Update: On Thursday, April 26, Bill Cosby was found guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at his home in a Philadelphia suburb in 2004. He currently faces up to 10 years in prison for each count; 30 years in total.
You know, did you ever get up in the mornin, with the blues three different ways?
You had two mind to leave here, and you didn’t have but one such to stay.
— Son House
It’s a hard thing to accept.
Even now, with everything coming to the light, it’s hard. It’s especially hard watching his fall from grace, with the whole world seemingly clawing at his flesh, peeling it from his bones.
Still, you can’t deny they have the right to do so. Protesters have the right to correctly point out that these accusations are beyond horrible and that the stories are sickening and evidence of a possible predatory sociopath who has been hiding in plain view, for generations.
They are entirely right to feel this way. Yet, what they do not understand, and what they miss, is that for many people (read: blacks) this isn’t so cut-and-dry.
No, to many in the black community, this is something more. This is murder of the most violent kind.
And the main suspect is a family member; one whom for years we have all collectively trusted, loved and — for some — even aspired to be.
It’s not as simple as pointing out the bad guy with righteous indignation and screaming, “there he is, there he is!” Because that “he” has been one of the most important people in our collective households.
And it’s a very fucking hard thing to accept.
And yet, I guess, it’s a thing we must get over. We must admit that surely, Bill Cosby is a monster.
And we have to deal with that. We have to get over it.
Through no fault of our own, mind you. No, the fault lay on the shoulders of that one family member, that crazy father, who just didn’t know — or didn’t care — about the damage he and his self-destructive ways were bringing to the doorstep of his own family.
I was never supposed to like Bill Cosby.
In fact, I was trained to hate him by a father who was and still is very anti-Bill Cosby.
Apparently, at some point, Cosby spoke out against a television networks’ attempt to purchase or run old episodes of Amos and Andy.
For those that don’t know, Amos and Andy was an old minstrel show that existed in radio form in the 20’s. It became a television show in the 50’s and its black actors, although playing…hooorribly racist characters, still laid the foundation for black actors on the screen today.
Oddly, my father, a Vietnam War veteran and raging militant, respected that.
So he became furious that Cosby, along with a number of other prominent African-American entertainers, according to Snopes.com, “campaigned to pressure CBS into withdrawing [racially insensitive programming] from syndication back in the 1960s.”
How dare they, my father thought. How dare Bill Cosby.
He never watched the Cosby Show after that. Fuck that, he thought. Amos and Andy paved the way for Cosby and this is how he treats them?
Unfortunately for him, my mother loved Heathcliff Huxtable and his brood. So my brother and I watched with her and, in spite of my father, we loved it.
My father didn’t fight it. For all his bluster, he was relatively accommodating. Instead, he chose to leave us with the old fatherly standard, “You’ll understand when you’re older.”
Yes, we loved the Cosby Show, and by proxy, Bill Cosby himself. And we weren’t alone. The country loved him. The Cosby Show was the No. 1 ranked television show for five of it’s eight seasons. It has won numerous awards and honors including six Emmys, two Golden Globe awards and three NAACP awards. It is and — despite the current controversy — should still be considered one of the best television sitcoms of all time.
Cosby was “America’s Father” during the 80’s, which is huge considering the title was given to a black man.
But beyond the superficial affection that mainstream America had for a non-threatening and (at the time) non-controversial Cosby, to African-American audiences of a certain ilk, he was a god.
That can, and should not, be understated.
That is how Cosby was (and to some, still is) viewed by many in the African-American community.
This is why the black community’s hesitance to completely disown Cosby can’t be simply explained away as some manifestation of “Rape Culture.”
We are talking about a man who almost single–handedly started the engine that has driven several generations of young blacks towards higher education.
That’s not hyperbole.
“Few figures living or dead can boast the impact that Cosby has wielded across the black higher education landscape,” writes Ron Stodghill for Salon.
“Whether it was the millions of dollars he gifted universities from his own pocket, or the millions he helped raise hosting Historically Black Colleges and Universities, or HBCU, fundraisers, or the credibility he gave the institutions by simply sporting a black college sweatshirt through an airport, Cosby has had a huge impact across the black higher education landscape.”
