Bill Cosby and the End of Innocence
By now, there are very few people standing up for comedian Bill Cosby. After the revelations of a decade-old deposition where he admitted to sexually assaulting women, what was unclear was now made very clear: Cosby, long considered an American treasure, was a serial rapist.
While some white comedians were quick to denounce and go after Cosby, there was a lot of reticence from African Americans. Granted, there were black comedians that were also quick to take on Cosby, others like Whoopi Goldberg or Eddie Murphy held back. The same goes for the cast of Cosby’s 80s sitcom, the Cosby Show. Other African Americans like singer Jill Scott rushed to the comedian’s side.
I’m guessing a lot of them are having to come to terms with the cold truth and I wonder if they feel like I do: a mixture of disgust and sadness. The sense that a leader in the black community was found not just to have clay feet, but a dark heart as well.
I can’t speak for every African American, but I do wonder if others feel like I do- the sense that someone is not who they were.
When the news first hit last fall, it was hard to believe. But as more and more women came forward, it was become to hard to ignore. It was Michael Jackson all over again; if it was one accusation it could be untrue, but more than one tells you something is going on.
If Cosby was just a second rate comedian, he could easily be dismissed. The problem, the reason why I feel sadness as much as disgust, the reason it was hard to believe he was capable of something so rank, is because of all that he has done, not just in American comedy, but in race relations as well.
The thing is, that I basically grew up on Bill Cosby. If you are of a certain age, you remember seeing Cosby on the Fat Albert show. Or maybe you saw him on Captain Kangaroo. For a kid like myself growing up in the 70s, it was fascinating to see someone that looked like me on television. I remember seeing one of his films on racism in high school. It was a great teaching tool for its time. In high school, the Cosby Show debuted and it was a smash. It became the number one comedy in its day. If the 50s had the Nelsons as icons of that era, the 80s had an African American family, the Huxtables. The show was a celebration of African American culture and all of America was able to learn more about black culture. Not only that, but the Cliff and Clair Huxtable were professionals; and obstetrician and an attorney. Cosby in some way became a barometer of racial progress in America; nearly 20 years after the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, we had come far enough it seems to have a black family as America’s family.
I remember reading his book Fatherhood during a trip to visit my father’s relatives in Louisiana. My parent’s wondered why I was laughing so hard at times.
Long story short, Cosby was a big part of my growing up. So, when you start to hear accusations it is not easy to believe them. Because to believe them means that this person who made you laugh and made you feel proud to be an African American was not so innocent to say the least.
But I also have to believe that Cosby knew how he was viewed by society and used that as cover- until you he couldn’t cover it up anymore.
Which brings me back to why I feel sadness as well as anger. The thing is, Cosby did do a lot of good, not just in the world of comedy, but for society as well.
We can’t sweep under the rug what he did to the lives of countless women anymore. We can’t wave it off as him being a womanizer. Yes, he did some good things, but his actions against women taints all of that good.
Cosby reminds me that what we see is not always all that there is. We all saw Lance Armstrong winning all of those Tour de France titles and thought he was courageous for beating cancer and getting back on the bike. Of course we know how that ended. We all saw Joe Paterno as the great winning coach of a college, until we were shown that all was not as it seemed.
Sometimes the people doing good are not always good. Sometimes there is more going on behind the scenes. Sometimes people are two-faced, and we don’t always see the darker face.
Bill Cosby took a bit of our innocence. While we should be glad the truth is out there, the world is a little less brighter these days.
But then, maybe the world wasn’t so bright after all.
Note: Joseph C. Phillips, who starred on the Cosby Show in the latter seasons, wrote a moving essay about realizing the guilt of his mentor.