by Peter Bailey
I will begin by admitting I am not and never have been a Bill Cosby fan. He turned me off with the somewhat smug attitude he displayed toward low income Black folks. Also, though I have long been a strong supporter of more honest portrayals of Black folks on television programs and in movies, I was not impressed with what I considered the syrupy sweetness of The Cosby Show.
Like many Black folks, I am tired of seeing us always portrayed in films, television and at panels, workshops and conferences mainly as “the problem with the Black this, the problem with the Black that, the crisis of the Black this, the crisis with the Black that.” An individual and a group of people will not make progress with that kind of “woe is us” attitude.
However, we also won’t make progress if we see ourselves in the kind of fantasy land so often shown on The Cosby Show. We need to see ourselves as a strong group of people who have made a life for ourselves despite living in a society mostly hostile toward us as a group.
That being said, I must now state that no one will convince me that, in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in this country, White women had no one they could turn to for help when sexually assaulted or abused by a Black man, even one as prominent as Cosby. Throughout this country’s history, several thousand Black men have been lynched, brutalized and incarcerated as a result of sexual charges made by White women. A White woman may have been involved in a consensual sex relationship with a Black man, but if that was found out, she would often yell rape and he was done for. If she didn’t do that, male members of her family would force her to say she was raped to save their family’s face.
In the years of Cosby’s foolishness its’ hard to believe he would believe he could do the same things as the big time White boys, but it is impossible for me to believe that those women couldn’t find anyone in the country who would listen to or believe them if they had accused Cosby of sexual assault. Most press organizations would have jumped all over such charges with wall-to-wall coverage. I will not speculate as to why they didn’t go public with their accusations against Cosby. But I repeat that not having anyone who would listen to or believe that many women is unimaginable in the United States of America then and now.
By the way, there’s little, if any comparison between their situation and that of Anita Hill. Justice Clarence Thomas was lucky that the charges against him were made by a Black woman. If Anita Hill had been White, he would never have been appointed to the Supreme Court. Throughout this country’s history sexual crimes against Black women by White men and even by Black men have never been treated as ferociously by the so-called justice system as sexual crimes against White women.
That is another reality of U.S. history. If Cosby had been accused by Black women, he wouldn’t be in the trouble he’s in today.
A. Peter Bailey, whose latest book is Witnessing Brother Malcolm X, the Master Teacher, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.