Let’s Stop Acting Like Bill Cosby Was a Threat, When He Really Was a Tool
A couple days ago, a post made by a woman going by the name of “Emauni Too’Famous” started making the rounds on Facebook. The post was a response to Bill Cosby’s recent arrest for aggravated indecent assault. Given the fact that I had spent considerable time, energy, and emotional currency discussing this topic in both face-to-face conversations and in digital forums, I decided to give my mind and spirit a rest and ignore this one.
However, a few hours later, one of my former students, a young woman who had, in our previous conversations, supported Cosby, asked what I thought about Emauni’s post. I was immediately reminded of how much I liked and loved this student. How brilliant I knew her to be and how proud I was of all of her achievements and the growth she had experienced since going off to college. As much as I wanted to avoid this post, as much as I wanted to retreat from the heartbreak that is the daily news cycle, I knew I could not. I owed it to this student and to any (particularly young) person who might read my response to write it.
So, I went back to re-read Emauni’s post and immediately felt tired. It was a mountain of inaccuracy, internalized sexism, celebrity deification, and rampant hotepism and the idea of scaling it was daunting. Unpacking the ill-conceived (though, certainly not original) premise, addressing each faulty argument and debunking its revisionist analysis required more of me than what I wanted to give.
And yet, here I am doing just that…writing about it. Because, I can’t not write about it.
Below is Emauni’s post in its entirety, though broken into sections. Each section is in quotations…with my response below it.
“This saddens me. I’m a woman and a human first, so obviously I’m against rape, sexual assaults, molestation, etc. “
Let’s be clear. Being a woman doesn’t necessarily preclude one from being patriarchal and sexist. In fact, like all marginalized groups, women must grapple, individually and collectively, with the life-long and pervasive social conditioning that often results in attenuating ourselves and reinforcing our own oppression. Women can and quite often (consciously and unconsciously) engage the world with a perspective shaped by internalized sexism and self-hatred. I have witnessed plenty of women support anti-women policies and practices and Emauni’s assertion that being born a woman (and human) automatically posits one as pro-woman/anti-rape culture already demonstrates a shallow and half-baked understanding of the knotty and complex factors of this case – and the world – as it relates to race, gender, sexual assault and rape culture.
“However, there is much more to this story that a lot of you wont even understand. I don’t even believe that in this day and time ppl brains even expand as far as this situation really goes. The reality is this man #BILLCOSBY was getting ready to take over a huge television network called #NBC. Which would have open doors for ppl of color to be on a major television station much more often. He’s was speaking on positive opportunities in the black community, on race issues and things he believed black ppl should do to get ahead….”
I’m not sure what the “day” and “time” have to do with our brains expanding, which I assume Emauni equates with critical thinking, but the idea that Bill was such a threat to the status quo that a huge conspiracy had to be concocted to take him down is laughable and delusional. Bill Cosby is no Angela Davis or Marcus Garvey. To paint him as such demonstrates a grossly distorted understanding of what truly radical and revolutionary praxis is. Bill Cosby is not, nor was he ever, a threat to the existing establishment. And by existing establishment, I mean the white supremacist power structure. To believe that he was means you haven’t been actually listening to Bill and have, instead, bought into an illusion of who you think he is.
Much of what Bill has professed for many years has been no different than the white supremacist/respectability politics promoted by conservative right-wing talking heads. As my brilliant sister, Alicia Fiasco and a few others, pointed out, Bill Cosby was never down for the cause and would be exactly the type of person who would blame Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and Aiyana Jones for their own deaths. If we extracted talking points from statements made by Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump, and Bill Cosby and attempted to play a game of “Who Said It”, we would be hard-pressed to identify who said what. Contrary to this phantasmagoric rendering of Bill as some kind of subversive, freedom fighter, he was – in fact – a tool, reinforcing the current white supremacist structure by pathologizing black and poor people in the same way white racists and self-hating Negroes have been for years.
Even if he were to become head of NBC, I’m fairly certain that the “positive” images he would promote on such a platform would be assimilationist, Talented-Tenth, renderings of black life that neither truly empower black people nor disrupt white supremacy.
Sure, the Cosby Show was ground-breaking in that, for the first-time, an upper-middle class, black, nuclear family was portrayed on mainstream TV. There is value in that. Blackness is not a monolith and it’s important that our media representation reflects the wide range of experiences and perspectives that actually exist within our communities. The Cosby Show was instrumental in helping to expand the conversation.
However, in more recent years, Bill has consistently used his platform and visibility to undermine the complexity of our lives by evoking some of the most racist and oppressive language and analysis when speaking about black life.
How is Bill a threat to a system whose tenets he espouses every chance he gets?
“Then and ONLY then did these outlandish accusations from 30… THIRTY YEARS AGO come out about him. One by one.”
Allegations first surfaced in the 70’s and for years, thereafter, women have been sharing stories of being drugged and raped with little support from law enforcement. It is common knowledge that rape victims are often ridiculed, belittled, degraded and dragged in ways that make many women reluctant to report rape. To do so means to be subjected to intense public scrutiny and criticism. It means having one’s character picked apart and one’s past thoroughly probed. This, even if the perpetrator is just a regular Joe Schmoe.
But when the perpetrator has money, power, and influence, reporting rape becomes exponentially more difficult. When the perpetrator has the wealth and connections to silence and intimidate victims and stall processes aimed at bringing about justice, its very easy to understand why victims, feeling powerless, would eventually give up hope.
