Bill Cosby’s Pound Cake

There are three men I picture when I hear the words “my dad:” first and foremost, it’s my actual dad. Second is Terry Crews, specifically in his role as Julius in Everybody Hates Chris, the patriarch of one of my family’s favorite shows — also, he sort of looks like my dad. The last is Bill Cosby, who is, well, everybody’s dad (Hairpin pal Michelle Markowitz already vehemently claims Claire Huxtable as her mother).

Last week’s New Yorker profile of him was likely released due to the upcoming 30th anniversary of The Cosby Show, but his post-Huxtable fame — the comedy and lecture circuit — has a newfound relevance in our post-Ferguson world. Cosby’s famous polemic known as the “pound cake speech” places, to some, almost equal blame on the unfairly convicted/prosecuted/killed person as it does the aggressor.

“These are people going around stealing Coca-Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake! And then we all run out and are outraged: “The cops shouldn’t have shot him.” What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand? I wanted a piece of pound cake just as bad as anybody else. And I looked at it and I had no money. And something called parenting said, “If you get caught with it you’re going to embarrass your mother.”

Cosby accused poor people of “not holding their end in this deal,” and built to an expression of metaphysical disgust. “You can’t keep asking that God will find a way,” he said. “God is tired of you.” The definitive TV father had run out of patience.

I interviewed my dad for an article on Ferguson a few weeks ago; though he and Cosby were born in different eras, their POVs are starkly similar: you shouldn’t have been fooling around in the first place. What I’ve seen amongst my generation has been much more empathetic — I’m not sure where the divide is. Criticism of Michael Brown’s character have been hotly defended — the New York Times hastily apologized and explained themselves after they called Brown “no angel” and detailing his alleged robbery. Why are some people so eager to divvy up the blame, where others are more singularly focused?

Just because Cos has been the Ultimate Dad — the profile is called “The Eternal Paternal” — doesn’t mean he is necessarily right about pound cake, the weight of responsibility, or anything. Two of Cosby’s protégés — Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor — rebelled against his old-fashioned ideals, with Murphy notably working the generational divide in his act. Maybe we should all tell our dads to get with the times and get rid of the idea that all young African-American men have to do stay alive is to put their heads down and stay out of trouble. Anybody got a purple leather suit?