To call the man simply loved within the halls of black academia is almost an insult.
According to the New York Times, “Mr. Cosby has taken in at least 57 such degrees since 1985. He received them from every kind of school from the very big, like the University of Southern California, to smaller schools like Berklee College of Music in Boston. Several of Mr. Cosby’s honorary degrees came from historically black colleges, including Delaware State University, Fisk University in Nashville and Dillard University in New Orleans, which bestowed its honor in 2006, during its first commencement after Hurricane Katrina.
“Typically the schools honored Mr. Cosby for his success as an entertainer, as well as his pronounced support for education and his espousal of the sort of bootstraps perseverance that would serve young graduates well.”
Nowhere in academia is Cosby more revered than in the community of Historically Black Colleges.
This is where his support during these accusations has been the strongest. While other institutions have been rescinding the degrees they awarded Cosby, HBCUs — and more importantly their alumni — have been ardent supporters.
One Spelman College alumna whom I consider a friend, lamented a deep sense of conflict about the allegations. Sure Cosby must be a monster, but he’s also the guy who, along with his wife, donated $20 million dollars to her school; a school to which she owes her career and, to some extent, life and identity.
“I don’t know what to think about it Richard! What do you think?!”
I had this feeling that she wasn’t just asking me for an answer, but also for some sort of analytical way out. She wanted me to tell her that it was still okay to like Bill, because we all, especially educated blacks, owed him.
And boy is she not alone.
Lining the horizon is a legion of Cosby supporters who are prepared to fly face first into the hail of accusations, and you’d be surprised how many of them are women.
Along with my friend there was Phylicia Rashad, Jill Scott, Whoopi Goldberg have all, at some point, supported Cosby through his situation.
As Stodghill writes, “Fat Albert, Claire Huxtable, and even Little Bill are like bells in the black subconscious that cannot be unrung; not any more than yanking down the six Chicago Bulls championship banners from the United Center would erase from a hoop fan’s memory Michael Jordan’s soaring dunks.”
“You’ll understand when you get older!”
My father’s words rang true to me, as I sat paralyzed with anger reading online and media responses to what would become known as Bill Cosby’s “Pound Cake speech.”
In May 2004, Bill Cosby pulled what was probably his first major heel turn, when he
seemingly attacked — with no real context, authority or understanding — the poor black community over issues of parenting, education and all-around morality.
This is where he officially lost me.
I remember being a 20-something hip-hop head, living in a Northwest, Washington, D.C., apartment; writing rhymes and poetry by day, and tagging 16th Street by night.
Look, I’m a rap guy, and I’m very territorial. When you step on something I care about, it doesn’t really take much more for me to dislike you.
I probably should have seen it coming. Long before the “pound cake” speech, he was rubbing hip hop the wrong way. Whether it was attacking the safe sex comedy Booty Call because he didn’t get it, or railing against the Simpsons and their irreverent and edgy look into the lives of American families, Cosby seemed to be on a warpath.
At every turn Cosby seemed intent on thumbing his nose at any modern and youthful way of thinking that may stray from his very narrow view of what’s “right.”
And for whatever reason, it irked me most when he targeted black youth. And no, it wasn’t about some weird fear of him “airing the dirty laundry.”
Bill Cosby is from Philadelphia; he didn’t have a hard life, but he didn’t necessarily have an easy one either. In his youth, he had to have seen and witnessed how the hood dynamic and multi-generational poverty can wreak havoc on any community, no matter how strong.
The environment alone can be poisonous.
Many behavioral problems for kids in low-income areas can be traced to some type of development disability stemming from poor healthcare, prenatal care and/or — the now infamous — lead-paint poisoning.
So sure, you can tell an inner city black youth to stop “embarrassing your mother” with his odd lack of self control, but when you take into account that, according to a recent Washington Post article, “over 40 percent of the states that reported lead test results in 2014 have higher rates of lead poisoning among children than [Flint, Michigan],” then one with little knowledge on the subject would be smart to take pause and/or shut the fuck up.
