Phylicia Rashad’s support for Bill Cosby highlights division in black community
Depending on you and your life experiences, Bill Cosby is either an abuser or the last black man to fall prey to being unfairly accused.
In the case of the 83-year-old actor, it’s actually dozens of women – the majority of them white – over several years who have alleged sexual misconduct by Cosby dating back decades. (Cosby has always denied the allegations.)
That’s why when his longtime friend and costar Phylicia Rashad celebrated the overthrow of the verdict against Cosby on Wednesday, it sparked a debate over race, misogyny and the #MeToo movement.
Long before Cosby was convicted and sentenced in 2018 to three to 10 years in state prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand at her home in 2004, there had been much debate about his guilt and innocence.
But nowhere more than in the black community, where Cosby had counted so much as an artist and education advocate.
America’s Favorite Dad
“The Cosby Show” was revolutionary television.
Aired from 1984 to 1992 on NBC, the sitcom depicts an upper-middle-class black family devoid of the usual stereotypes often attributed to black characters in Hollywood.
Cosby portrayed Dr. Heathcliff “Cliff” Huxtable, an obstetrician and patriarch of five children. Rashad played the matriarch, lawyer Clair Huxtable.
Their loving family dynamic – and the affable portrayal of Cosby as a comedic and oft-besieged father – has often found him to top the polls as America’s favorite TV daddy.
He embodied the parent that many who grew up in the tumultuous 80s as turnkey kids, or those whose dad is more absent than Huxtable, wished they had.
“The Cosby Show debuted during the Reagan era, when the scourges of crack cocaine, AIDS and homicide spiraling ravaged African Americans” Writer, teacher and cultural critic Jelani Cobb told Ebony Magazine in 2015. “[The show was] huge among black people because it was a counterpoint to the flow of negativity that we have heard and seen so often about ourselves over the years.
As beloved as Cosby’s Dr Huxtable was, so was Clair de Rashad. Deeply loving wife, she has been a role model for Huxtable children (played by Sabrina Le Beauf, Lisa Bonet, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Tempestt Bledsoe and Keshia Knight Pulliam) and portrayed a strong black feminist in a television landscape with little.
This image seemed to contrast with some when Rashad tweeted “FINALLY !!!! A terrible wrong is being righted – a miscarriage of justice is corrected! After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned Cosby’s conviction on Wednesday.
‘What are you thinking about’
#ByePhylicia (a reference to the slogan “Bye Felicia” made popular by the 1995 hit movie “Friday”) started trending and another famous TV mom even got hold of it.
“Phylicia what are you thinking !!! “ Actress Janet Hubert, who played the original Aunt Viv in “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” tweeted. “I don’t know you but to say it was terribly wrong.”
It was complicated by the fact that Rashad is the new one dean appointed from the restored College of Fine Arts at its alma mater, Howard University in Washington, DC.
“I love @PhyliciaRashad but Howard has to take it off because how safe would you feel if your dean stood up for a man who ADMITTED he drugged and raped women,” Evelyn Atieno, editor-in-chief of Affinity, tweeted.
Rashad sought to clarify his position amid the backlash, tweeting “I fully support survivors of sexual assault who come forward.”
“My post was in no way intended to be indifferent to their truth,” she wrote. “Personally, I know from my friends and family that such abuse has lifelong residual effects. My sincere wish is a cure.
But not everyone disagreed with Rashad’s support for Cosby.
When Howard University posted a statement on their verified Instagram account disavowing Rahad’s original tweet – writing that he “lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault” – several people defended Rashad.
“She told the truth! one person commented.
“Dean Rashad didn’t do anything wrong! Another defender wrote.
It’s indicative of the division that has existed since the allegations against Cosby first became widespread in 2014, when a video of comedian Hannibal Buress speaking about Cosby went viral.
From the start, there was utter disbelief within the black community that a man of Cosby’s stature could have done something so heinous.
Disinformation was rampant. Cosby was said to be targeted because he was buying NBC, when in reality he had explored such a sale in 1992. And, like so many aspects of our culture in recent years, the allegations were politicized. (In 2016, then aspiring presidential candidate Donald Trump had been accused of sexual misconduct by several women, which he denied.)
There was also a discussion of misogyny after Barbara Bowman, one of Cosby’s accusers, wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post in which she noted “it was only after a man … called Bill Cosby a rapist in an act of comedy … that the public outcry began in earnest.”
Black male celebrities like Cosby are often rallied when accused of wrongdoing, as they become attorneys for the many black men unjustly accused and prosecuted in this country.
“History tells me that black men accused of raping white women have often been lynched. History tells me that black men who face the American justice system are disproportionately incarcerated, ”Solomon Jones wrote in an article for WHYY radio in 2018. “History tells me that Cosby – a black man – had little chance of evading the accusations of dozens of mostly white women.
History also tells us that while the #MeToo momentum may have helped grease the wheels that led to Cosby’s conviction, the overturning of that conviction was in part reminiscent of OJ Simpson’s 1995 trial. , who was eventually acquitted of the murders of his ex-wife. Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.
It is that rich and powerful black men can perform better in the legal system – a fact that seems less open to debate than their actual guilt or innocence.
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