From a very young age, my father always told me “Just because they’re grown, it don’t make ’em right. Just because they’re big, it don’t make ’em bright.” At the time, my dad’s primary subjects for this quote were faculty and staff at my elementary school. My parents were not teaching me to disregard or disrespect authority, but they wanted me to understand that adults do not have everything right all the time. Grown ups make mistakes too, and I should not be afraid to challenge them if I see them behaving unfairly or inappropriately.
My super suburban community outside of Seattle, Washington was (and still is) very homogeneous. Overwhelmingly white and upper-middle class. While these demographics made for a very strong academic environment (let’s face it – higher tax base equals higher quality education), I certainly suffered socially. In a culture of sameness and conformity I stood out, whether I wanted to or not.
In a space where I could have felt very lonely and wrong, my parents were dedicate to ensuring me that I felt a sense that I belonged and knew that I was right. Buying black dolls, belonging to a predominantly black church… watching television programming depicting images of black families similar to my own, like “The Cosby Show.”
Since the disturbing news broke last year that famed comedian Bill Cosby had allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted several women over the course of his career, I have remained silent. However, once Ebony Magazine released a heartbreaking image of the Huxtable Family with shattered glass splintering from the Cliff’s face, I felt it was time to add my two cents to the conversation, whatever that may be worth.
Due to my father’s advice about adults being imperfect, I cannot say that I was shocked or in any sort of denial but I was, and still am, sorely disappointed. The idea that an iconic institution like “The Cosby Show,” so deeply ingrained in my identity as a black girl growing up in middle class America, is now contaminated in such a tragic way is very upsetting. Certainly when people we admire make poor and damaging choices, we become filled with a wide range of emotions. Personally, I am hurt by Mr. Cosby’s alleged despicable behavior. As someone who has witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of sexual abuse in the lives of close friends and loved ones, I am distraught. Could it be that a clean comic with timeless humor and a manipulative predator with desperate ways are one in the same? Can I separate the two? Will I ever be able to enjoy the comfort-food sitcom of my youth again? Should I enjoy it?
Despite my personal feelings of abandonment and deceit, the impact on society and black culture in particular is clear. The standby example of a positive portrayal of a segment of the black population in America will forever be marred by an asterisk connected to a footnote, explaining that this type of family simply does not exist. The list of comedians able to make people laugh without being vulgar or insulting has just become shorter. Future generations of all races will no longer be exposed to a lesser-seen side of African-American culture. Quality family viewing, free of profanity, innuendo, and double entendre will be forever hidden in the depths of the archives, the tainted memory too painful for many to bear.
I commend the alleged victims for coming forward with their stories, for standing up to an American treasure. Opening up about being raped or sexually abused in any way – by anyone – takes tremendous courage. I cannot imagine sharing with the world such a personal story about such a larger-than-life man. My heart aches for these women.
So why am I still so torn? Why do I desperately want, or need to reserve a place for “The Cosby Show” in my heart?
The desire to continue to appreciate a television show that is now marred by such controversy is one that causes me to question my goodness and empathy. I worry that my wish for the show to return to air is selfish and unfeeling. My hope is that these concerns are not true manifestations of my character. I hope that I still work toward goodness and practice empathy.
These developments cause me to be faced with a new challenge. As a young black American woman, I must succeed. I must do my part to provide a real-life example of dignity and decency for future generations to be able to point to and say “she seems like a good person, doing good things for other people.”
Thankfully, I am not alone in this challenge. There are parents and principals, construction workers and counselors, doctors and ditch-diggers who are all trying to be good people, doing good things for other people. The overwhelming majority of black, American boys are not on their way to prison or in the street hustling. The overwhelming majority of black men do not seek to do women harm. In fact, I chance it to say that all black boys and men love their families and want to succeed in providing for them and to be a part of their lives. All black boys and men want to make lasting impacts and positive influences on their communities. All black men want to change the world for good.
It is my greatest hope for the black American community and the world as a whole, that all black leaders continue to rise to the occasion. May we exceed all expectations in life and leave a lasting legacy in death. May no fault of any one man tarnish or stain the positive differences we can and do make in this world. It is up to the global community to do everything we can to be examples and create opportunities for black children to realize their greatest potential in life.