Butts is skeptical that Cosby's appeal to personal responsibility will have much effect, if only because it's highly selective—mere weeks before Cosby launched his barrage against the black poor, he was spotted sitting in the courtroom in support of Martha Stewart. "Of course people's behavior is something they choose, but it would be unfair to think about this only in reference to street crime," says Butts. "If I say 'crime,' most people think of someone sticking a gun in their face. But they should also think Ken Lay, Martha Stewart, Halliburton. But no one preaches to them about personal responsibility."
Given the hard stats on crime, one wonders why Cosby would choose now, with black youth in a better place than their forebears, to launch a broadside. This isn't exactly 1994 or 1964. Cosby's office referred a call for a comment to a prepared statement, which basically said the media was distorting his remarks, that he never meant to criticize poor black people.
Whatever his intent, Cosby is showing his age. "It's part of a general pessimism that people have toward young people," says Cobb. "This idea that black people 35 and under have not done enough to take advantage of the opportunities that the earlier generation made available is ultimately shortsighted, but it's also no different than any other generation."
In his winter, Cosby is proving no more insightful than your crotchety old uncle, standing on the corner, ranting to no one in particular, "Damn kids!" Of course, no one in his or her right mind would hand your uncle a bullhorn.
Bill Cosby "brings his brand of wry humor and social insight" to the Orange County Fair Concert Series at Pacific Amphitheatre, 100 Fair Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 740-2000; ocfair.com. Thurs., July 22, 8 P.M. $20-$57.50.