I liked the military cat though.
Posted on Wed, May. 17, 2006 'Cosby' actor disputes who defines 'black'
By Dwayne Campbell
Inquirer Staff Writer
Joseph C. Phillips doesn't recall exactly what he was talking about that day in English class, but he remembers well the pronouncement from his classmate LaQueesha.
"He talk like a white boy," she announced, loud enough for their entire eighth-grade class to hear.
Phillips, who went on to gain notice as Lt. Martin Kendall, the straight-talking husband to quirky Denise Huxtable on The Cosby Show, believes LaQueesha questioned his 12-year-old "blackness" that day.
That question of black authenticity would follow Phillips long after he left his Denver junior high school. It returned during his college years at New York University. It hovers over his adult life as a radio commentator, syndicated newspaper columnist ("The Way I See It"), married father of three sons, and an actor who has been asked to "try and sound more black."
LaQueesha's words are the title of Phillips' first book, He Talk Like a White Boy: Reflections on Faith, Family, Politics and Authenticity (Running Press, $22.95) one that has cemented the Strictly Business star as an unwavering conservative, proud black Republican, and an insightful, often-touching essayist on marriage, fatherhood and faith. He'll sign copies today during the Literary Cafe at Zanzibar Blue.
Phillips, 44, didn't set out to write a book. In the late 1990s, he played Justus Ward in General Hospital and had other small roles on stage and screen. He became a regular commentator of the former Tavis Smiley Show on NPR and was gaining attention as a conservative talker just as his Hollywood North star appeared to be leading him to less frequent roles.
"Tavis challenged me to write the book, and I've never been one to let a challenge go," Phillips said in a telephone interview this month from Los Angeles.
In the foreword of He Talk Like a White Boy, Smiley calls Phillips courageous for tackling race and politics and for taking on black leaders. In the book, Phillips explores what it means to be black. He questions people (including his sister Lisa) who he believes want to control what qualifies as true blackness. He questions the need to view people in a prism of race.
"I'm trying to move beyond the notion of the limiting definition of who you are, of who you can be, based on race," Phillips said. "I reject that not only from black people, the 'racial gatekeepers' I call them, who hold the membership cards and issue edicts on what is black."Some of Phillips' views, especially political ones, are uncommon among many African Americans. He is doubtful about the benefits of diversity, believes that too many African Americans claim victimhood, and that the "race card" is overplayed and dog-eared.
But he is expressing his views at a time when many African Americans are engaging in a national conversation about how best to ease burdens in the black community - better education, better jobs, less imprisonment - regardless of political affiliation.
Smiley's own book, the best-selling The Covenant With Black America, details ailments in the black community and suggests nonpartisan solutions.Still, Phillips' praise for President Bush and appreciation of ultra-conservatives such as Ward Connerly, who opposes affirmative action, may not earn him any points in some households.
But overall, the book is less about politics and more about family, faith, character, and how to best raise kids and educate them. Phillips uses his wife, who works full time, and his sons, ages 8, 6, and 4, to shed light on how he faces some of life's common challenges.
"The book is not about politics, it's about values," Phillips said, adding that some of his more liberal friends have read it and agree with much of it.
These are the essays that might hit the mark for people grappling with upheaval in some African American households, especially those discussing the plight of some young black men.
"I was reading something that says the outlook for us is bleak," Phillips said. "There is a sense among a lot of people that this is true, but what happened to the old-school values that men had to step up and lead their communities?... We need our men to raise our boys. Women raise children, men raise men."
Phillips opens up about his mother's suicide two decades ago. He also speaks of his father with tenderness, realizing after he died that it couldn't have been easy for him to become a doctor after being born "in the heart of Depression-era Brunswick, Ga."
"It is a shame that as social currency, fatherhood has been so drastically devalued," he writes. "A man's honor is cheap. Starlets grace the cover of magazines celebrating the birth of their fatherless children."
"The values of family, faith, freedom I don't believe are conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat," Phillips said. "These are old-school values that made black America strong and dynamic."