When the allegations began, I too was skeptical about the situation surrounding the “Black Godfather of all Black Godfathers”—Bill Cosby. How could a man who was proclaimed “America’s Favorite Dad” possibly drug and rape approximately 50 women? After the big storm that came when comedian Hannibal Buress openly called Cosby a “rapist” during a comedy set October 2014, the idea was implausible. But, during what some would call Cosby “smear campaign” that came to diminish the efforts and milestones Cosby accomplished in his 50-year career, came to surface a more sinister issue within the Black community: Rape culture.
Cosby is not stranger to the belief that all odds must be stacked against Black men. It happened to Nate Parker when he was accused of raping a fellow student who was intoxicated while attending Penn State and was acquitted only after it was revealed that the two had consensual sex previously. But only then did Black people rally around a system that protected Parker with a shrug and verbal “he was acquitted.” Only then did we start endorsing a system that never operated in our favor and indulged in defense of said system when we realized that it benefited us. That is hypocrisy at its finest. And this hypocrisy is duplicated in the opportunity to rally in Cosby’s defense.
What we hear often is how a majority of women who accused Cosby were White and were trying to use their privilege and innocence to incriminate a Black man. Unfortunately, this claim isn’t historically inaccurate. Open wounds for Emmett Till—who was found victim to violence and death due to a false sexual assault story from a White woman in rural Mississippi— still fester. But what our community lacks is the ability to understand that Black women were possibly abused by Cosby as well. For this particular instance, the inability to accept Black women’s issues as Black issues, is a reason that rape culture will continue within our communities.
Black former model Beverly Johnson revealed that she was sexually abused by Cosby. In personal observation, her claims, like many Black women, were ignored. (Take into consideration the 13 Black women who were raped by former officer Daniel Holtzclaw, and how many of them said they didn’t report it because they felt that no one would believe them). Forcing Black women to choose between their race and gender puts us at a crossroads in which we are forfeiting our womanhood for our Blackness as if the two are not intertwined. My womanhood and Blackness walk hand-in-hand. The expectation for Black women to put their gender (including transwomen) on the back burner and go to bat for those who abuse us absolves responsibility of those who abuse us, and the people who defend them. Defense is a large reason why rape culture is perpetuated in the Black community.
When you prioritize personal accomplishments over personal wrongdoing that affect many people, particularly your own women, and leave conscious wrongs uncorrected, you open doors and gateways for abuse to exisist. What we saw with Johnson was misogynoir: race and gender based discrimination. But in Cosby’s defense, we saw defensive misogynoir. It reflexively, innately attempts to neutralize every possibility of misogyny and racism by automatically denying any existence of misogyny and racism, and comes to the defense of those perpetuating it.
Nevertheless in a 2005-2006 deposition where Cosby admitted to his wrongdoing in a civil suit against Temple University athletic coach Andrea Constand, we have to acknowledge that the evidence against Cosby is more than a “he-said-she-said,” and more of a “he-said-she-said-she-said-she-said”.
Expecting women to be solely responsible for their safety while ignoring that there is a rape culture overall that exists in our environment which vilifies people for speaking out about their abuse is irresponsible. Looking for reasons to automatically invalidate claims of sexual abuse is damaging. To say that women are solely responsible for their protection while men have no obligation to control their behavior is detrimental to the future of our community.
As a community, we must hold those who abuse, not just Black women, but all women accountable. Bill Cosby is not exempt to behavioral criticisms nor should the people who defend his actions. Some may view Bill Cosby as “Cliff Huxtable” and are unable to separate the fictional character from the real man, but willingness to defend his actions because of this very fact will make us negligent and intolerant of those who suffer from abuse.