He Talk Like a White Boy

Reflections of a Conservative Black Man on Faith, Family, Politics, and Authenticity


By Joseph C. Phillips

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As a young student, Joseph Phillips once overheard someone say of him, “He talk like a white boy!” The Denver native never thought that speaking correctly would cause others to question his authenticity as an African-American. Little did he know what lay in his future. His choices in music, politics, faith, and family have given rise to many accusations of his not being “black enough.” As an actor, Joseph has encountered even more pointing fingers, this time for not being liberal enough for Hollywood. With a frank voice and a loving heart, this brilliant, conservative and outspoken African-American man presents a series of funny and thought-provoking essays that speak to the simple fact that authenticity is far more complicated that one’s choice of words or music


Praise for He Talk Like A White Boy
“Joseph Phillips has engaged us through his performance in the arts. Now he provokes us to deep thought through this book. A powerful contribution as we address questions of race in the 21st Century.”
—Star Parker
Author and commentator
“He Talk Like a White Boy is the latest entry in an emerging literature of dissent from black writers who have grown tired of seeing themselves through the prism of an exhausted civil rights ideology. This book is part of a historical correction, but what makes it a good read is the story—an American story—of Joseph C. Phillips. Here is a life that meets the great challenge for blacks today: not to go out and win freedom, but simply to accept the freedom that is already here. Here is a man in full protest against a black identity that has become afraid of freedom. And, in the end, he talks only like himself.”
—Shelby Steele
Senior Fellow, Hoover Institute and award-winning author of
The Content of Our Character
“Joseph C. Phillips has a different take on many issues. Whether you agree with him or not, his writing will always make you think. And that’s what good writers are supposed to do.”
—George E. Curry
Syndicated Columnist
“This book makes the case—through study, reflection, experience, and personal observation—that success results from hard work, deferring gratification, and refusing to play the roll of ‘victicrat.’”
—Larry Elder
Syndicated Radio talk show host and New York Times best-selling author of
The Ten Things You Can’t Say in America
“If you haven’t heard of Joseph Phillips yet, you soon will. He’s a young writer who appreciates the solid values of family, faith, community, and self-reliance that provide the most effective engines for long-term success. In an era of excessively partisan commentators, Joseph cares less about what’s right or left than what works! Welcome to the pantheon of punditry, Joe.”
—Clarence Page
Syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune
“There is much talk about ‘values’ in America, but Joseph Phillips puts meat on the bones with candor and remarkable personal insight. Every parent and teacher should make this book required reading if we want to develop better citizens and better families.”
—Ward Connerly
Member of the University of California Board of Regents
and President of the American Civil Rights Institute
“If you think you know Joseph Phillips, think again. In He Talk Like a White Boy, he offers insights that are funny, moving, and unyielding and just may force you to rethink some of your own views. He is a strong, unique voice that should be heard among those that seek to move black America forward and lift us higher.”
—Roy S. Johnson
Assistant Managing Editor, Sports Illustrated
“Joseph C. Phillips is a heroic voice in the large, but largely muted, American black middle class. He is a husband, a father, a professional success, and an exceptionally insightful writer. Since ‘victim’ is not in his vocabulary, he is also quite dangerous.”
—Andrew Breitbart
Co-author of Hollywood, Interrupted: Insanity Chic in Babylon;
The Case Against Celebrity and longtime contributor to the Drudge Report
“The ongoing cultural dialogue is in desperate need of a plurality of voices. With He Talk Like a White Boy, Joseph C. Phillips marches in fearlessly and quickly establishes himself as an independent and welcome presence. There’s a new sheriff in town!”
—Joseph Farah
Editor and CEO of WorldNetDaily
“Mr. Phillips is a wonderful actor and proves himself as a writer with He Talk Like a White Boy. He writes with intensity, humor, and compassion about the state of black America, patriotism, and most importantly, marriage and family. One doesn’t have to agree with his politics to make this book worth reading.”
—Cheryl R. Cooper
Executive Director, National Council of Negro Women, Inc.
“After one read, you know that this body of work is truly a passion play for Joseph C. Phillips. Like the great blues singer who pours his heart into every lyric, He Talk Like a White Boy is the soundtrack of his life.”
—Leonard Richardson
Vice President, Music, The WB Television Network
“Joseph Phillips is a true renaissance man. We all know of his skills as an actor, but few of us knew of his tremendous writing ability. From page one, I was completely engaged with his essays. Joseph Phillips’ ability to seamlessly transfer his most heartfelt emotions to paper is remarkable. I recommend this book to all of us trying to understand the many and varied relationships of our lives. Not only will you recognize yourself within these pages, but you will learn so much in the process.”
—Hope Sullivan, Esq.
President of The Sullivan Foundation
“Yes, Joseph C. Phillips is a conservative, but He Talk Like a White Boy is ultimately an uplifting story about the potency of dreams. Phillips begins with a tragic tale of loss and survival and ends with an affirmation of the power of dreamers to transform society.”
—Binyamin L. Jolkovsky
Editor in Chief, JewishWorldReview.com
“Don’t buy this book. Don’t borrow it from somebody else. And for heaven’s sake don’t read it! Unless, of course, you enjoy having all of your precious notions about life altered for the better. Now that I’ve read He Talk Like a White Boy, I’m having a very tough time getting all these new ideas out of my head. SAVE YOURSELF!”
—Robb Armstrong
Nationally Syndicated Cartoonist and creator of the comic strip, “JumpStart”
“He Talk Like a White Boy is an enthralling piece of work! In many ways, Joseph C. Phillips challenges his readers to consider thinking original thoughts with honesty. This book is definitely a page-turner!”
—Tony Magee, MS, MBA
Author of Can’t Shove a Great Life into a Small Dream:
12 Life-Essentials to Grow Your Dreams to Match the Life You Want
“Phillips provides an insightful and poignant analysis of the socio-political issues affecting African American men. His wide-ranging commentary vividly tackles the principles of raising young children amidst the myriad of societal influences, maintaining a successful relationship, and the importance of family generally. His perspectives expressed throughout the book are simultaneously refreshing, thought provoking and inspirational. America has a new voice in the social commentary arena and his name is Joseph C. Phillips!”
—Alvin Williams
President and CEO of Black America’s Political Action Committee

