means they'll lose their jobs, their homes, even the clothes off their backs. Certain ideas have been laid on the white man to exploit his greed, and the windup is that whites, because of greed, think all black men are lazy and shiftless and everything else represented in racist stereotyping. But this has all been the result of lies, and white people now have to listen to the truth: Freedom, for any man, is a need like food and water. The black man needs his freedom and he is determined to get it -- now. If white America chooses to withhold equality from the black man, the result is going to be disaster for this country. But if whites allow the black man the same civil rights they themselves take for granted, then they're really in store for a shock; this country will turn into the coolest and grooviest society the world has ever seen.

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