Bill Cosby is probably facing the greatest challenge of his life confronted with 16 women and counting, alleging that this well trusted family man is in-fact a man who likes to drug and rape women. For someone known as the American Dad, the allegations have unending implications. If they are to be believed, it would seem to say little for the nation or its metaphorical father let alone the possible wider context of America having a preference for drugging and raping its ‘beautiful’ women. However, I want to look at this from a race and gender, black female perspective.
All but one of the 16 alleged victims in Angela Leslie, appear to be white women. Leslie appears to be of mixed-raced origin. Cosby’s wife is a light-skinned African American so what are we to make of this? Self-evidently, Cosby had a desire for white women and this is hardly shocking on any level given the continued emphasis upon the black phallic and the white feminine ideal with a bit of sexual taboo thrown between the two of them. Indeed, it is old news. What is harder to understand is why Cosby would drug and rape when ‘any’ women would presumably queue up to have sex with a rich, famous, intelligent friendly man such as himself? Even more peculiar is Cosby’s apparent preference to drug and rape willing sexual partners which the media implies in the case of Andrea Constand and Bethe Ferrier? Did he hate white women whilst he desired them?
Did having a sexual encounter with active and willing white women still make whiteness too powerful against the vulnerability of a black male body? It suggests, in that racialised embodied encounter that he was reduced to such impotency that it was only by rendering these women unconscious that his appetite could be satisfied. It screams of power with the absolute submission so that not even ‘the sub’ needs to demonstrate submission to the ‘dom’. How many ‘doms’ would actually bother with that? It is so absolute, that this type of sexual act seems closer to necrophilia with a warm body. No wonder many are sceptical as to the motivations of the alleged victims for it is difficult to comprehend why Cosby would need or desire to do such a thing.
The world is watching with understandable curiosity. Black communities are praying that this highly successful black man is not guilty of these alleged crimes with a real need to believe that the women are scheming ruthless greedy liars who will soon be found out for who they really are. In contrast, on the 25th May 2008 Cosby, in a perverse blame the victim mode, controversially described working-class African Americans and young black men in particular, as needing to ‘pull their pants up’. This was received by many as frustratingly clear that Cosby was no longer connected to the lives of struggling black communities. However, confronted with these rape allegations, Cosby has at least in part, been re-racialised as ‘a brother’ under attack. He’s a ‘nigger’ after all with these white women trying to give yet another black brother a high-tech lynching thus, we are compelled to run to his rescue. Paradoxically, it was a brother’ in Hannibal Buress, a young comedian who triggered this recent inspection into Cosby’s life accusing him unequivocally of being a rapist. Further, Michael Che on SNL, said to Cosby with some delight on the 23rd November 2014, ‘Pull your damn pants up’. Thus, in this melee of positions, where do we as black women fit into this debate? Is it appropriate to say anything about what is going on here from a black female perspective? Is there a black female perspective?
Like Cosby’s loyal and long-term wife Camille Cosby of 30 years, there is that sense that we must remain resolute whilst these barrage of attacks attempt to bring a great man down. Possibly there is the tacit agreement that we follow Camille Cosby and her lead for she is standing by her man and after-all, if she can, we can. Her silence signifies dignity, love and an absolute commitment to her family. If she were anything but, her husband’s career would surely have been in tatters by now, despite the allegations as disproven.
The problem is, thoughts of Hilary Clinton come to mind and her disparaging of Tammy Wynette’s song ‘Stand by your man’ when her husband was caught in a succession of infidelities in his run up to the US Presidency – though of course, standing by her man is precisely what Hilary Clinton went onto do. Standing by our men does not mean our men are innocent, it means that that is what wives sometimes do such as in the case of Wynette (presumably), Clinton and now Cosby (assuming Mr Cosby is guilty of course). Except I am not sure we should ignore the team element in such highly successful long-term partnerships. Whether Mr Cosby is innocent or not, we cannot pretend Mrs Cosby like Mrs Clinton, did not know their husbands more than anybody else, which is not to say they somehow, endorse sexual abuse or infidelities. Nevertheless, if Mrs Cosby had had something to say but never did, it may well ‘appear’ too late to begin doing that now. That is to say, Mrs Cosby may also feel unwittingly compromised as distinct from feeling dedicated, dare I suggest…with the greatest of respect.
I am mindful of African American Anita Hill in 1992 when she publicly complained of sexual assault against a black man when she, as a highly respectable lawyer came out to stop the Confederate now Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, from being elected to the highest court of America. It was a seminal moment in black America as indeed, might this Cosby affair become. Thomas was a disgraceful replacement for the out-going civil rights Justice Thurgood Marshall.
During the hearings, Thomas made appalling inaccurate attacks upon his own sister as an unambitious benefit dependent (whilst she held down two jobs and looked after their mother). He also described him and Hill in response to her allegations, as a ‘high-tech lynching for uppity blacks’. He was finally elected with a fair amount of support from the black community and by a 98% male Senate. Ironically, it was Hill who suffered the greatest attacks from the black community. She was found guilty of effectively washing black dirty laundry out in the wider white public and this caused a clear division of views across African American communities. Never mind that Clarence Thomas, like Bill Cosby, had already ‘sold-out’ black people as lacking responsibility for their own economic condition, the focus turned upon Hill and her uppity self as if history had somehow hidden from view that black women had actually lynched black men? Such a distorted statement represented a huge betrayal to black women not to mention the fact that this terrible misrepresentation completely lost sight of the black political point.
