What Bill Cosby Means to the White Populist Mind

By Ta-Nehisi Coates
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Horde legionnaire Corkingiron pointed out this e-mail which he's received purportedly authored by Bill Cosby. An excerpt:


I'm tired of being told that I have to "spread the wealth" to people who don't have my work ethic. I'm tired of being told the government will take the money I earned, by force if necessary, and give it to people too lazy to earn it. 

I'm tired of being told that Islam is a "Religion of Peace," when every day I can read dozens of stories of Muslim men killing their sisters, wives and daughters for their family "honour"; of Muslims rioting over some slight offense; of Muslims murdering Christian and Jews because they aren't "believers"; of Muslims burning schools for girls; of Muslims stoning teenage rape victims to death for "adultery"; of Muslims mutilating the genitals of little girls; all in the name of Allah, because the Qur'an and Shari'a law tells them to. 

I'm tired of being told that out of "tolerance for other cultures" we must let Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries use our oil money to fund mosques and mandrassa Islamic schools to preach hate in Australia, New Zealand, UK, America and Canada, while no one from these countries are allowed to fund a church, synagogue or religious school in Saudi Arabia or any other Arab country to teach love and tolerance. 

 I'm tired of being told I must lower my living standard to fight global warming, which no one is allowed to debate. 

 I'm tired of being told that drug addicts have a disease, and I must help support and treat them, and pay for the damage they do. Did a giant germ rush out of a dark alley, grab them, and stuff white powder up their noses or stick a needle in their arm while they tried to fight it off? I'm tired of hearing wealthy athletes, entertainers and politicians of all parties talking about innocent mistakes, stupid mistakes or youthful mistakes, when we all know they think their only mistake was getting caught. 

I'm tired of people with a sense of entitlement, rich or poor.

Bill Cosby, of course, said none of this and denounced the e-mail for its "ugly views." But this was not the first time someone had affixed Cosby's persona to a decidedly Tea Party message.
Back in 2008, just as Barack Obama was gearing up to run, Cosby's "presidential platform" hit the web:

I HAVE DECIDED TO BECOME A WRITE-IN CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT IN THE YEAR 2012.. HERE IS MY PLATFORM: 

(1). Any use of the phrase: 'Press 1 for English' is immediately banned. English is the official language; speak it or wait outside of our borders until you can. 

(2). We will immediately go into a two year isolationist attitude in order to straighten out the greedy big business posture in this country. America will allow NO imports, and we'll do no exports. We will use the 'Wal-Mart 's policy, 'If we ain't got it, you don't need it.' We'll make it here and sell it here! 

(3). When imports are allowed, there will be a 100% import tax on it coming in here. 

(4). All retired military personnel will be required to man one of the many observation towers located on the southern border of the United States (six month tour). They will be under strict orders not to fire on SOUTHBOUND aliens. 

(5). Social Security will immediately return to its original state. If you didn't put nuttin in, you ain't gettin nuttin out. Neither the President nor any other politician will be able to touch it.

Again Cosby was forced to point out that he the e-mail was a forgery. The question is interesting: Why would a conservative hoaxer consistently insert hard right wing views into the mouth of Bill Cosby? There's a certain "Off My Lawn" factor at work here, and Cosby seems about the age of someone who'd have these views. Moreover, Cosby is fondly remembered as "America's Dad" by much of the country. That a black man could be considered America's Dad--and not in an Uncle Ben sort of way--is a rather amazing sign of progress.

It must said that there are darker forces at work, here. Certainly part of the hops is that putting racially-charged rhetoric in the mouth of a respected black person will make it more credible. There's also the fact that Cosby, himself, loudly took a moral message to African-Americans a few years back, much to the delight of a certain segment of white conservatives.

But because white conservatives so poorly understand black people, they never quite understood Cosby or the organic black conservative tradition he was speaking out of. (I wrote about this for the magazine a few years back.) That tradition argues traditional conservative "up from your bootstraps" ideology, but has no real interest in acting as foil for white conservatives who want to downplay racism. When I interviewed Cosby back in 2007, he mentioned that his presence had been requested on Fox more than a few times, but that he'd declined. Cosby, and his black admirers, saw him in the tradition of Booker T. Washington, not Herman Cain.

This is an uncomfortable fact for white populists who'd like to use Cosby as a mouthpiece--or maybe not. If he won't say it, they'll just pretend he did. When you see stuff  like this you get some insight into the support for Herman "I don't be reading" Cain. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/11/what-bill-cosby-means-to-the-white-populist-mind/248738/