When Ebony magazine unveiled its November 2015 cover issue, jaws literally dropped.
A classic portrait of “The Cosby Show” fictional family, The Huxtables, smiling is punctuated by a seemingly broken glass frame. The root of the crack spreading from the face of the family’s adored patriarch: Cliff Huxtable.
Or the man behind the character, Bill Cosby, depending on how you interpret the image.
Upon first reviewing the cover, it doesn’t take long before concluding the magazine is going there.
For the “Family Issue,” Ebony says it “explores the intensely complicated relationship between the fallen icon, his most beloved character and the broken hearts of Black America.”
By now we’re all aware of the Cosby rape allegation scandal, a story that has unearthed mixed emotions across the country. For the casual observer, a beloved comedian and actor is accused of sexually assualting and drugging at least 30 women.
But for African Americans, Cosby is more than an entertainer amid a scandal. He’s an incomparable and untouchable figure in the community. Black America’s quintessential dad. An educator. A philanthropist. The very idea of that image engrained of Cosby being tarnished is unfathomable for many.
Not surprisingly, Ebony‘s cover evoked a chasm among Black Americans online. Some praised the magazine’s bold statement, even calling it “iconic.” Others shamed the magazine for adding more fuel to the media blaze, particularly those convinced the crusade against Cosby is a whitewashed agenda to take down one of the most accomplished Black men in Hollywood.With the dismantling of the Cosby throne, many are left feeling hurt, betrayed, angry, disillusioned, or all of the above. It feels sort of like a divorce, where one feels obliged to choose a side. To be for Cosby or against him, that is the question. But for the collective Black family it’s more complicated. We’re historically groomed to sweep things under the rug, as they say. Rather than talking about issues and traumas, particularly when it’s about sexual assault, African Americans tend to go around the problem.
It’s for this very reason it’s not surprising why so many promptly dismissed Ebony‘s cover without giving it a chance. It can be likened to a child not wanting to take their medicine because they’re too focused on how bad it’ll taste, rather than understanding it’s necessary for their healing. Ebony‘s cover, while attention-grabbing, in no way dishonors the legacy of Cosby. It simply confronts it. Not to mention, its cover was made public before the story itself was readily available for anyone to read it and form an actual opinion.
If anything the cover does what Black magazines/media are called to do. To challenge ideas, to confront issues concerning people of color, to show that we don’t all think alike. No matter which side of the courtroom one sits on Cosby’s innocence or guilt, one cannot deny its impact on the way in which we engage Cosby and the greatest Black sitcom in television history.
It seems the goal of Ebony is to simply start a conversation. How do we come to terms with the possibility that a man we so revered for decades may be guilty? And if he is, should it change the way we look at his art?
One thing’s for sure, no matter the verdict (if there ever is one), his squeaky clean image will never be what it once was.
So as a communal Black family, how do we respond? How do we reconcile the man from the artistic contributions? By talking about it, that’s how. With an open mind and open heart.
The crack in the family portrait isn’t going anywhere. So let’s stop running away from it.