Ah yes, Flint: The most recent volley in this post-Trayvon era of black civil unrest.
You know, Flint’s Mayor Karen Weaver acknowledged that “the damage done to Flint children because of lead exposure is irreversible.” She acknowledged that someone was going to have to foot the bill for the “increased spending on special education and mental health services and increased stress on the juvenile justice system” that such a state-sanctioned poisoning will cause down the road.
The Post found that, aside from Michigan, 12 other states reported a greater percentage of kids under six years old met or surpassed the threshold of lead intake that necessitates public health action. The most egregious example, according to the report, ironically, was Cosby’s home state: Pennsylvania.
There, 8.5 percent of the children tested were found to have dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.
So no, Mr. Cosby, even at your own doorstep, it was never just about blacks not knowing how to behave.
The lesson here is that you can only attack those who love you for so long, before they lose all loyalty to the memory of what you once meant to them.
Inevitably, it was the ill will he garnered from this period that led many in the hip hop community — including a young, upcoming comedian by the name of Hannibal Buress — to turn their backs on Cosby and his hypocrisy.
Ah yes, but we’re here to talk about the blues three different ways.
I went from loving Bill Cosby, to hating him, to…i don’t know now. It’s complicated. And that’s the thing I don’t think a lot of people outside of the black community understand.
This man was a cultural cornerstone. Is he now to be removed, along with all of the beautiful art he added to the tapestry that, weaving in and out of our day and times, has told our story to the world better than most ever could hope?
So with those feelings of loss, defeat and disappointment, there now lay a twisted, muddied and molded bed where the seeds of black skepticism can grow, perverted, liquorice candy-colored and sick.
And yes, it is bad now. It’s ugly and a lot of normally good-hearted people are making a lot of sorry excuses.
There are numerous black celebrities and ordinary black voices who are having trouble, not just coming to grips that he has done this, but that it was even possible.
Now I won’t get into any of these points of view because the situation is ugly enough. What I will talk about is this strange phenomenon we are now witnessing and what is the true point of contention between Cosby supporters and vilifiers: The intersection of race and gender.
We are occupying this weird, new place where racial awareness and gender rights intersect and sometimes conflict, and I don’t think anyone was really prepared for that.
We see it a lot nowadays where white feminists, in attempts to plow forward in the name of progress, absentmindedly shift black women and their unique experiences and issues to the side.
What’s happening with blacks and the Cosby story is sort of the reverse, and it has affected some pretty prominent black feminists. Until recently, Jill Scott was an ardent supporter of Cosby. Phylicia Rashad took it a step further, sounding the conspiracy alarm:
“What you’re seeing is the destruction of a legacy. And I think it’s orchestrated. I don’t know why or who’s doing it, but it’s the legacy. And it’s a legacy that is so important to the culture,” she said. “This show represented America to the outside world. This was the American family. And now you’re seeing it being destroyed. Why?”
But much like Scott, Rashad found herself walking her statement back when she was accused of victim blaming.
But tell me that doesn’t sound familiar. It’s the old standby: Conspiracy.
Still, whatever you think about our paranoia, Black Skepticism is both very real and well founded. Unfortunately, it’s led to this: Large groups of blacks excusing, or at least looking for ways to excuse, what is obviously deviant and possibly sociopathic behavior.
And that’s what a lot of feminists can’t wrap their heads around.
It’s not just black men coming to Cosby’s defense, but black women. And white feminists have a hard time coming to grips with the unenviable position black women are constantly faced with: Walking that thin line between worlds while showing allegiance to both.
But things seem to be leveling out now. Common sense seems to be prevailing. First, the women in his life started retracting their support, then others followed.
But I don’t think it will ever be total. After everything that’s happened, after everything that the man has accomplished, I can’t imagine the black community turning its back on Cosby completely.
Most will do like his former Cosby Show co-star Malcolm Jamal Warner, refusing to defend Cosby, but not throwing him under the bus either.
And maybe that’s the best anyone can really hope.
How far can we really cast aside a man who is forever anchored to our collective souls like some Donnie Darko-styled ethereal tether? And what happens when he tumbles over some precipice, threatening to drag us all down with him?