For my family:
My beautiful Monkey,
Stinky Molloy,
Crusty Flannigan,
Lumpy Sandoval
All that I have.
All that I am.

I often think that the C. in Joseph C. Phillips’ name stands for courage. It takes a lot of courage these days to be black and Republican-especially in Hollywood. It takes a lot of courage to write and say things that aren’t politically correct, or to challenge black leaders and the beliefs held by many black folk in this country. It takes a lot of courage to share the personal pain and joy of marriage and fatherhood. It takes a lot of courage to simply broach the subject of race or racism, even among people who look like you. And perhaps most of all, given our differences on so many issues, I would have to say it takes a lot of courage to ask ME to write the foreword to this book.
I met Joseph years ago when he was starring on NBC’s The Cosby Show. I am still a die-hard Cosby show fan, and I’ve always been amused by his role as Denise Huxtable’s husband, Lt. Martin Kendell. It was funny to see how often his character illustrated the contractions and stereotypes that exist in the black community regarding patriotism, gender roles, and family values. It wasn’t until he became a regular commentator on my National Public Radio show that I came to understand and appreciate that he actually champions many of these same issues in real life.
Joseph’s thoughts on politics reinforce the fact that being African American and a conservative Republican are not mutually exclusive. Whether he’s talking about R & B or reparations, his regular commentaries, many of which are contained in this book, offer a fresh, unflinching approach to the tough questions and answers regarding love, leadership, responsibility, and authority often debated in Black America and beyond. Political ideology aside, Joseph eloquently expresses the idea that in an era of corporate scandals and general moral decline, basic principles matter. I couldn’t agree more.
Joseph’s writing is perhaps most passionate when it comes to the issue of fatherhood. The father is often perceived as someone absent from the African American family, but this book shows another side to that image—one depicting a black man as a supportive and nurturing parent. Using his own childhood as an example, Joseph explores the relationship between fathers and sons in all its diversity and complexity. And he doesn’t just “talk the talk.” I’ve seen him in action with Connor, Ellis, and Samuel—his three beautiful boys. Whether it’s his stoic approach to discipline or his longing to upstage his wife in managing the household, his experiences will either make you laugh out loud or shake your head in disbelief.
He Talk Like A White Boy is a poignant portrait of Joseph’s life as an actor, activist, writer, husband, and father. This book provides considerable insight into American culture and delivers valuable messages to everyone-black, white, young, old, Republican, Democrat-about character, relationships, family, and the daily struggle each of us face to make a difference.
Whether the essays in He Talk Like A White Boy make you feel at home or heated, you will find them provocative, inspiring, and at times even entertaining. I don’t share Joseph’s love affair with cowboys, but I do share his appreciation for what it means to be a hero-someone who strives to lead by example.
Tavis Smiley

