Pound Cake speech

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Bill Cosby in 2006

The Pound Cake speech was given by Bill Cosby in May 2004 during an NAACP awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision.[1] In the speech, which was subsequently widely disseminated and analyzed, Cosby was highly critical of the black community in the United States. He criticized the use of African-American Vernacular English, the prevalence of single-parent families, perceived emphasis on frivolous and conspicuous consumption at the expense of necessities, lack of responsibility, and other behaviors.[citation needed]


The speech is often referred to as the "Pound Cake" speech because of the following lines, referencing a particular dessert, pound cake, for comedic effect, while contrasting common criminals with political activists who risked incarceration during the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s:

But these people, the ones up here in the balcony fought so hard. Looking at the incarcerated, these are not political criminals. 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.' Not 'You're going to get your butt kicked.' No. 'You're going to embarrass your family.'

Bill Cosby also covers the issues of drop-out rates and young people going to jail. He blames lack of parenting for these issues within these communities:

In the neighborhood that most of us grew up in, parenting is not going on. In the old days, you couldn't hooky school because every drawn shade was an eye. And before your mother got off the bus and to the house, she knew exactly where you had gone, who had gone into the house, and where you got on whatever you had on and where you got it from. Parents don't know that today.[2]

In the speech, Cosby says that African Americans should no longer blame discrimination, segregation, governmental institutions, or others for higher unemployment rates among blacks or the racial achievement gap; rather, they have their own culture of poverty to blame.[3]

In the same speech, he had praise for the efforts of the Nation of Islam in dealing with crime in the cities, saying:

When you want to clear your neighborhood out, first thing you do is go get the Black Muslims, bean pies and all. And your neighborhood is then clear.

After that statement, he pointed out the police's inability to resolve the crime problem:

The police can't do it.

He then had critical remarks for Black Christians' seeming inability to create positive social change for the urban population to which he was referring:

I'm telling you Christians, what's wrong with you? Why can't you hit the streets? Why can't you clean it out yourselves?

Cosby also attacked black naming conventions, saying:

We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans; they don’t know a damned thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Shaligua, Mohammed and all that crap and all of them are in jail.


The Christian Broadcasting Network said that the speech applies not only to African Americans but also to all Americans and their children. CBN also covered the end of Cosby's speech where he encourages listeners to go to their families and improve their parenting so, in turn, the black community can improve:

Well, I've got something to tell you about Jesus. When you go to the church, look at the stained glass things of Jesus. Look at them. Is Jesus smiling? Not in one picture. So, tell your friends. Let's try to do something. Let's try to make Jesus smile. Let's start parenting. Thank you, thank you.[4]

In her book responding to the speech entitled Bill Cosby is Right, What Should the Church Be Doing About It?, Merisa Parson Davis discusses the role of strong families in the community and the church. She also points out statistics that have not changed since the speech was given. These statistics include the fact that homicide is still the leading cause of death for black males ages 12 to 19; that one out of three black men ages 20–29 are under some form of criminal justice supervision; and the fact that only 28 percent of black children are growing up with a mother and father in the home.[4]

Sociologist Michael Eric Dyson criticized Cosby in his book Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind? (2005). Dyson stated that Cosby built up years of mainstream credibility by ignoring race in his comedy routines and in his television programs, but then chose, with the Pound Cake speech, to address the issues of race by chastising poor blacks rather than by defending them. Dyson says that, in blaming low-income blacks for not taking personal responsibility, Cosby is ignoring "white society's responsibility in creating the problems he wants the poor to fix on their own".[5]

In 2015, eleven years later, in circumstances described as "ironic",[6][7] the speech was cited by Judge Eduardo C. Robreno as an example of Cosby's role as "public moralist", when he unsealed court records to reveal Cosby's admissions of infidelity and his giving of Quaaludes to women prior to allegedly sexually assaulting them.[7][8] Robreno referenced this Wikipedia page in his decision and wrote that, by volunteering to the public "his views on, among other things, childrearing, family life, education, and crime",[7][9] Cosby had "narrowed the zone of privacy that he is entitled to claim".[6] The motion was brought by the Associated Press and the admissions gave rise to further allegations that Cosby had committed numerous sexual assaults.[6][7][8]

