Bill Cosby Doesn’t Deserve Our Black Tears – VICE
We’ve seen this play out on social media, from fashion and music icon Kanye West tweeting early last year that “BILL COSBY INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!” to author and filmmaker Tariq Nasheed going full Hotep last week, informing his more than 180,000 Twitter followers that the allegations are really a “white supremacist witch hunt.”
Simple misogyny is the connecting tissue between most Cosby apologists. It’s the reason they can’t understand why a woman might not want to come forward with sexual assault allegations against a famous and beloved millionaire with endless legal resources and goodwill, and it’s why they don’t get that having your way with someone who is incapacitated and can’t consent is illegal and incredibly fucked up. But as a black man, the notion that there might be a conspiracy that is “trying to bring the black man down” is something that—even as I absolutely reject it in Cosby’s case—I can certainly understand.
As one of Cosby’s accusers, black poet Jewel Allison, put it in an editorial for the Washington Post, Cosby was for a long time the “image of success” for many black American men, his signature character a “model for self-worth and manhood” in a nation that has gone to incredible, outrageous lengths to vilify and dehumanize us. There is a long list of strong, culturally vital black men in entertainment like Paul Robeson and Muhammad Ali who were scorned for their politics and their success and were essentially blacklisted because of the emboldening impact they had on black people.
So Cosby supporters aren’t crazy to think that America gets its rocks off dragging strong black men through the mud, because it does. The problem is that Cosby is not one of those strong black men. He has never been a true champion of oppressed black people, because he sees the suffering that we face as a result of our own personal failings, not institutional racism.
It should go without saying that The Cosby Show was revolutionary in its day, with Cosby famously insisting on positive portrayals of black family life. Unfortunately, the wealthy Huxtables seemed to exist in a rarefied bubble that was not reflective of the broader black experience. While episodes of The Cosby Show gave honorary mention to civil rights moments and black heritage, the family almost never grappled with actual racism. Which is weird considering that even today’s black One Percent have to endure straight-up racist shit, like LeBron James did last month, when the word “nigger” was scrawled across the front gate of his Los Angeles home.
By obscuring the the way racism impacts all aspects of black American life, Cosby helped feed into the troublesome narrative that racism doesn’t exist or that we might live in a post-racial society. One listen to his infamous “Pound Cake” speech—Cosby’s notorious lecture to black America on its own social and economic failings—makes it clear that his politics are not in sync with our great black leaders. Not Malcolm, not Martin, and not even middle-of-the-road Obama. Because none of those men would ever punch down at their own people as harshly and routinely as Cosby’s done throughout his career. Instead of attacking white supremacy, Cosby’s stringent respectability politics have, I think, actually helped to justify inequality.
Of course, some people remain skeptical of the allegations simply because of what many of Cosby’s accusers look like.
In the ongoing criminal trial, Cosby has maintained that his sexual interactions with Constand were consensual. While he certainly has been accused of sexual assault by women of color—among them outspoken visual artist Lili Bernard—Constand is white, and some defenders mistakenly believe that is the case of virtually all of his accusers. This was on display in Nasheed’s tweet last week, which misleadingly suggested the cover of the excellent New York Magazine feature focused on the Cosby Women only featured whites to help fuel the “white supremacist witch hunt.” (In truth, the issue featured multiple women of color who claim to have been sexually assaulted by Cosby.)