In addition to allegations that have came from not one, not two, but more than 50 women, industry insiders have whispered about Bill’s penchant for sexually assaulting women (hinted at here, in a speech given by Nikki Giovanni) for years.
So the idea that the accusations suddenly appeared right as Bill Cosby was about to turn NBC into Black Liberation TV is absolutely ludicrous and just plain wrong.
“When a black man is ‘getting too big for his bridges’. Hollywood, white America has to stop him.”
Between the assertion that Bill was getting too big for his “bridges” and the bold liberties taken with regard to sentence structure from a woman who apparently supports Bill’s attacks on people he deems “uneducated”, I decided this needed no rejoinder because, well, sometimes life just parodies itself, you know?
I guess that was a response though, huh?
“Now he’s been indicted on charges for something allegedly happen 10 years ago. This 78, lets just say 80. This 80 year old man is now in prison on a 1 million dollar bail for extremely old UNPROVEN accusations. When he should be home preparing to die, because let’s just face it, he’s gonna die soon and now instead of dying for being one of the greatest of all time!”
Listen, I’m not sure what “bridges” Bill is getting too big for but what I do know is that he should never be too big or too old to evade the arc of justice. No one should be. Bill has been accused of being a serial rapist and as a result, is now about to be tried in a court of law where evidence will be presented by both the prosecution and the defense. This is how the judicial system works and as flawed as it is, I would not want to live in a society that summarily dismisses serious accusations against people on the basis of them being famous or old. Celebrity status and advanced age should not allow one to circumvent due process.
I also find it telling that defenders of Bill Cosby like to argue that “none of us know what happened” and yet, they also vehemently oppose the cases going to trial where evidence will be presented, testimony will be given, and what is unknown can become known. Not only do Cosby supporters admit to not knowing what happened but they also object to actually finding out. What this says is that supporters of Cosby don’t want truth and justice, they want to give Bill a pass.
” For being a positive successful huge black public figure, he now has to die with this stigma on him as a serial rapist. Same thing they did to Michael Jackson. The craziest part is that they don’t even have to try hard because black ppl doing the dirty work for them. Working against their own. Believing the hype. Black men, comedians, etc making jokes and accusing Bill. Black Women going against him don’t even know the facts or wether it’s even true. Just running w/accusations.”
When black folks are willing to defend anyone simply because they’re black, we lose credibility and promote a brand of “racial solidarity” that is reactionary, regressive, backwards, and dangerous (see also: R. Kelly).
The correct response to a white supremacist worldview and social model that makes spurious correlations between whiteness and goodness/purity is not some equally corrupt and inverse approach where all things black are glorified and held above criticism and reproach. The answer is a complete repudiation of the hierarchies, arbitrary classifications, and false divisions that white supremacy creates and perpetuates. Failing to recognize this simply puts black folks in the position of attempting to, as Audre Lorde said, dismantle the master’s house using his tools. Black liberation is dependant on completely divesting ourselves of the false tools of racial superiority and justice for some, and understand that a truly equitable and humanitarian world is one where we hold ourselves, and yes, Bill Cosby…accountable.
And again, if the fear is that people will just “run w/accusations” then shouldn’t Emauni and other Cosby supporters want an actual trial where accusations will have to be substantiated by testimony and evidence?
“Think about this #StephenCollins the father off “Seventh Heaven” was accused of and admitted to CHILD MOLESTATION and no one is talking about it. The show also airs faithfully on television still. That’s what you call #whiteprivilege.”
White privilege is real. Inequities in our society, in general, and our justice system, specifically, are evident. Is it true that black people are profiled, convicted, prosecuted and sentenced more frequently and harshly than white people who are accused of committing the same or more serious crimes? Absolutely.
However, if that’s your concern, then I would suggest finding and partnering with the many individuals and organizations who have made it their mission to address issues of systemic oppression as it relates to the justice system…instead of making the argument that Bill Cosby should be allowed to rape as a long as white men can do it too.
“As long as black men are selling drugs and encouraging black ppl to do drugs and disrespecting our women and things like that they are ok with you. The minute you try to spread positivity into your black community and make major moves BE CAREFUL.”
What “positivity” is Cosby spreading exactly? Was it in this infamous Pound Cake Speech where he stereotyped and castigated poor black people? When he applauded white people for being smart enough to get out of black neighborhoods by “locking up shop early” and joked about Koreans being foolish enough to keep their businesses open “24 hours” because they didn’t know black people well enough?
Was Bill’s black “positivity” evidenced in the way he used his platform to reinforce white supremacy by regurgitating the same right-wing conservative talking points that paint black folks, in general, as deviant, abberant, and deeply pathological?
Is this the “positivity” that racist white people in power were so scared of that they had to take Bill down? For repeating the same racist and anti-black sentiment they had been espousing since chattel slavery?
If the Powers-That-Be want television network heads that create programming aimed at undermining black liberation and progress, Bill Cosby would be exactly who they would want at the helm. His assimilationist, warmed-over Talented-Tenth, intellectually dishonest, factually inaccurate, right-wing conservative, self-hating, House Negro rhetoric would probably translate into equally problematic representation and disempowering imagery that, rather than challenge, would reinforce the existing racist/sexist/classist/homophobic/and ableist media paradigm.
Bill Cosby isn’t, and was never, a threat.
Bill Cosby was a tool.