Bill Cosby vs. Ta-Nehisi Coates: Can't We Just Blame Black People?

Many people in the United States are really attracted to views like these ones, from Bill Cosby. If you don't care to follow the link, it's a rather popular excerpt from a speech Cosby gave, arguing that black people won't speak correctly, won't raise their kids correctly, and don't make education a priority.


The excerpt ends, "We have to start holding each other to a higher standard. We cannot blame the white people any longer." Just look at the comments on the Imgur page in the link: Most are expressing full agreement, and say that Cosby is speaking the "truth."

I disagree. You can't just blame black people or black culture for the inequalities that continue to exist between African Americans and the rest of the United States. To do so is just ignorant.

Take a look at this article, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. If you don't care to read the whole thing, just read this final paragraph:
There is no evidence that black people are less responsible, less moral, or less upstanding in their dealings with America nor with themselves. But there is overwhelming evidence that America is irresponsible, immoral, and unconscionable in its dealings with black people and with itself. Urging African-Americans to become superhuman is great advice if you are concerned with creating extraordinary individuals. It is terrible advice if you are concerned with creating an equitable society. The black freedom struggle is not about raising a race of hyper-moral super-humans. It is about all people garnering the right to live like the normal humans they are.
That passage alone is a pretty powerful refutation of anyone who would blame the severe inequalities that black people still face today on various aspects of black culture or particular failings of black individuals. The fundamental inequalities and injustices are systemic and societal—rooted in white supremacy.

Sure, some black people might find more success if they spoke more like news anchors. The same is true for millions of white people whose accents and dialects also don't fit into America's dominant ideal. I'm sure many black people aren't very good parents and don't emphasize education, either—just like millions upon millions of other Americans.

Cosby's rant may be "true" insofar as many of the conditions and actions he criticizes really do exist. I'm sure there probably are people who buy expensive sneakers but don't buy school materials. However, changing the nature of all such people—creating "hyper-moral super-humans," as Coates puts it—will not solve the problems of inequality, inequity, and injustice in America.

Bill Cosby vs. Ta-Nehisi Coates
I disagree with Bill Cosby and those who hold similar views not because I want to continue to "blame the white people" for problems minorities have in America. I disagree because, like Coates, I am willing to closely examine the facts of America's past and present. Just look at Coates' now-famous (or infamous) article The Case for Reparations. It's a hugely detailed look at exploitation and institutional injustices that continue to affect the United States today. Coates and I don't aim to "blame the white people," but we will blame the U.S. government, American institutions, and the important individuals who have perpetuated inequity.

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Note: I discovered well after I started this post that Ta-Nehisi Coates himself actually wrote a long article on Bill Cosby's recent political speaking—"This is How We Lost to the White Man." The article is really an analysis of Cosby himself and the historical context behind his views, not a presentation of Coates' counterargument, but it's still good reading. I'd also recommend this other interesting article written by Coates: Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?

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