See also


  1. ^ Coates, Ta-Nehisi (May 2008). "'This Is How We Lost to the White Man': The audacity of Bill Cosby's black conservatism". The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved 2011-02-24.
  2. ^ Cosby, Bill. "Dr. Bill Cosby Speaks". Eight Cities Media & Publications.
  3. ^ Alonso, Gaston; Anderson, Noel; Su, Celina (2009). Our schools suck: students talk back to a segregated nation on the failures of urban education. NYU Press. p. 33. ISBN 0-8147-8308-2.
  4. ^ a b Graham, Efrem (February 20, 2011). "'Pound Cake' Speech Today: Was Bill Cosby Right?".
  5. ^ B.P. (Summer 2006). "Book Review: Is Bill Cosby Right?". Harvard Educational Review.
  6. ^ a b c Jones, Layla A. (7 July 2015). "Judge used Cosby's 'Pound Cake' speech to justify unsealing court documents". Philly.com. Retrieved 2015-08-04.
  7. ^ a b c d Moyer, Justin Wm. (7 July 2015). "How Bill Cosby's 2004 'Pound Cake' speech exploded into his latest legal disaster". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-08-04.
  8. ^ a b Winter, Tom (7 July 2015). "Bill Cosby Said He Gave Quaaludes to Woman Before Sex: Court Documents". NBC News. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
  9. ^ Times, Los Angeles (8 July 2015). "How Bill Cosby's 'Pound Cake' speech backfired on the comedian". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-08-04.

Further reading

  • Alonso, Gaston; Anderson, Noel; Su, Celina (2009). Our schools suck: students talk back to a segregated nation on the failures of urban education. NYU Press. p. 33. ISBN 0-8147-8308-2.
  • Dyson, Michael Eric (2005). Is Cosby Right?. New York: Basic Civitas Books. ISBN 0-465-01719-3.
  • Early, Gerald (2009). Randall Kennedy, ed. Best African American Essays. Random House. p. 161. ISBN 0-553-80692-0.
  • Joseph, Peniel E. (2010). Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama. Basic Civitas Books. p. 197. ISBN 0-465-01366-X.
  • Kasich, John (2006). Stand for Something: The Battle for America's Soul. Hachette Digital. pp. 126–127. ISBN 0-446-57841-X.
  • Leonardo, Zeus (2009). Race, whiteness, and education. Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group. pp. 160–161. ISBN 0-415-99316-4.
  • Mohamed, Theresa A., editor (2006). Essays in response to Bill Cosby's comments about African American failure. ISBN 0-7734-5770-4.
  • Monroe, Sylvester (November 2008). "The truth behind Cosby's Crusade". Ebony. Johnson Publishing. 64 (1): 147–152. ISSN 0012-9011.
  • Price, Melanye T. (2009). Dreaming blackness: black nationalism and African American public opinion. NYU Press. p. 201. ISBN 0-8147-6745-1.
  • Williams, Juan (2007). Enough: the phony leaders, dead-end movements, and culture of failure that are undermining Black America—and what we can do about it. Random House. ISBN 0-307-33824-X.
  • Memorandum by Judge Eduardo C. Robreno – Constand v. Cosby (E.D. Pa. 6 July 2015). Text

External links

  • Pound Cake Speech Transcription provided by Cosby's PR representatives Differs in some details from the one below.
  • American Rhetoric Transcription Differs in some details from the one above.
  • Podcast of Bill Cosby Pound Cake Speech Not the complete speech only 3 minutes 41 seconds.
  • "Review: Is Bill Cosby Right?". Jet. Johnson Publishing. 107 (24): 19. June 2005. ISSN 0021-5996.
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