Posted on May 31, 2000


Enough Already, Mrs. Cosby

America is not to blame


Daniel Clark


"I believe America taught our son's killer to hate African-Americans." That is what Camille Cosby wrote in July of 1998, shortly after her son, Ennis, was murdered by Russian immigrant Mikail Markhasev. As unfair as that statement was, it couldn't compare to the injustice that she and her family had been suffering, so critiques of her USA Today editorial were delicately measured.

Syndicated columnist Mona Charen methodically shredded the factually reckless article, but she did so only to clarify the truth for her readers, not to criticize Mrs. Cosby. In fact, she opened her July 20, 1998 column by stating, "The grief Camille Cosby must feel at the murder of her son excuses any wild statements she has made regarding American society."

At the time, that was the appropriate response, but it's now almost two years later. Not that the passage of that time does anything to lesson Mrs. Cosby's loss, but it should have given her a chance to reflect on her misguided anger. She apparently has not done so. What's more, her venting has now taken the form of activism, in opposition to a fundamental constitutional right. Nobody wants to criticize the victim of a tragedy such as hers, but now that she has delved into public policy, it is time that her free pass was revoked.

On May 10 of this year, she penned a second essay for USA Today, in an effort to drum up support for the Million Mom March. If anything, it is even less coherent than the piece she'd written in '98. Not only does this meandering exercise in postmodern anti-logic point the finger of blame at American culture and racism, but also at guns, violent toys, "corporate colonialism", child labor, "hate crimes" (including, for some reason, "homophobia"), the tabloid press, and the military.

Mrs. Cosby continues to blame America because she finds its history to be uniquely violent and oppressive. As American anti-Americans tend to do, she completely ignores the other nations of the world, most of which have been much more violent and oppressive, much more recently. According to her version of history, only Americans obtained their land through violence; the rest of the world's borders have sprung organically. It was "our nation's history of violence" which rubbed off on Markhasev, despite the fact that he grew up in a brutal totalitarian state.

One might think that Mrs. Cosby is referring to communism when she writes, "Monopolies over people's lives, minds and livelihoods equal oppression that can hatch social unrest." One would, of course, be wrong. This statement is meant to describe another facet of America's evil, for it is "corporate colonialism" which is the source of the oppression. "Are worldwide corporate employees considered nothing more than lowly human rentals who make goods?" she asks. So how is this third-world sweatshop image supposed to apply to American society? If there is any merit to her complaint, the unrest she predicts ought to be hatching in Honduras or Thailand, not in the United States.

Another fragment of her essay contends that American society has conditioned young boys to be violent, so that they will be prepared to fight if they are sent to war, hence all the toy guns, violent video games, plastic cowboys and Indians, anvils falling on cartoon ducks, and so on. One of the experts she enlists to help support this rickety theory is Gavin De Becker, a criminologist who has worked with the CIA, as an expert at predicting violent behavior. Cosby uses De Becker to buttress her argument by noting that he "says that every society in history has young men do its killing."

Here is De Becker's actual quote, from an online chat with ABC News:

"Male behavior is ruled by male biology, and the fact is that throughout human history at all ages and all parts of the world males are more violent than females. Additionally, boys will become more drawn to violence and guns; remember, they are the ones we send out to do the hunting and the fighting. Their brains are actually different and my book explores in detail how mothers can come to understand male violence." *

He does tell us that young men do our killing -- that much of what she says is true. His explanation of the cause of that situation, however, couldn't disagree with her more. De Becker makes the argument that boys will be boys, not that boys are brainwashed into being boys by the military-industrial complex.

Mrs. Cosby takes only the part of the De Becker quote which appeared to fit into her thesis. She does the same thing with American history, her version of which consists of "genocide" against the Indians, slavery, lynchings, race riots, and little else. She says, "It is vitally important to know the accuracy of this country's history, no matter how inglorious it is," but how accurate a reflection is that? She presents oppression as the rule rather than the exception, in the country which invented the concept of government as the servant of the people, instead of the reverse.

