Unsurprisingly, the scandal sparked a debate surrounding the credibility of the accusers (so far three of 15 women have come forward publicly) and the overall opinions of whether they believed Cosby–Black America’s quintessential father figure–was capable of sexual assault.
The inability of the room–which included majority men and a handful of women–to entertain the idea that the women, all white, who have publicly accused the famed comedian could actually be telling the truth, points to not just the issue of sexual assault, but how race often plays a role in the way in which we, as a society, digest the news around us.
As with many things that deal with Black Hollywood stars, the first inclination of some Black Americans is to defend until the very end. The O.J. Simpson trial is probably the best example of how race can not only influence opinion, but divide a nation. A CBS poll conducted just after Simpson’s 1995 acquittal determined that only 12 percent of Blacks thought the football legend was guilty, compared to 64 percent of whites. Twenty years later that number has rose from 12 to 49 percent of Blacks who think Simpson murdered his ex-wife and her friend.
Without question, when it comes to prominent African-American figures, Blacks have a hard time criticizing them, and chipping away at the sometimes unrealistic moral armor we place on them.
Is it possible that Cosby’s race–and revered perception within the Black community–is serving as blinders for some?
Inside the shop, rather than hearing an objective dialogue about Cosby’s rape allegations (and they will continue to be allegations until proven otherwise), I heard accusations of “white women” attempting to take down another “Black man.” Many of them refused to accept anything the accusers said as fact.
But the moment someone brought up the rumor that Cosby allegedly molested actress Raven-Symone on the set of “The Cosby Show” (she’s since denied that), the belief factor began to tip more to the affirmative. All of sudden, people in the shop began to shake their heads in disgust, expressing their distress over a man they loved so much possibly being the monster some women claim him to be.
This made me wonder: why is that three different (white) women telling very similar stories about a man sexually assaulting them is so easily chalked up as fiction, but a blind gossip item on the Internet about that very same man molesting a (Black) child is seemingly taken as truth?
This is not to say that Black Americans shouldn’t defend Cosby, because any law-abiding citizen should see an accused man as innocent until proven guilty. The nuanced conundrum is that some African-Americans see race so much that they stubbornly hang on to racial loyalty than at least considering other side.
To be clear, accusations of rape are serious. Victims or accusers should not be villainized any more than the accused.
While Mr. Cosby has changed a nation with his portrayal as Heathcliff Huxtable, his comedic talent and his many generous contributions to Black community, including his support of HBCUs, it does not make him infallible.
No man is perfect, and neither is Cosby–but that doesn’t make him a rapist.
Wherever the cards fall, it’s important that Black Americans see him not as the father we all grew to love on television, but the man who simply did his job. He’s an actor, he’s not God.