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On May 24, 2016, Pennsylvania judge Elizabeth McHugh ruled that there is enough evidence for legendary comedian Bill Cosby to be criminally tried for the 2004 alleged sexual assault of Canadian national and former Temple University basketball coach Andrea Constand.

Bill Cosby

Why I Refuse To Grieve for Bill Cosby—Arica L. Coleman

Constand alleges that Mr. Cosby drugged her and then sexually assaulted her as she laid incapacitated on a sofa. More than 50 women have come forward to say that they were drugged and raped by Cosby; but Constand is the only accuser to have her case move forward to criminal trial. Due to the statute of limitations, as if there should be a statute of limitations on rape, Cosby cannot be prosecuted for earlier cases which extend back to the 1970’s.

In a 2005 sworn deposition, the entertainer, while not admitting to drugging anyone, admitted to acquiring prescriptions of Quaaludes to give to women for the purpose of sex. Now the moment has finally come when a jury of his peers will decide his guilt or innocence. At the conclusion of Tuesday’s hearing, Cosby thanked Judge McHugh, who responded, “Good luck!”

While many in black America are languishing over the fall of the iconic comedian, I refuse to grieve for Bill Cosby. Cosby appears to have abused his power (and that’s exactly what rape is all about: POWER) to victimize countless women. Then to add insult to injury, he once again abused his power by hopping upon his pseudo moral high horse and denigrating the black underclass openly for all of white America to see. Grieve for Cosby? I don’t think so.

To add insult to injury, he once again abused his power by hopping upon his pseudo moral high horse and denigrating the black underclass openly for all of white America to see. Grieve for Cosby? I don’t think so.

There are those in black America who believe that Cosby should be prosecuted for his alleged crimes, but they also believe that his criminal actions should not invalidate the good that he has done for black culture and for America in general.

Really?

What Crosby did for black culture was to reinforce a white supremacist value system that told black youth that their own creative imagination was of no value. His politics of respectability and black conservatism reinforced stereotypes of black pathology (criminality, anti-intellectualism, hypersexuality, family dysfunctionality) which gave America a reason to once again deny its culpability in maintaining the black underclass.

Now that his own life has come under scrutiny, he has cautioned the black media, and implicitly black America, to remain neutral. Despite our desperate need to protect one of our most cherished heroes, we cannot, in the words of his co-star Phylicia Rashad, “ignore those women” who have accused the icon of stealing their bodies.

Grieve for Cosby? No! I grieve for all rape victims and for the conspiracy of silence in a society which continues to relegate the American ideal “and justice for all” to a dream deferred.

Of course in black America there are Cosby defenders who dismiss the allegations against him as a conspiracy to bring down yet another black male icon while giving white men a pass for the same crime. “What about Woody Allen?,” they ask, “Why wasn’t he prosecuted for molesting his seven-year-old adopted daughter?” Or “What about Bill Clinton? Countless women have accused him of sexual misconduct.”

The accusations against Allen and Clinton were formally investigated and a media spectacle ensued. Their alleged sexual improprieties have permanently tarnished their reputations. In fact, the point of Toni Morrison’s statement about Clinton being the first black president, as she clarified in a 2008 Time Magazine interview, was because she deplored “the way in which President Clinton was being treated vis-à-vis the sex scandal that was surrounding him. I said he was being treated like a black on the street, already guilty, already a perp.”

Moreover, the media scrutiny into Cosby’s sexual impropriety was forestalled by the death of his son Ennis in 1997 and again in 2004 when he began his public assault on black America. As U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno wrote in his July 2015 decision to unseal Cosby’s 2005 sworn deposition, “[He] has donned the mantle of public moralist and mounted the proverbial electronic or print soap box to volunteer his views on, among other things, child rearing, family life, education and crime. To the extent that Defendant has freely entered the public square and ‘thrust himself into the vortex of [these public issues],’ he has voluntarily narrowed the zone of privacy that he is entitled to claim.”

In other words, Cosby voluntarily forfeited his right to privacy when he became the self-appointed moral voice of black America.

Cosby defenders also dismiss his accusers characterizing them as gold diggers who are only after his fortune. “Why didn’t they come forward sooner?” Those who question the validity of the accusers’ accounts based on years of silence have no understanding of rape trauma or of the impediments of our legal system which make it difficult to prosecute rape cases, especially when the accused is a high profile celebrity like Cosby.

Case in point, Constand began seeking legal redress a year after her assault. Jewel Allison an African American former model, however, stated in a March 6, 2015, Washington Post article that she broke her silence after she learned that she was not the only woman the comedian had sexually assaulted. Even as others were coming forward, Allison was admonished by a black male friend “to keep silent. You will be eaten alive,” he told her, “and for what? The black community is not going to support you.”

The consequences of an accusation of rape by a black woman against a beloved black male icon was a burden Allison had shouldered since the 1980’s. “Even I felt a certain instinct to protect Cosby,” she stated. “I chose race over rape.” Placing her choice within a historical context Allison asserted:

Like many of the women who say they were assaulted by Bill Cosby, it took me two decades to gain the courage to reveal it publically. His accusers – mostly white, so far – have faced retaliation, humiliation and skepticism by coming forward. As an African American woman, I felt the stakes for me were even higher. Historic images of black men being vilified en masse as sexually violent sent chills through my body. Telling my story wouldn’t only help bring down Cosby; I feared it would undermine the entire African American community.

