By: Virgil Hayes
Personally, I was never a big fan of The Cosby Show, but as a black person I applaud all of creative minds who played a hand in making the show such a huge success. During its reign, The Cosby Show gave America the image of a Black middle upper class family to counter racial myths that framed Black families as poverty ridden, broken, and uneducated. With well over 30 million viewers tuning in at the peak of the show’s success, it seemed that The Cosby Show had struck a powerful blow to the harmful pervasive ideologies that plagued (they still do) the Black family.
While Bill Cosby was embraced as America’s favorite Dad, many Black Americans hailed him as our Black hero. And much like the heroes sketched into comic books and our imaginations, we believed him to be impervious. I get it, I understand that historically we have watched Black men inch their way towards the mountain top, only to be cast down by representatives of the dominant group. During chattel slavery we were castrated and torn from our families, during the Jim Crow years we were (and still are) being ushered by the thousands into prison cells to help create what we now know as the system of mass incarceration, in 2015 they used Laquan McDonald (1 of many) as a reminder of the lack of value, if any, that is placed on the lives of black men and boys. So when we as a people see men of color being torn asunder by the media, we fight to protect the few who have made it, while remembering the countless black men and boys who were shown the grave before being able to quench their insatiable thirst for life.
But as a Black male, I find myself questioning this toxic form of “racial solidarity”, that is conveniently brought up when the lives and bodies of Black girls and women are devalued, degraded, and dehumanized by Black men. As of late numerous men of color have used social media to articulate their “Conspiracy Hotep Third-Eye Race Theories”. Not only are these “theories” lacking empathy, logic, reasoning, and progression; they prove that the “conscious Black men” who use them are nothing more than rape apologist, who knowingly or blissfully use a call for racial solidarity, to suppress the voices and lived experiences of Black women and girls.
In 2004, at an event hosted by the NAACP to celebrate the anniversary of Brown V. Board of Education, Cosby gave what many at the time viewed as a stirring speech about accountability within the Black community. This speech was in fact rife with respectability politics and inaccurate statistical data. During the speech Cosby repeatedly opined that the Black high school dropout rate was 50%, when in fact the dropout rate amongst Black high school students in 2004, had plunged to 13%! (he was off by 37 percentage points, that’s not a small miscalculation its bullsh!t) Cosby’s “Pound Cake Speech”, as it came to be known, was also filled with inaccurate assertions about Black on Black crime & the Black family structure(shocking). All of this from a man who admitted in a court of law, that he acquired drugs with the intent of giving them to young women for sex!
LETS. BE. CRYSTAL. CLEAR. When 55 women, some of whom are Black, gain the courage to speak up about the traumatizing experiences that have been engrained into their psyche, only to be told in a plethora of ways that more evidence is needed before anyone listens, or so much as gives a hint of a damn; that my friends is rape culture! The message that you are sending is that Cosby’s list of victims is simply not enough, you need footage; you need facts rather than mere “accusations”; you need some type of damning evidence, before you accept the disappointing reality that “America’s favorite Dad”, was preaching about respect for Black women, while drugging and sexually abusing Black women.
To those of you who seemed to be possessed with the idea that the media’s focus on the “accusations” leveled against Cosby are a ploy to distract us from seeing the “bigger issue” at hand; know that your call for Black solidarity is smothering the voices of the same women that you claim to love and protect. I’m curious as to how Black men can question the victims, but somehow not feel the need to ask what evidence Jill Scott was exposed to that caused her to withdraw her support for Bill Cosby. Did you forget that bit of information while constructing your conspiracy theories?; or are you just not ready to admit that the statistical data and studies concerning Black women’s experience with sexual assault, are never going to be factored into your narrow minded view of Black liberation? Are you ready to admit that Black men have contributed greatly to the normalization of violence against the bodies of Black women; or are you still adamant about romanticizing the sexually deviant acts of monsters?
In high school I was one of many who laughed at Dave Chappell’s infamous R. Kelly skit. Being a teenager who was COMPLETELY unaware of the privilege that I held, I brushed off the “accusations” against Kelly as just another fangirl who was trying to take advantage of a high profile male celebrity. After reading Jim DeRogatis scathing article exposing Kelly’s nefarious actions, I realized that my laughter came at the expense of nearly two dozen Black girls (now women) who have accused the singer of pursuing and engaging in sexual relationships that have negatively impacted them in a plethora of ways. When recalling the victims and family members who were brave enough to share their stories, DeRogatis states, “I will never forget sitting with a girl who showed me the scars where she slit her wrist when her relationship with Kelly ended”
Prior to Kelly being acquitted of 21 counts of child pornography in 2002 (yes you read that number correctly), his relationship with Aaliyah, whose album he “coincidently” titled Age Ain’t Nothin But A Number, would be the first of many intimate relationships that Kelly had with young Black girls. As a people we are not so desperate for representation in the media, that we need to cling to a man who at the of age 27, married a 15 year-old Aaliyah!
Recently the singer made a video encouraging Black folks to purchase his new album after experiencing a drop in sales, in the video Kelly states, “I feel like for a long time our culture hasn’t really supported each other in anything, whether its music or anything else. We’ve been putting each other down a lot, and I think that needs to change.”
For the record, this statement serves as an example of what can happen when the need to support representatives of our group, become more important than the voices of Black women and girls, who are taught in the vilest way, that a legacy is more important than a victim.
While there are Black women who have echoed the need to “Support our Black men”; as a Black male who has contributed to the oppression of women, I do not feel that it is my place to criticize Black women who have bought into the sexist, patriarchal, “black solidarity” that is being sold by Black men. This “black solidarity” requires the victims of sexual assault to remain silent for the sake of preserving the image/legacy of the same Black men, who will not hesitate to frame them as victims, in a nefarious plot that is crafted from rape culture.
At some point, the Black men who continue to support Cosby and Kelly are going to have to admit that their idea of Black solidarity and liberation, is nothing more than a twisted fantasy comprised of sexism and misogyny, where the fight against the White man trumps the painful experiences of Black women. If your freedom is not inclusive; if you refuse to acknowledge the importance of intersectionality; if you believe that the stories of the accusers (victims) should be set aside to prevent the canceling of a T.V. show, or the promotion of an album; if you think that feminism and or womanism is designed to emasculate Black men; understand that your disdain for Black women and girls has become palpable. Your ideologies, hotep conspiracy theories, and insular idea of Blackness serve as indisputable evidence, that there are monsters who do not hide in caves.
To the Black women who have been victimized, it is my hope that you can forgive me and numerous Black men who have blissfully contributed to you remaining silent; while our intentions may have been good, it has become evident to me that our actions were fatal. For the rape apologist who will chose to overlook the facts for the sake of preserving the legacy of monsters; rather than questioning the validity of the victim’s stories, ask yourselves, how many Black women and girls have to become victims, before you realize that you’ve been watching a horror show?