'We Are Losing...'

The words HELLO FRIEND welcome you into Bill Cosby's dressing room at the Kaufman-Astoria studio in Queens, N.Y. A bright, multicolor sign bears that greeting, the favorite of Cosby's only son, Ennis, murdered at 27 earlier this year. Black literature, jazz CDs and artwork depicting the struggle for 40 acres and a mule grace the walls.

Cosby is dressed in brown corduroy pants and a brown sweater, smoking a Cuban cigar. Though his face looks drawn and tired, it's clear that he loves interacting with people; the studio is jammed with his daughter Erin, 30, and old friends. And the set of ""Cosby'' is also full of younger black people, staff members busily preparing for the taping. His love for young people, he says, is what makes him angry at the images of them in the media. And, when he spoke to NEWSWEEK'S Allison Samuels last week, he was particularly annoyed at a new black sex comedy, ""Booty Call.''

Newsweek: You've mentioned that film several times today. What is it, exactly, that you object to?

Cosby: What do I think of ""Booty Call''? [He gives that stern Cosby look.] You talk to the guys putting that image out there today and they'll say, ""Would you rather me be waiting in the alley for you or making "Booty Call'?'' I say: ""Have you looked in the paper in the want ads? There is something else you can be doing.'' There is a middle ground and there is no need for a ""Booty Call,'' for the stuff that shows our young people only interested in the flesh and no other depth.

What about television? The new networks UPN and WB have been criticized for some of their black portrayals. Do you agree?

There is no excuse for those, either, or the lack of intelligence. We're talking about having an appreciation for a race of people. All they found at those networks is a way to say: ""This is how these people act and that's why we refuse to allow a large number of them to network with us on Wall Street or where-have-you.'' And that keeps us estranged from the rest of the country.

So the media perpetuate racism?

Yes. Get people from anywhere in the world and they all have this negative view of the black man, because of what they've seen, not what they know. We are a proud people in this country. You don't have a light bulb or a steamboat without us. But how can you impress anybody when all your shows or movies or songs are about the pursuit of the flesh? Isn't there a passion, an education or something else that can be talked about?

What bothers you the most about hip-hop?

I was with this kid the other day, about 23 years old, said he was a musician so I played him some of my music--jazz. Boy didn't know one instrument from another. But that's what happens when one machine does everything--so you don't learn. And it really frustrates me on the college campuses where you hope kids are learning and not just listening to that mess.

But a song or TV show isn't real life. Do you think kids really imitate what they see?

Yes, I think they do. Growing up in the projects we played cowboys and Indians--and we knew the Indians always lost so we all wanted to be cowboys. The kids today see the movies and they live those things out in true lifestyle.

But in the end it's all about uniforms and which one you choose to wear. If you put on a marine's uniform, you're going to stand proud. Why? Because you've put in the hard work to become one. You're not going to have a ""hood walk.'' These kids have to understand that it's how you represent yourself that counts and makes people look at you and respect you.

Is this generation of kids being raised differently, and is that part of the problem?

Kids have so much more out there to choose from today with drugs, music and videos, and fewer voices of reason saying to them, ""Look, I am watching out for you.'' Or ""You can't do that here because I know your mother and father.'' And that hurts.

Are things going to get better or get worse?

We are losing . . . whatever it is. You can't call it a war, because we don't have enough volunteers to go and declare anything. And any time the government becomes involved it's disaster. But nothing ever happens anyway until it hits the wealthy. Very few people listen to the lower-, lower-income people--which is a lot of people of color. And this is not just a black thing. White people have these problems, too, but the government prefers to keep it quiet. And they feel that by keeping it quiet eventually the people of color will just go away or scalp each other and everything will be OK.

So you have no hope?

I am very hopeful because there are people out there trying to find the answers. Like educators, they must have power. But it's easy for me as a performer to say anything, but I am not out there everyday fighting the fight with the troops everyday. The answer is in hardworking people finding answers and fighting for change in the system.

Ennis [who taught children with learning disabilities] was one of those people. He was going to make changes. And the beautiful part was that he never said it. He just cared and that's why he was my hero.

Let me tell you how I feel about Ennis. When people die, you will hear some people say that God called that person. I don't believe that. I mean I believe in God but I am not accepting that in this particular case. Yes, there may be some people that God will call in my mind. But God didn't call Ennis. It wasn't his time. The person who murdered Ennis is somewhere out there riding with the Devil.