Okay, let me add my name to the list of millions of people who regularly watched the Cosby Show. But how I got there was a progression of sorts, as it was filled with incredulity, hesitation, begrudging acceptance to becoming a full-fledged fan. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, I was an end of the road teenager/young adult in college going through all kinds of changes. Back then, the Afrocentric Movement was flourishing and I used to soak up the words, teachings and books of one of its leaders, Dr. Molefi Asante, at Temple University. It was a movement of black consciousness, education and questioning the world’s status quo of European standards of beauty and indoctrination that misguidedly was appropriated into the black existence. The Afrocentric movement was a holistic refutation of white supremacy, white standards as ideal, normal and something to be sought. That African people in the diaspora needed to understand the deleterious effects on the black mind and it was time for a new worldview.
So for me, there was an initial processing of the show’s existence and ever growing popularity through the lens of black people trying to assimilate themselves into a white world. This, along with the fact that the Cosby version of black life seemed foreign to me as I grew up in a working class black neighborhood with twenty houses sandwiched together on both sides of the street. Even though my childhood was filled with a communal love that I still treasure to this day, there weren’t doctors, lawyers and beautiful brownstone homes where I lived. But gradually over time, my thoughts on the show changed as I began to see the Cosby show through a broader lens of not trying to situate itself into a white world, but saw it as a slightly serious, slightly comedic play/representation of the diversity in black life. In this light, I became a fan and many of my fellow college students that lived in the same dormitory would filter into the TV lounge every Thursday at 8pm to watch the Cosby show, Different world and Cheers. Those were some fun times.
Fast forward to 2015, and we’re learning there is a sick and darker side to the public icon, Bill Cosby. Within the past year or two, have been allegations about Bill Cosby abusing, drugging and raping over forty six women in the past forty five years. These allegations culminated with a magnificent piece in the New York Magazine as it chronicles the actions and stories of victims regarding an alleged psychopath and serial rapist, Bill Cosby. As the father of two daughters, a husband and a citizen who cares deeply about women’s issues, I felt I had to honor those women and read EVERY individual story of the thirty five women who came forward. The allegations revealed a man who preyed on dreams, took advantage of familiarity, abused his fame and power, capitalized on vulnerability and terrorized the innocent.
His alleged violations of women’s bodies were not restricted to the color of their skin, occupation or age. His reported crimes came with a patriarchal zeal of protection at the expense of their womanhood. Our society and culture betrayed these women. We magnified their ambivalence to come forward and their cries went unheard for so long. We as a society casted doubt when the evidence begged us to listen. I am sorry for their pain and suffering. They deserved better. But now, thankfully, the demons of silence have given way to an empowering display of testimonials. Past victims and perpetrators can now hear you. Adolescent girls, boys, men and women can hear you. Your family and friends can hear you. The world can hear you. Bill Cosby can hear you.
Each one of them taught me something that challenges me to be more personally responsible in how I filter the constancy of messages that we receive about our society and community. For example, one of the victims, Jewel Allison, who is black, made a powerful statement when some of the victims who were white, started to come forward. “I saw the that there were a lot of negative responses being posted against Barbara Bowman and Joan Tarshis and Tamara Green and Andrea Constand, grouping them in a historical reference to claims that “white women” have made in the past, that weren’t truthful, about being raped by a black man. But unfortunately with this case, I knew that there was a strong possibility that these women were telling the truth, because I had my own negative experience with Bill Cosby. And so I just felt like, no, this can’t go in that direction.”
Ms. Allison is saying to us all, I’m not carrying, nor will I allow my fellow victims to unfairly carry this burden. Let’s look at the merits of the allegations as individuals and the shared experience with a man who fooled the world and attempted to destroy our lives. Ms. Allison wasn’t exonerating a painful and often times, accurate legacy. She is saying our obligation is to examine what is in front of us. Once that is done, we can see how the outcome can be instructive on “race”.
Bill Cosby may benefit from the statute of limitations and the invisible walls of justice in avoiding incarceration. But we can still learn from this tragedy. See the cautionary tales of perception, the machinations of power and a celebrity culture that skews our sense of reality and belief systems about people we really don’t know. Remove these statues, lengthy sentences for rapists. Teach men in our culture about the sanctity of the women's body and respect it deserves. Address patriarchy with vigorous education and understanding. Their scarred journey is our gateway for change.