Three years later and I am still talking like a white boy. Or so I am told. Quite a bit has happened since the original publication of my book: Hurricane Katrina, man-made global warming, and at the time of this writing, Barack Obama, a black man has made history by becoming the Democratic Party’s nominee for the presidency of the United States. I have also had the opportunity to travel the country speaking to Americans of all ethnicities and from all walks of life.
Yet as the saying goes: “The more things change the more they stay the same.” Though my children are three years older, they still get on my nerves, even as my wife and I celebrated our fourteenth wedding anniversary I am still trying to figure marriage out, still struggling with faith, and still trying to wrap my head around the complex and often antithetical relationship between conservative thought and race consciousness. But this paperback edition of He Talk Like a White Boy is more than a reissuing of the same message in the same essays. There are differences in the paperback form of this book that should be noted. Namely, I have included a handful of new essays and an afterword wherein I discuss some of the issues that arose subsequent to the publication of the hardcover version of White Boy, and my thoughts on the issues of faith, politics, and authenticity. If you are a new reader: welcome. If you are returning: welcome back.
Writing helped me do a couple of things. First, it motivated me to finally clean my office. I had papers everywhere-books, CDs, computer discs, and junk stacked a foot high on my desk. I found it difficult to think with all that clutter. I sifted through the mess and gave myself a clear space in which to work.
Second, it helped me clear the clutter from my mind. For years these stories and thoughts have been piling up inside me and, quite frankly, my wife told me she was tired of hearing them. “Why don’t you write some of that stuff down?” she asked. I began putting pen to paper. Before I knew it, I had a weekly column that was appearing in newspapers across the country and one of the best roles of my life: a regular political and cultural commentator on “The Tavis Smiley Show” (and later on “News and Notes with Ed Gordon”) on National Public Radio.
As I wrote, a pattern began to emerge. I realized there were a handful of themes I continued to revisit again and again. The essays that follow are drawn from my weekly column and commentary. Some have been rewritten and some are new, but all of them reflect those recurring themes: my love for America, my belief that the values that make the black community strong also make America strong, and my life as a husband and father who is also black in America.
I have grown tired of hearing people badmouth America. I love my country and claim it as my own because I believe America is good. And to those who would question my allegiance to a nation that once enslaved folk who looked like me, I answer that I proclaim my Americanness precisely because my people are in the soil. Our roots extend deeply into the mud of Mississippi, the dust of Texas and Arizona, the red clay of Colorado, the black earth of Virginia and North Carolina, and the sand of New England. This nation is mine! I claim it boldly and without hesitation, and I dare anyone to try and deny me my full inheritance.
I originally called this book Cowboys and Colored People from an old joke told by the late great comedian Flip Wilson. Wilson tells the story of an encounter he had with an Indian named Henry. While at a party, Wilson pulls Henry aside and advises him that it’s time the Indians got their act together. Wilson points out all of the progress black people have made over the years, noting the prominence of African Americans in sports and entertainment and their emerging political clout. Wilson even suggests to Henry that black people would be willing to change the name of the NAACP to the “National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Immediately and the Indians on a Gradual Basis.” After a time, Henry is fed up and responds, “Yeah, you may be right, but I never heard of anyone playing ‘Cowboys and Colored People.’” (I admit my retelling does not do the joke justice. A joke fails to remain funny after some knucklehead has explained and analyzed it to death. I urge you to either hunt down the original album recording on Atlantic Records or check it out of your local library.)
It’s a tribute to Flip, a master of his craft who, in 1967, was so deftly and humorously able to point out that, in spite of the great social and economic strides made by black people, we had yet to weave ourselves into the fabric of Americana. We had not received our full inheritance. We had Ralph Bunche, Willie Mays, and Sidney Poitier in the mid- to late sixties, but we remained stepchildren in America.
Needless to say, the publishers didn’t like my title. In fact, they hated it. But the soul of that idea is still a part of what this book is about. The forward progress of this nation and of black people in asserting their citizenship cannot be turned aside. We are stepchildren no more, even if at times we seem unwilling to accept that reality. The doors of opportunity are flying open at an obscene pace. No, we are not quite at the mountaintop but we are within view. To paraphrase John McWhorter in his book Authentically Black, life is not perfect but certainly we can make our way up the last few steps to the mountaintop by pulling in our stomachs and forging ahead.
Of course black folk are not supposed to say that, at least not in public.
