Bill Cosby is the topic of discussion once again after mainstream media outlet Associated Press (AP) released a 2005 court deposition in which Cosby admitted to obtaining a drug known as Qualludes (also known as Mandrax) with the intent to drug and rape at least one woman. This is the first admission of any guilt from Bill Cosby amid accusations from scores of women who allege that Cosby drugged and raped them. These allegations go as far back as 1965 and now the number of women who have come forward has gotten to forty three.
The allegations are shocking for a number of reasons. It is particularly difficult for the generations that grew up watching The Cosby Show. The Cosby Show filled the Sunday evening time slot on KTN while I was growing up, and it was a huge hit in black households across the world. The Cosby Show was about a successful black middle class family and it humorously documented their lives as they went through everyday struggles of life. It was easy for several families to identify with the Huxtables as the family sitcom didn’t have to rely on racial jokes and negative stereotypes of black people. Bill Cosby’s character was like everyone’s TV dad or TV uncle. He was a source of comfort and advice to his children on the show and by proxy he was to the children watching at home. When the allegations came to light, a lot of people found it difficult for those viewers to reconcile the fact that the lovable character of Heathcliff Huxtable is being played by an alleged serial rapist. All these years we have been celebrating and supporting the work of a man who has admitted, not only in the deposition but even on an interview on Larry King, to drugging women with the intention of raping them. His defenders must separate fact from fiction and stop ignoring the victims just to cling to a fictional television character.
It is interesting to note just how the Bill Cosby saga has played out. The only reason the allegations became a hot topic last year is because a black male comedian, Hannibal Buress, brought it up in a stand up comedy session. The recorded video went viral and thus people began to discuss the issue. However these allegations go as far back as the early 60’s so why is it that many of us are hearing about it now? While several women came forward recently, several of them had come forward but were not believed or had their accusations dismissed. Did it really have to take a man’s passing commentary on long standing allegations for them to have any weight? Still, after this, for every one person who actually believed the women there were a hundred others who didn’t. His co-star on The Cosby Show, Phyllicia Rashad, who played his wife on the show came to his defense, claiming that the accusations were simply a way to destroy Bill Cosby’s legacy. Other celebrities like Whoopi Goldberg, Stacey Dash and Jill Scott were also extremely vocal in their denial of his guilt, demanding facts, proof and evidence. These high profile women further added to the confusion as some of them had worked personally with Bill Cosby. Now with his admission, there is little room for his defense.
We need to start believing women when they speak. The reason sexism and misogyny have thrived for centuries is because society is hellbent on never believing what women say. Every time any of the women came forward with their accusations, they were met with suspicion. They were in turn accused of being gold diggers and liars and having some sort of agenda against Bill Cosby. Once a woman would come forward, their lives were scrutinized and people searched for any reason to discredit them. They were questioned as to why they didn’t come forward earlier and why they took so long to say anything. Meanwhile, Bill Cosby has used his money and influence to hush previous allegations; he has settled several cases for an undisclosed amount of money. Right after the story reappeared in the media last year, Cosby was interviewed on a radio station and shook his head when asked if he was guilty however he admits to obtaining drugs to drug women in order to rape them. His story is the one that should be scrutinized.
Others have begged for judgement in the court of law rather than in the court of public opinion however Bill Cosby has still not yet faced any criminal charges and has even made jokes about the situation. Even with a 10 year old admission, nothing is happening and people still refuse to believe, clinging to a side that repeatedly changes its story. If the man is so innocent, why would he make out of court settlements rather than meeting his accusers in a court of law to protest his innocence?
The victim blaming environment that is pervasive especially in cases of gender based violence is precisely why women do not come forward immediately and as often. The most obvious facts about the act – who did what to whom- become obfuscated when responsibility lies with the victim, rather than with the person who committed the act against them. It was extremely courageous of the women to come forward especially since they were accusing such a prominent figure in the black society. It is sad to note that many people didn’t believe anything until they found out Bill Cosby had admitted to it personally. Jill Scott for has since publicly withdrawn her support for Cosby, but this was only after the information from the deposition came to light.
If we waited for every criminal to admit to a crime in order to believe that the crime actually took place then there would never be any justice. Why should this be a standard when it comes to rape? There are those who claim that it was about ‘having proof’ but that cannot be the case as it was the women who were discredited. It was their lives that were scrutinized instead of the accused. 43 women from different walks of life from different states in America accused one man of the same crime. The similarities in their stories should have been enough to make one believe that there could be some truth to their stories. Instead, it was said that it was a conspiracy. How many women does it take for people to believe there is some truth to the matter? Why should the tally have to be so large?
The Cosby Show and other television productions that Bill Cosby was involved in such as A Different World did have a positive influence on people. They instilled great lessons and teachings in the lives of several people across generations. However we must separate what we see on television and private lives, as they are often very different. We should not be complicit in perpetuating rape culture, but work on dismantling it.
(image courtesy of theindependent.co.uk)