Championing Bill Cosby does not make you pro-black. Speaking out against sexual violence does.
In Cosby’s case, the “he-said-she-said” rhetoric of sexual assault has been blown through the roof with over 60 she-saids of similar nature. As reported by CNN in a 2005 deposition, Cosby admitted to purchasing sedatives with the intent of giving them to women who he wanted to have sex with. Despite these rising allegations and Cosby’s own admission, rape culture persists in painting his accusers as money hungry racists.
The way that race operates in a culture of rape means that Cosby is more likely to become the face of celebrities accused of sexual assault. While it is problematic that media outlets are more likely to draw attention to accusations against black celebrities than their white peers, we can move towards equal media representation and obtaining justice for Cosby’s victims at the same time.
How can one reconcile with sending America’s favorite dad through a racialized criminal justice system? Firstly, by coming to the realization that Cliff Huxtable is a fictional character. Secondly, by understanding that the accusations against Bill Cosby are not a part of an anti-successful black man campaign and that in fact, Cosby’s male and class privilege enabled his crimes. Thirdly, by stepping up to protect women, particularly black and brown women, with the same ferocity that we possess when defending black and brown men.
Black America needs to wake up to the fact that Dr. Huxtable is not real. Further, while his character represented a positive image of an educated black man on television, Bill Cosby did not march on Washington. Bill Cosby was not brutalized at Selma. Bill Cosby did not overturn white supremacist institutions by playing an upper middle class father on national television.
What’s even more important than that, though, is that even if these allegations were against one of the greatest civil rights leaders of all time, violence against women is inexcusable. We cannot hand out passes to black men. We must actively work to dismantle systems of victim blaming, patriarchy, and rape culture in conjunction with white supremacy if we ever wish to liberate all marginalized people.
Comparing Cosby to Emmett Till, the Scottsboro Boys, or George Stinney is a horrendous attempt to reframe the accusations against Cosby as racist. The aforementioned black boys were all accused of violating white women in order to justify their brutalization using Jim Crow Tactics. None of them were wealthy and influential black men who admitted to purchasing drugs to sedate women whom they wanted to have sex with.
It soils the legacy of Till, Stinney, and the Scottsboro Boys to compare the fabricated allegations and charges brought against them to those against Bill Cosby. It undermines the fight for racial justice to accuse these women of trying to tear a “good black man” down.
Cosby’s male upper-class privilege allowed him to become a predator. Patriarchy and misogyny have privileged his male voice to the point where it is heard over 60 women crying out for justice. Class privilege has allowed him to settle lawsuits surrounding allegations of sexual assault. His celebrity status and widespread influence put him in contact with more potential victims that were conditioned to trust America’s favorite dad.
It is that same influence that, in combination with his male privilege, has awarded him the protection of black communities more concerned with his legacy than his victims. By painting Bill Cosby as a racial martyr, black America treats his victims of color as they did Anita Hill; accusing them of joining the ‘white man’ in tearing down a successful brother.
In a piece published by the Washington Post, Jewel Allison described her inner conflict, “As an African American woman, I felt the stakes for me were even higher. Historic images of black men being vilified en masse as sexually violent sent chills through my body. Telling my story wouldn’t only help bring down Cosby; I feared it would undermine the entire African American community."
This is the price that the black community pays when it disregards intersectional justice in favor of the “old boys club” style of social justice; black women’s humanity. Black men who insist women stay still as they step on our necks and ascend to equality are not conscious. Justice must be served.
Haddiyyah Ali is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.