My initial reaction to TV Land’s decision to cut The Cosby Show from its lineup was mostly tied to the notion that Bill Cosby is not being afforded the same luxury as his white counterparts like Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, who continue to see their films aired and celebrated even when we’re given detailed reminders of their sexual allegations. However, when it comes to Bill Cosby, it’s a bit more complicated than my knee-jerk reaction to the cable network’s decision suggests.
If you go on social media, you will see tweets like, “Remember..at one time Bill Cosby was about to buy the NBC network..a Black man with any kind of real POWER is not cool in America!!!!” Likewise, “They can’t never let a Black man be successful & respected by all at the same time….don’t try & dirty Bill Cosby’s name bruh.”
Remember..at one time Bill Cosby was about to buy the NBC network..a Black man with any kind of real POWER is not cool in America!!!!
— Ronald Bardell (@ronalddownsouth) November 18, 2014
Then there outlets posing leading questions such as “We see Bill Cosby, a Black man, being accused by multiple white women of rape. Is he automatically guilty because of the racial layer?” Even some misguided white people have entered the fray, arguing that Cosby is being mistreated while white women like Lena Dunham are being let off the hook.
Some refuse to believe the ever-increasing number of women who have accused Bill Cosby of raping them due to the idea that this is nothing more than a concerted effort to bring an iconic Black man down. An iconic Black man who presented an image of a Black family that means so much to so many – exactly why the Black-focused networks like the BET-owned Centric and Magic Johnson-founded Aspirehave decided to keep airing episodes of The Cosby Show.
No one can deny the reality that Black people – even famous, wealthy ones – are often treated more harshly than white people. Nonetheless, these Bill Cosby apologists conveniently leave out the part that Bill Cosby has long been accused of raping women over the years and he’s only now really facing public backlash for it. So if this was truly about the media “just trying to assassinate another Black man character” as some have suggested, why did it take so long?
What’s happening to Bill Cosby now is not an affront on the Black man. This is a testament to how one powerful man can no longer flex his muscle to shut people up in an age where new media and social media drive the conversation in ways a 77-year-old celebrity is not used to. Sure, TV Land’s decision is harsh, but it will likely be reversed the same way networks have returned to airing episodes of 7thHeaven despite its show’s patriarch, played by actor Stephen Collins, confessing to child molestation.
This isn’t about racism so much as it is a lingering lassiez faire attitude many have about sexual assault. There is not enough sympathy in the world for victims of rape and there’s even less when the accused rapist is an entertainer. People will put their entertainment value ahead of a person’s humanity. It is why Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and yes, Bill Cosby, have managed to amass fortunes for their art with only small blemishes to their legacies.
It is why R. Kelly continues to have a career despite the charges leveled against him. This is a man who has been accused of raping children for several years and has responded by being just as sexually explicit in his creative works than ever before. If we go by the logic that Bill Cosby’s current media narrative can be attributed to racial politics, than why is R. Kelly still relevant? As much as many of us love 12 Play, his contributions to culture are far less important that Bill Cosby and he doesn’t possess a fraction of the prestige Cosby has.
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