To those who hate America, slavery serves as unquestionable evidence that our country is rotten to the core, but the slave trade was a worldwide atrocity. It was especially outrageous that slavery existed in the United States precisely because our nation places a higher value on human liberty than any other nation in the world. That's why nobody else waged a century-long culture war over slavery the way the United States did. Other countries abolished it because there was little demand for slave labor, or because so many slaves were imported that they were able to demand freedom themselves, not because the concept of slavery defied those countries' founding principles.

Abraham Lincoln: Abolitionist

Camille Cosby denies the moral conscience of America to the point that she imagines that Abraham Lincoln was pro-slavery. As evidence, she cites the following statement, which she attributes to Lincoln in her first article. "I do not stand pledged to the prohibition of the slave trade between the states .... I, as much as any man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."

Again, she plucks out excerpts which seem to support her prejudices, while discarding others which are clearly contradictory. She even fuses together quotes from two different debates, held weeks apart, as if they were two parts of a single statement, edited only for brevity's sake.

The segment of the quote which precedes the ellipse is taken from Lincoln's second debate with Stephen Douglas, on August 27, 1858. Douglas had asked Lincoln whether he stood pledged to prohibit the slave trade between the states, to which Lincoln replied in the negative, just as quoted by Cosby. However, he explained shortly thereafter that he could not be "pledged" to prohibit the slave trade because he was not certain that the federal government had the constitutional power to do so, but that if he were convinced it did, he would be willing to exercise that power, under certain conditions.

The quote on the far end of those magical elastic dots is from the fourth Lincoln-Douglas debate, on September 18th of that same year. Actually, the entire speech from which that statement was taken is much uglier than the statement itself. Lincoln explained that he thought it inevitable that whites and blacks would hold positions of superiors and inferiors, and that therefore blacks shouldn't be allowed to vote or intermarry with whites. But he then said, "I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position that the negro should be denied everything." How inconvenient for revisionists that this speech, often presented as proof that Lincoln was not an abolitionist, concludes with a condemnation of slavery.

So eager is Mrs. Cosby to believe the worst about her country that she even, in the first of her two columns, perpetuates the paranoid rumor that black Americans' right to vote will expire in 2007, a story which even a cursory effort at fact-checking would have warned her not to believe. [For more on this subject, see The Voting Rights Hoax (3/2/00)] Of course, who needs to check facts, when the facts one would discover wouldn't be the right ones anyway.

At the end of Camille Cosby's first column, she writes, "Most people know that facing the truth brings about healing and growth." If she ever takes that statement seriously, she will crumple everything she has written so far, with the exception of that sentence, and start over.

* Correction -- On August 25, 2004, Gavin de Becker wrote The Shinbone the following clarification:

"Way back in 2000, you wrote an article called, 'Enough Already Mrs. Cosby.' You referred to her citing some opinions of mine, and you indicated that she had it wrong. You wrote, 'Here is DeBecker's actual quote, from an online chat with ABC News:' and then offered something I'd said on ABC News.

I wanted you to know, however, that Mrs. Cosby was not drawing from my ABC interview. She interviewed me herself, extensively -- and she was attributing information to me that she gained directly from me.

The passages of your article about her citations being misleading or incomplete are, in fact, misleading and incomplete.

No big deal today, but I thought I'd let you know.

The Shinbone's response: Very well, Mr. de Becker. I incorrectly deduced that your "they are the ones we send out to do the hunting and the fighting" remark was the basis for Mrs. Cosby's claim, and if what you told her in person differs so strikingly from what you told ABC, then I certainly can't hold her responsible for that.

However, I stand by my other criticisms of Mrs. Cosby's writings. Her promotion of the voting rights hoax and her papier-mache Lincoln quote are especially egregious. I trust that she would hold any student's essay to a higher standard than that. -- DC



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