The day after my high school graduation I was at my friend Jerald’s house. His older sister was commenting on the previous day’s ceremony and complimented me on my commencement address. “You gave a good speech,” she said. “You sounded really smart,” to which she added, “You sounded white.” I looked at her cross-eyed and asked, “Did you hear what you just said?”
Of course this was not the first time I had heard this, nor would it be my last. The charge of sounding white had haunted me all through school and would haunt me well into my professional acting career. “Joseph, do it again and this time try to sound more black.” I have been black all my life. How can I be more black? I told this story to the publisher and wham! There was the title of the book. As I shared it with friends and family, it seemed to resonate. A great many people, it seems, shared my experience and agreed that to assert a belief in black self-sufficiency is not a betrayal of the race. Here is another important theme of this book. The essays between these covers explore the attributes that I believe to be the core strength of the black community, namely: faith, character, idealism, and family values. Oddly enough, these attributes also represent the core strength of America.
Writing about America’s strength, French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville said: “I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good. And if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
The apostle James said: “I will show you my faith by my works.”
The goodness of America begins with faith and so too the goodness of men. Faith is the beginning because faith inspires behavior, which is character manifest. In other words, faith is the bedrock on which notions of charity, justice, and morality are built. The conviction that character counts-that principles and values are important-is the definition of idealism. And in no place is our idealism, the modeling of character, more important than in our families. The family is really the incubator of the next generation of citizens and citizen leaders. Family values really mean the disciplining of our children in standards of behavior in order that they grow to be adults who humble themselves before God and infuse their lives with a greater sense of purpose. It is my heartfelt belief that children raised in faith grow to be men and women with a true sense of morality and justice. Children raised in faith grow to be leaders of men, instruments of change and healing; because of their faith, character, and idealism, they grow to be lovers of and guardians of liberty. Moving away from these values weakens our families, which weakens our communities, thereby weakening our nation.
Finally, this book is about me. Like most of us good folk here in Hollywood, I love to talk about myself. However, on these pages I am not merely shamelessly self-promoting; I am telling my story. Years ago, when the John Singleton film Boyz N the Hood opened to critical acclaim, I remember hearing Singleton say during an interview, “Finally the truth of what it is like growing up black in America is being told.” I thought, whose truth? That may be your truth but it is certainly not my truth. In my ‘hood the nights were filled not with the sound of helicopters hovering overhead but the sound of water sprinklers and crickets, and snow falling during the winter. Not only was my ‘hood integrated, we somehow managed to get through the day without gang fights and drive-by shootings. Sure there were fights and drinking and dope. I imagine Denver during the seventies was like most other metropolitan cities with its share of drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll, as they say. But there was also hope. We talked about doing great things with our lives—starting families, going to college, and changing the world. Our dreams were not constrained by race or hindered by pessimism. The realities of the world were not lost on us. We were just a generation that believed all things were possible.
I’ve grown tired of the one-dimensional portrayal of black life in our cultural discourse—the pessimism, nihilism, and hedonism. I have grown frustrated by the limits imposed on black individuality by white liberals and I have grown impatient with the limits that are just as often imposed by the black community. It seems an obvious notion then that if you don’t tell your own story, someone else will tell it for you and you may not be happy with what they have to say.
Quiet as it’s kept, black people like me exist and I grow more convinced every day that more and more black people share my thoughts on a great many subjects. They share my belief in the dynamism and vitality of the black community and my belief that this is a great nation not because of the good things we have, but because of the good things we believe. They feel betrayed by the progressive leadership that has led us away from the principles of faith, character, and idealism and they are waking up to the need to rededicate ourselves to the traditional values on which this nation was founded. The old paradigm is shifting and a new black thinking is emerging that will carry us well into the twenty-first century and finally the last few steps up to the mountaintop.
Although I like to make speeches, I am not a politician. Nor am I an academic. I am a husband and father of three boys, a man who loves to cook and watch western movies. I am an actor who has had a whiff of celebrity and liked the way it smelled, and I am a black man whose politics tend toward the conservative and who, much to my wife’s dismay, happens to have an opinion on just about everything.
Welcome to my world.


