This past Thursday, April 26th, 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stood up and hurled a profanity-laced attack at district attorney, Kevin Steele, who advocated that Cosby’s bail be rescinded.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 dozens of Cosby’s accusers who have charged him with sexual abuse, rape, and other forms of sexual violation. Critics took away from the 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 a 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 honest 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 doublespeak that Cosby and his various legal teams have engaged in over the past several years, why should anyone have been surprised? 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 Heathcliff Huxtable, the 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 far from it. 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 Janes, and average Joes 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 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 a 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 of 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.
From the outset of such revelations, 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 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 another beloved figure, Cosby disappointed them mightily.
We are all mortal beings and none of us are above criticism regardless of who we are. That being said, the fact is that Cosby’s current crisis and downfall is a prime example of why all of us should tread with caution before we become 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.
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