Sunday, February 10, 2002

Tough love

No Cosby left room for change

        Bill Cosby, the most likeable black man in America, has not 'dissed Cincinnati.

        He's done us a favor.

        The comic, best known for inflicting a vigorous yet gentle ribbing on his audiences, last week gave Cincinnati its latest black eye.

        He canceled two March 15 appearances at the Aronoff Center for the Arts, saying he feels uncomfortable with the city's environment.

        He busted the budgets of some Tristate nonprofit arts organizations that depend on Aronoff funding. He offended numerous fans who felt betrayed.

        But Bill Cosby is giving us more than he's taking away.

        He has upped the ante on change, not so gently pushing us in the direction of real progress on race.

        He's made it hard for community leaders — especially Mayor Charlie Luken and Black United Front leader the Rev. Damon Lynch III — to languish comfortably atop their usual soap boxes, taking public shots at each other and flexing their muscles.

        Cincinnati cares what Cosby thinks of us.

        He's not a radical rapper hoping headlines will turn into record sales. Cosby's made his millions. Through books like Fatherhood and roles like the lovable Cliff Huxtable, he has sold us on positive images about blacks being strong parents and pillars of their community.

        He taught us to like Jello or, at least, like its commercials.

        He helps us laugh at ourselves.

        So if the funnyman says that now's not the time for laughs, we ought to listen to him.

        It's understandable to feel frustrated about Cincinnati's slow pace toward racial progress. It's like rolling a proverbial rock uphill; we know there's a summit up there somewhere, but is it really worth the trip?

        Worst of all, the spat between Mayor Luken and Rev. Lynch is drowning out any message either has about the races getting along.

        It's time for some tough love.

        You remember that trend in family therapy, where conflict and painful confrontations are supposed to be good for healthy relations? Clashes, tough love says, can clear the air of hostility, get you past pursed-lipped silences into painful yet productive truth.

        Mayor Luken and Rev. Lynch should try that. Go on a retreat in a neutral setting, away from the TV cameras and microphones, away from their constituents and “power bases.”

        They should go at it. Air their criticisms, listen to each other's complaints, lock horns. Then they should agree that racial equality, justice and community advancement are more important than all that.

        Then, they'll be better able to check their unproductive attitudes at the door, put down their fighting gloves and hammer out some compromise.

        Then the rest of us Tristaters would follow suit, bravely taking our seats at the table of compromise.

        Mr. Cosby's cancellation should encourage us — no, embarrass us — into this. Don't begrudge the blunt force of this boycott.

        And, when the shouting's over and real change is on its way, we should re-invite Mr. Cosby.

        Until then, let's postpone the laughter until all of Cincinnati can chuckle along.


        Denise Smith Amos can be reached at 768-8395; by fax at 768-8340; or e-mail at


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