What good could a black Confederate Supreme Court Justice do to forward civil rights in America whether by race, gender or anything else? As I write, it is now 8-years since Justice Thomas bothered to ask questions during a Supreme Court oral argument so let’s just say he continues to be a Thomas, shamefully representing himself, undermining the role, never mind helping anybody else but for his queer tie to the Confederacy. How could Hill have been more of a threat to the black community than this man? Being nominated and pushed forward by George Bush and his administration should have been a small clue?
Frankly, I wonder whether there would be as much fuss around Cosby now if all of these alleged victims had been black as a night sky and honestly, I doubt it. As black women, it should be obvious that we are not only wives and mothers. We are, before those roles, women. Like some men, we know about rape, sexual abuse and child abuse. Women grew up trained to be afraid of would-be rapists through our well-intentioned families who sought to protect us. We were warned to behave ‘decently’ as young girls so we learned long before sex was obvious that most sexual attacks upon our bodies would be by ‘bad’ men although who those bad men might have been was always a matter of conjecture knowing only that they were not supposed to be your family. Hence the irony of Cosby not perceived as a sexual predator because of his wholesome (American) dad image.
To be clear, being female did not arrive one moment before or after being black. We, as black women are occupying a very specific space that can neither reject masculinity or whiteness because we will forever share the experience of being female across race and black across gender. We know what our black men have had to endure for they are our sons, brothers, fathers and friends too but we also know what rape feels like as women and it may shock you to know that being a black woman does not make rape feel less painful.
Some of us as black women may and do lean towards or prioritise gender over race and vice-versa but every-time we do this, we sell-out that real space in being black women. We are always giving ourselves away either toward the feminine white or the masculine black as the only way in which it seems possible to be seen. Whoopi Goldberg and Jill Scott rightly insist they want to see the evidence before they rush to condemn Cosby and I agree, although I also think 16 alleged victims are far too many to be dismissed as innuendo. It is unusual for so many women to have agreed to waive their anonymity and yes, maybe they have cynically followed each other hoping for a big pay cheque but if they are innocent, it took great courage to come forward because they know they are going to be negatively marked for the rest of their lives one way or another. There is one other thing. We know because of the passage of time that collecting evidence now is going to be difficult and it will always end up being a matter of testimony. There’s another thing we know. Coming forward and telling the world that you were raped by a famous much-loved figure in the world, might indeed have taken a lifetime to push yourself forward. Just think of the women that were raped and intend to take that fact to their graves because they know they cannot cope with the type of hostile reaction it generates. Imagine the level of abuse an alleged ‘very black’ female victim might get (if she exists), were she to come forward?
Privately, the question keeps popping into my head amongst all of this, Don’t you like us black women Bill that you needed to sleep with white women on the side? Did making your ‘Queen’ black give you that kind of permission to scratch that itch into a scar? And why aren’t my ‘conscious’ black brothers shouting from the hill-top, Hey Bill! You’re dissing the sister’s man! Those black brothers are dissing those white women for apparently scheming against Bill and ironically, it is not that they believe Bill did not have sexual relations with those women, it is just that they do not believe he ‘inhaled’. Those women consented and are now dishonestly re-writing history – that is their alleged crime though apparently, it is not his crime for going there in the first place.
I wonder how it feels for Camille that her husband is not only disloyal with his known infidelities but that he has demonstrated to her face publicly and on a number of occasions, his preference for those women that do not have the same skin complexion or African features as her and their children in a society that already regards her from a black female perspective, as something less. The slave master kept a white wife and raped his slaves. Does it make any difference if it is the other way around? Are we supposed to mind this as black women or are we supposed to understand and feel sympathy towards Bill?
We might well ask for the law to show-up to sort this sorry mess out remembering at the same time that the law constantly leans towards a white, middle-class, masculine celebrity – Mike Tyson accepting – disposition. Yes, Goldberg and Scott have a real point except we should not presume just because the law decides whatever it will, that we do not have deeper problems going on here. Camille Cosby has performed race and gender loyalty perfectly whilst her husband has indulged beyond his sense of race gender responsibility so why do black women have to bother? I know she has been well remunerated one might fairly argue yet that is not to suppose Camille Cosby would not have been successful in her own right had she continued her undergraduate studies when she stopped and married her husband instead. Nor is it to suppose that Bill would have been successful without his wife. How many of us think Michelle Obama greatly enhances the credentials of the US President for example? We are black women and if we want change, we are going to have to be just that.
So, I do not know whether Bill Cosby is guilty or not but I feel empathy with any woman who has been raped and unlike some men (and some women), it is not easy for me to dismiss these alleged victims that have come forward so far. It is the same as when a black youth tells me he has been mistreated by the law, for I know I have to pay attention to that and cannot dismiss it like so many white communities can. The Grand Jury decisions against Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and now Eric Garner in New York are too painful and deeply enraging. Now imagine there is a legal issue about these 2 ridiculous and shameful decisions that forces its way, through sheer public determination, all the way up to the Supreme Court so that the case files land on the lap of our only black representative there, Justice Clarence Thomas?