Ebonics! Weird Names! $500 Shoes!

Shrill Bill Cosby and the speech that shocked black America

The show's obsession with keeping up appearances was not only a product of its creator, but of its creator's generation. It's no mistake that black America's biggest awards show is the NAACP Image Awards. Ditto for the Coz's recent diatribe. The civil rights crowd has had a rough 30 years as the old tactics of marching and boycotting have come up lame. Its leaders, like Cosby himself, are in winter, and having beaten Bull Connerism, they now stand befuddled and silenced before their greatest new adversary—class.

Race still matters, but largely the problems of black people today are the problems of poor people. In his last days, Martin Luther King turned his attention to class, a focus Cosby's brethren airbrushed away. They could march on Washington every 10 years without having to march on their own drug-riddled corners. They ignore the ghetto or, when emboldened like Cosby, shit on it.

When the Coz came to Constitution Hall last week, he was one up on his audience. He had no solutions, and unlike his audience, he knew it. And so he fell back on what elitists do best—impose condescending lessons on ethics and etiquette. He fell back on Fat Albert, and a world where poverty can be beaten through sheer force of blithe axiom. Morality becomes the answer when you don't have another one. Maybe we are everything the racists say we are—dumb, fat, and cute, in a really ugly and childish sort of way. But if we could just pay attention in school, stop stealing, learn proper English, and correctly apply deodorant, we'd be all right. Well, maybe not all right, but at least we wouldn't make Cosby look so bad.

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