Recently Bill Cosby made his first public appearance in over two years during an interview with SiriusXM, which conspicuously coincided with the beginning of the jury selection process for his trial set for June 5th. Allegations of sexual assault, lodged against Cosby by over 60 women, first publicly circulated in 2014. Cosby has since vehemently denied these allegations, despite admitting to offering Quaaludes to women prior to engaging in sexual relations with them. The sole accuser presenting her testimony in June will be a white woman, Andrea Constand, a former mentee of the comedian. Race has become a critical component of the public’s perception of the trial, since both Cosby’s family and devoted fans alike have pointed a finger at racism as the primary incentive behind the allegations. However, sexual assault cases such as Cosby’s transcend issues of racist double standards, and the lack of accountability members of the Black community have entitled him merely serves to deflect the public’s focus from his heinous sex crimes.
Shortly before this interview was released, Ensa and Erinn Cosby released public statements attributing racism as the main motivation behind the litany of allegations against their father. In the brief audio clip sent to The Breakfast Club, Ensa claims: "The media created the story and the outcome before any court will ever test the claims. How my father is being punished by a society that still believes that Black men rape white women that passes off as 'boys will be boys' when white men are accused. How the politics of our country prove my disgust. My father has been publicly lynched in the media." In his own interview, Cosby accepted the sentiments of his daughters, denouncing the allegations as “nefarious.” The discourse between Cosby and SiriusXM host Michael Smerconish grew shockingly intimate for a public figure who has sequestered himself from the media for two years, giving many reason to believe the interview was part of a media campaign to further paint himself as a victim. Thankfully, many of us following the case have been astute enough to not be misguided by PR antics.
It is with little doubt that a myriad of racialized issues constituting anti-blackness, the hyper-sexualization of Black men, and the contrasting conceptions of white purity have influenced, and will continue to influence the Cosby case. The unquestioning acceptance of the allegations by the media, the way in which the story has been framed, and the haste fashion in which numerous sources have capitalized off these allegations, is reminiscent of America’s unsettling history of protecting white women from Black men. It is equally difficult to ignore the large breadth of evidence revealing white male celebrities who have committed similar sexual crimes and continue to escape public admonition. However, accusing an individual who has reported a rape of deception, regardless of their race, ultimately boils down to one thing: victim-blaming - sustaining the societal tide of silencing victims of sexual assault as career destroyers, attention-seekers, or story fabricators.
We must remove the cataracts of our community members, and channel our empathy towards addressing the irreparable trauma Cosby has caused his victims, which include Black women. Double standards are a weak justification for turning a blind eye to sexual assault that is committed within in our communities. Wielding his cultural influence and economic power, Cosby has consciously intimidated his victims into silence for decades. All talk of racism aside, the raging river which exists between rapists and survivors cannot be bridged without some level of accountability. Those who consistently do harm against others through sexual assault require emotional and mental guidance, counseling, and intensive education on practicing consent. It is critical to bear in mind that rape not only harms the humanity of the survivor of the assault, but it further removes the humanity of the perpetrator. These individuals do not benefit from blind sympathy and vigilant efforts of friends, family members, or colleagues that wish to protect the tarnished image of their loved one. Refusing to hold those accountable of violating someone else’s bodily autonomy not only does a vast disservice to the victim, but additionally perpetuates an insidious system of rape culture that impacts entire communities.
Through their PR tactics and their rhetoric, it is salient that the Cosbys are attempting to salvage the image of Cosby as "America's Dad," whose legacy has been tarnished by the hands of racism. This presents enticing bait for those in the Black community who are still mourning the abrupt loss of the once-beloved comedian's legacy, and wish to confirm his innocence. These efforts to frame the defamed comedian as the trusted paternal figure he once signified are endeavors steeped in patriarchal ideology, aimed at removing the bitter taste swirling in your mouth when you hear “rapist.” Though digesting news that a loved one has committed rape is an unequivocally painful process, these statements concerning the factor of racism in the Cosby case are redolent of a larger issue within our community: making moral exceptions for abusive Black men.
Black Women's Blueprint will continue to post updates throughout the Cosby Trial.