For the Love of Cosby?

I loved Bill Cosby. I ate Jello pudding, watched Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids and The Cosby Show religiously. I saw most of his films including Uptown Saturday Night, Let’s Do It Again, and A Piece of the Action.

I was horrified to learn that he was in the midst of a rape scandal. Hannibal Burris, who was not the first comic to joke about Dr. Cosby’s behavior, happened to be the right person and the right time to pop the lid open on the whole thing.

In May 2013, I was in the green room at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric (formerly the Lyric Opera House) in Baltimore, adorned in my graduation gear. I was preparing to deliver the undergraduate speech. I approached Dr. Cosby, and told him that my first award-winning one man show, If The World Were Like Fat Albert & the Cosby Kids, was inspired by his award-winning show. His aging face perked up, and he told me a couple of anecdotes about the show. It was a fine moment for me.

After I delivered my speech I received a standing ovation throughout the entire Lyric theater. It was a thrilling moment for me, which was followed by the keynote, Dr. Cosby, who stated that my speech was the best, if not one of the best commencement speeches he ever heard. It was a great honor, knowing the decades’ worth of commencements he has attended, behind the millions of dollars that he and his wife Camille have poured into Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s).

A year later as a graduate student, I was being approached by various people on campus about the Cosby scandal. I pondered, why was I being asked? Yes, I met him at Commencement, and he gave me a glowing review on my speech, but beyond that, we had nothing in common beyond our being black. I felt I was being tokenized, as if how I responded actually meant something.

Internally, I was sad, because he was an icon. He was America’s dad. He transcended the political minutia of race, and epitomized family values on screen. He was one of the few everyone could point to and say, he was a pure role model.

There is no question Dr. Cosby’s work stands on his own. One can glean several lessons from his programs. What we now come to witness over and over again, are icons that fall from pedestals and become complex humans with deep flaws and contradictions.

I did not know about his frequent escapades at the Playboy Mansion or his extramarital affairs. Perhaps I was in denial myself, unwilling to believe what I thought were unsubstantiated rumors. Cosby? No. Anybody but Cosby.

Then the ton of bricks hit me with the revelation that Cosby was drugging women, sexually assaulting and raping them. The comedy was the tragedy turned upside down. My gut told me it was true. I did believe the women without question.

It became crystal clear to me was that 60 women was too overwhelming number for it not to be true that he doped those women and took advantage of them. My affection for his image could never distort this truth. There is no letting him off the hook; his actions were despicable, and worthy of incarceration. The fact that he is 80 plus years old does not mitigate this. He has been getting away with bloody murder for decades.

No one would allow a Nazi soldier to die of old age and free if they were apprehended. They would place them in jail. What is the difference? Wrong is wrong is wrong.

Had I known in that moment I was in Dr. Cosby’s face giving him praise and accolades that he had committed those nefarious acts, would I have treated him differently? I am neither wise nor clairvoyant.

I do know that historically men in power operate with impunity, forcing women to hide in the shadows with their stories locked inside of them, often taking accounts of rape, abuse, and torture to their graves. I do know that the FBI and other agencies that report such statistics are highly inaccurate because of this fact, and that the dawning of new centuries does not alleviate this.

How do I know? Because there are those who are close to me who have shared their stories of rape and sexual assault who have never shared it publicly. They feared the stigma of being a victim, of the backlash from airing out this dirty laundry, of being shunned by their own family, of being called a bitch or whore, or interrogated as to what they were wearing or why they were in the room with them.

Every now and then the steam valve is pressed, and predators like Harvey Weinstein are captured. But it pales in comparison to the thousands who have targeted and victimized women around the globe.

And yet there is the emergence of this phenomenon of the Red Pill, taken from the movie The Matrix, where in this particular context it relates to the documentary by Cassie Jaye, who questions what she believes about feminism after encountering the Men’s Rights movement.

There is no end to the never ending cycle of women struggling for rights, and the backlash that ensues, the call for collective equality, and the backlash of individual liberty.

We are all awake, and this is a living nightmare, just like the Cosby one that smacked me in the face. And there will be others, as flawed men who are put on pedestals, only to be knocked down by their own deeds.

 

Ron Kipling Williams