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If the Clarence Thomas – Anita Hill hearings are any indication, Allison most certainly would have been “eaten alive!”

Like a lot of us I grew up on Bill Cosby. I listened to his records, watched his cartoons, and his sitcoms. I loved and adored him. But then he turned on us. I too was concerned when HipHop went gangsta because the original intent of the genre was to find an alternative to gangsta culture and street gang violence; but I was just as concerned with the elitism to which Cosby approached the youth as he talked down at them referring to them as “it” or “these people”. “ ‘It’ stands on the corner. . . Listen to how ‘these people’ talk . . . listen to how ‘these people’s’ parents talk . . . what’s up with ‘these people’s’ names. . . ‘these people’ come to school with their back packs empty. . .they leave school with their back packs empty; that's why their heads are empty. . ."

In his now infamous Pound Cake Speech which he delivered at the 2004 NAACP Image Awards, Cosby went so far as to justify the killing of an unarmed youth for stealing “a piece of pound cake.” He criticized those who dared to challenge an excessive use of force stating, “But what the hell was he doing with the pound cake?”

Cosby took his Pound Cake Black Conservative Show on the road, disparaging the black underclass, while never giving voice to the issues of racism, sexism, the failed public school system, health and economic disparities, mass incarceration, or police brutality. What he has given to America over the past decade by his constant berating of black folks is plenty of fodder for the cable news cycle.

While Cosby’s philanthropy has benefited historically Black colleges and universities s like Spelman College and the Morehouse Medical School, he has largely been an agent of white oppression by ignoring systematic racism and dismissing the problems of the black urban underclass as self-inflicted.

Cosby’s comments, however, did not go unchallenged. In 2007 at the Miami International Book Fair, the legendary Black Arts poet Nikki Giovanni went all in on the comedian, referring to him as a “crazy Negro” who needed first to be hospitalized and then taken to a holiness church for a deliverance service. Chiding him for his betrayal to the community who had elevated him as the “Great Black Hope” Giovanni stated:

We ate that Jell-O and that mighty fine pudding, whatever he was doing with that. We would go in to have our pictures made and demand Kodak paper to try to help that Negro and then he’s going to turn around and tell me I’m a bad mother? Uh uh, I’m not buying that. He’s going to tell me I’ve done something wrong because I’ve tried to give my kid what every other kid has? Because I’ve tried to do the very best that I can do?

Giovanni followed up her rant with a verbal jab aimed to deflate Cosby’s self-righteous ego as she quipped, “I am not the one with a whole lot of illegitimate children.”

Professor and political commentator Dr. Michael Eric Dyson also lambasted the comedian in his book Is Bill Cosby Right or Has the Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind (2006), a scathing commentary on the hypocrisy of Cosby’s Pound Cake Speech. On November 14, 2014, on Meet the Press, Dyson continued his criticism of the comedian while discussing the sexual assault allegations stating, “He's throwing rocks, and he's living in a glass house, so that contradiction will always get you sunk.”

Indeed, Dyson’s statement was a reference to comedian Hannibal Buress’s Cosby “joke”, a proverbial shot heard around the world which delivered the fatal blow that shattered the aura of respectability surrounding the comedic legend. During his October 16, 2014, performance at the Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia Mr. Burress observed:

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And it’s even worse because Bill Cosby has the f***ing smuggest old black man public persona that I hate. Pull your pants up, black people, I was on TV in the ’80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.

Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, brings you down a couple notches. I don’t curse on stage. Well, yeah, you’re a rapist, so, I’ll take you sayin’ lots of motherf*****s on Bill Cosby: Himself if you weren’t a rapist. … I want to just at least make it weird for you to watch Cosby Show reruns. … I’ve done this bit on stage, and people don’t believe. People think I’m making it up. … That s*** is upsetting.

If you didn’t know about it, trust me. You leave here and Google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ It’s not funny. That s*** has more results than Hannibal Buress.

Within a few days, that moment captured on amateur video had gone viral and the media firestorm which Cosby had alluded for almost two decades was unleashed. Given his denigration of the black underclass, especially black male youth, perhaps Cosby’s ultimate demise delivered on his home turf by a young black male comedienne was poetic justice.

For certain, it gives me no pleasure to see Cosby’s shameful fall from grace. With a dearth of high profile black male role models, particularly one who had reached the status of elder statesman, and in this desperate moment when merely breathing while black is a crime, this is the last thing black America needs.

As painful as this moment is, however, we cannot afford to continue the conspiracy of silence about rape because we can’t bear the reality of another fallen hero? We have always loved Bill Cosby, but he has not always loved us. In fact, he used us as a scapegoat. He preached his gospel of respectability while holding himself forward as the embodiment of black masculine self-empowerment and honor.

Yet, all the while it appears that “America’s favorite dad” was living a double life of reprehensible proportions for which a $20 million dollar gift to a prestigious Black Women’s college (or any other philanthropic contribution) will never be enough to atone for the sins committed against the countless women he victimized. Perhaps in an attempt to buy his way into heaven, Cosby has now fallen into the deep recesses of hell; and now the chickens have come home to roost. Cock-a-doodle-do!

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Arica L. Coleman