Membership Card

Let me take you back-September 1974. A little Seals & Croft playing on the AM transistor radio, maybe some Three Dog Night. Denver, Colorado. This is where my story begins. Like so many autumn afternoons in Denver, the brightness of the sun belies the crisp chill in the air. Place Junior High school, eighth grade English class—not just regular English, mind you, but accelerated English class. My teacher was Miss Smith. Her class stands in my mind as a monument, a shrine to all that is cold and cruel about this world.
I don’t remember what the class discussion was about, but after an undoubtedly brilliant and insightful observation on my part, a black girl from across the room raised her hand and announced to the class, “He talk like a white boy!”
I don’t know what this had to do with the discussion or why she felt the need to share that little observation with the rest of the class. But one thing I do know is that in an accelerated English class, the teacher should have corrected her immediately.
“No, LaQueesha. Joseph speaks like a white boy! Class, repeat after me. ‘Joseph speaks like a white boy.’ Now, LaQueesha, you try.”
“Miss Smith, Joseph speaks like a white boy!”
“Very good.”
Bam! I was thrust into the spotlight. (And me not even knowin’ how to tap dance!)
What did LaQueesha mean? That I spoke clearly? Intelligently? That some timbre was missing from my voice? At twelve, should one have timbre? I didn’t know then and still don’t know now. But that moment was not only the beginning of junior high school, it was the beginning of my life.
The man I am today has its genesis in that moment. In that instant I became acutely aware that I was different. Until that moment, I never realized there was something wrong with the way I spoke, that answering questions in class was acting “white.”
I never knew how ugly, or hurtful, the words “Uncle Tom” were. In that moment, the tyranny of opinion-the notion that there are some people empowered to stand at the doors of a culture and determine who and who is not welcome-was made painfully clear to me. My definition of blackness-more accurately, my black self-was unimportant. That decision was left to the anointed, and no matter how idiotic, arcane, or nihilistic their definition, any deviation would be dealt with swiftly and decisively.
So there you have it. At the tender age of twelve, with no warning whatsoever, my membership credentials to the brotherhood were confiscated and ripped to shreds. The mere difference in how I spoke-the sound of my voice, my diction-clearly meant that I was trying to be something I wasn’t, that I was an infiltrator, and that difference, real or perceived, made me an outsider.


On Sale
Dec 10, 2008
Page Count
304 pages
Running Press

Joseph C. Phillips

About the Author

Joseph C. Phillips is an actor, writer, lecturer, and social commentator best known for his role on The Cosby Show as the character Denise’s (Lisa Bonet) husband, Lt. Martin Kendall. As a social commentator, Joseph’s writing has appeared in Newsweek, Los Angeles Daily News, Essence, Upscale, USA Today, and more. He writes a weekly syndicated column, “The Way I See It,” and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and three children. Please visit him at http://www.josephcphillips.com.

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