Last week, varied emotions emanated from a variety of quarters on April 26th, when renowned entertainer, actor and megastar comedian Bill Cosby was convicted by a Pennsylvania jury ( a majority of whose members were male ) of three counts of sexual assault. The verdict comes after decades of intense rumors , salacious accusations and eventually criminal charges. The beloved octogenarian could face as much as three decades in prison. His legal team wasted no time in announcing their disappointment and vowed to appeal the verdict. After the ruling , Cosby stood up and hurled a profanity laced attack at district attorney Kevin Steele advocated that Cosby’s bail be rescinded.
There is no doubt that this verdict was seen as a sort of sweet if not, belated justice and vindication for dozen’s of Cosby’s accusers who have charged him with sexual abuse, rape and other forms of sexual violation. and critics took away from that exchange support of their view that he had indeed drugged unsuspecting women and raped them. Dozens of women have accused Cosby of sexual assault in incidents that stretch back to the ’70s. There is no doubt that the current, aggressive climate against sexual assault (and rightly so) and the dogged commitment of the #MeToo movement and its largely diverse and pluralistic leadership contributed to such an outcome
When the charges against Cosby began to intensely surface a few years ago, my reaction to the sordid revelations (like those of more than few other people) was one of revulsion and disgust. My initial response was “say it isn’t so Mr. Cosby!” However, if I am being honest with myself, I have to be brutally candid and say that I was not all that surprised. In short notice, I quickly reverted to a “Bill, how could you!” persona.
In fact, given the disturbing level of deflection denial and double speak that Cosby and his various legal teams have engaged over the past several years, why should anyone have been? The fact is that this current Cosby saga is a tragedy of epic proportions. This is a man that so many people of all races and walks of life admired, looked up to and held up as a paragon of virtue. Indeed, his image was so regal that the moniker “America’s dad” had been bestowed upon him by millions of people across the globe.
Overnight, we were jilted into a sobering reality and forced to confront the indisputable truth that the Heathcliff Huxtable, warm, loving, stern, competent, confident and mildly flawed father figure that many of us as young adolescents and pre-teens tuned into NBC to watch on Thursday nights decades ago was anything but. On the contrary, what emerged was a man who embodied a Jekyll and Hyde persona. The celebrity public profile of warmth, humor and affability. The private man’s manipulative, deceptive, sinister and predatory traits were obscured from an unsuspecting and eventually shell shocked public.
As more than a few cultural pundits and commentators, plain Jane’s and average Joe’s have intensely and accurately argued, the fact is that Cosby’s self-righteous, intellectually dishonest, callous, arrogant and acerbic “blaming the victim” comments toward those who were often on the receiving end of larger social maladies that have and continue to cripple large segments of society was one, if not the primary reason for his spectacular downfall. It also contributed to him being the recipient of stinging and deservedly unflattering commentary.
In July 2015, U.S. District judge Eduardo Robreno cited Cosby’s public stance of moral sermonizing and chastising others for their failings to live up to certain principles while he himself (Cosby) engaged in activities that were the antithesis of the moral codes he implored upon others was the reason for him granting permission to allow release of such graphic and compelling testimony. To be blunt and keeping it real, what Judge Robreno was saying is that “you are a damn hypocrite Mr. Cosby!”
Moreover, as a Black person who was born prior to 1950, (he was born in 1937), the product of a hyper-segregated America, in Philadelphia, under modest economic circumstances as Cosby did, should certainly be aware of the devastating impact that poverty, sophisticated and subtle discrimination and lack of access to the mainstream can have on those who are victims to such social inequities and inequalities. Economic and structural racism are undeniable factors in the lives of many poor people of color. Bill Cosby should know this. Instead of acknowledging such brutal facts, he resorted to espousing and promoting a dangerously misguided form of respectability politics that too often places the responsibility for change on those who are being disrespected. It was apparent that decades of considerable wealth removed him from any semblance of reality.
Since the controversy emerged into the public sphere, there has been fiercely intense debate within the Black community regarding Cosby. There are those who see him as the latest target of a racist society whose ultimate intention is to discredit and destroy high achieving, powerful Black men while ignoring or exonerating similar transgressions against powerful, influential White men. Others see Cosby as an arrogant, manipulative, self- righteous, hypocrite for whom karma has belatedly has caught up with. I find myself in the latter category.
The fact is that no racially conscious and/or astute person can or would deny the fact that racism is a searing cancer that has dramatically infected American society. For Black Americans, (and in some cases, other non-Whites), it is a potential factor that can very well indeed end up having a negative impact on our lives. Only a fool would argue otherwise. White privilege, in particular,White male privilege is real. That being said, we cannot allow ourselves to automatically resort to blaming racism when our leaders and entertainers have deeply betrayed the public trust. This is the case with Cosby.
From the outset of such revelations, to his eventual conviction, there have been a number of public entertainers, comedians and private citizens, some public and others in private who have joyously reveled in the demise destruction, and downfall of a comedic and entertainment icon. Not me. Schadenfreude is not a philosophy I subscribe to. There is nothing to celebrate here.
There are no words for the amount grief, heartache, public embarrassment and humiliation that Cosby has caused his wife, children, friends, victims of his behavior and others in his inner circle. Moreover, to all those fans who did not know him personally, yet saw him as akin to their favorite teacher, lovable neighbor, wise uncle, their own biological father, mentor or other beloved figure, Cosby disappointed them mightily.
While we are all mortal beings and none of us is above criticism regardless of who we are. That being said, the fact is Cosby’s current crisis and downfall is prime example of why all of us should tread with caution before we become too overly harsh in our judgment of others for what we perceive to be their shortcomings. We are all mortal human beings devoid of total perfection. Perhaps Bill Cosby should have heeded his own advice and behaved accordingly.
Elwood Watson is a professor, author and public speaker.