Pound Cake Speech Essay

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 EducationSupreme Court decision.[1] In the speech, which was subsequently widely disseminated and analysed, 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 parents 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 boys 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 JudgeEduardo 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 drugs (Quaaludes) to women prior to having sexual intercourse with 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]


Further reading[edit]

  • 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[edit]

  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. ^ abGraham, 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. ^ abcJones, Layla A. (7 July 2015). "Judge used Cosby's 'Pound Cake' speech to justify unsealing court documents". Philly.com. Retrieved 2015-08-04. 
  7. ^ abcdMoyer, 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. ^ abWinter, 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. 

More than a decade ago, Bill Cosby shocked many of the comedian's longtime admirers with a lengthy speech excoriating the black poor for failing to live up to the promise of the civil rights movement. Given at a 2004 NAACP event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the decision striking down segregated public schools, Cosby mixed a familiar message of black empowerment with a palpable disgust for what he described as black lower-class norms and behavior.

The speech, which came to be known as the "Pound Cake Speech," launched a second career for Cosby as a social critic who found supporters both on the American right and within the black community for his message that the black community's real obstacles to social advancement were personal and cultural and could not be blamed on white racism.

Ironically, it was Cosby's decision to hold himself up as a moral exemplar that would bring to light Cosby's admission that he obtained drugs for "young women he wanted to have sex with." A judge unsealed documents in a decade-old lawsuit in part because of Cosby's role as a "public moralist."

The Pound Cake Speech was both an act of shaming and a tribute to the power of shame. More than 10 years later, it is now Cosby who finds himself an object of profound shame for those who trusted and believed in him.

But the Pound Cake Speech itself was never the grand manifesto it was made out to be. Taking a look back at the speech 11 years later in light of what we now know about Cosby, the speech is rife not only with inaccuracies and flawed premises, but immeasurable hypocrisy. What follows is a detailed, but by no means exhaustive, annotation of The Pound Cake Speech.

COSBY: Ladies and gentlemen, I really have to ask you to seriously consider what you’ve heard, and now this is the end of the evening so to speak. I heard a prize fight manager say to his fellow who was losing badly, “David, listen to me. It’s not what’s he’s doing to you. It’s what you’re not doing. (laughter).

Ladies and gentlemen, these people set, they opened the doors, they gave us the right, and today, ladies and gentlemen, in our cities and public schools we have fifty percent drop out. In our own neighborhood, we have men in prison. No longer is a person embarrassed because they’re pregnant without a husband. (clapping) No longer is a boy considered an embarrassment if he tries to run away from being the father of the unmarried child (clapping).

"They opened the doors"

The doors were open after Brown v. Board of Education, but only very briefly. Desegregation orders ensured 90 percent of black children were attending desegregated schools by the 1970s, but white flight and legal opposition quickly reversed those gains. By 2004, about three million black children were attending hyper-segregated schools in which 90 percent or more students were minorities, according to ProPublica . Three years later, in 2007, a Supreme Court ruling sharply curtailed the ability of schools to consider race when trying to diversify public schools.

"Fifty percent drop out"

The black high school dropout rate in 2004, when this speech was given, was about 13 percent, not 50 percent, according to the Pew Research Center. Today it is eight percent, a historic low.

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