During the 2004 NAACP awards ceremony at Washington, D.C., in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education , Bill Cosby delivers a speech, which would be subsequently referred to as “The Pound Cake Speech, criticizing the lifestyle and lack of parenting in the African–American community. The speech has been severely criticized for it is delivery and topics expressed within it. Author Jerome Corsi notes, "Cosby was attacked both for his flippant tone and because his argument appeared to 'blame the victim' for the racial inequality and racial injustice suffered." The purpose of this essay is to examine why the use of comedy, partitioning of listeners, and scapegoating of African-American parents, as the sole cause of African-American social problems, lead to the poor reception of Cosby's speech.
Although Cosby has had a university education and received many honorary degrees, which few achieve, nonetheless, he is associated more as a successful entertainer than a scholarly educator. Interestingly, Cosby has self-described himself more of a class clown than an academician during schooling. Cosby started his entertainment career as a stand-up comedian doing performances across America during his younger years. Comedians have a notorious talent for stirring up crowds and encouraging clamor from the audience. They compose jokes that anyone can relate to and, thus, reach broad demographics during their performances. The talent has remained with Cosby to present and is manifested within the tone of his speeches as well.
Throughout Cosby’s speech there is a comedy element hidden in a tragedy element. When Cosby discusses the blame on Caucasians in African American communities, he jokes, “... white people don't live over there. They close up the shop early. The Korean ones still don't know us as well...they stay open 24 hours,” and implies a negative view on African Americans by exercising comedic timing. One can clearly infer that Cosby’s purpose in his speech was two-fold. He wanted to express his views openly and to lampoon his listeners simultaneously by using comedy. In a journal study on comedian personalities, psychoanalyst SS Janus comments, "Among the oppressed, the role of social critic has been the comedian's forte." Cosby is simply accepting this role inherently when delivering his diatribe. However, the element of comedy diminishes the seriousness of his arguments. Listeners are left in the confusion of deciding whether to enjoy a laugh or analyze the underlying argument presented. Cosby's gains the audience's applause but not their awareness. Furthermore, opposed to a comedian's interest in reaching a broad audience, Cosby divides his attention to a narrow audience during his speech.
Cosby paradoxically attempts to integrate his listeners by discouragingly separating them into cohorts through audience segmentation. Admittedly, applauders of Cosby's speech would argue that he wanted to...