I don’t know if Bill Cosby is guilty of the rape accusations being leveled at him.
I don’t know if the fifteen plus women and right hand guy at NBC are part of a conspiracy to bring down America’s favorite TV dad. [Full Disclosure: I love a good conspiracy theory. It feeds my fascination of mystery and intrigue; smoke and mirrors.]
Race and gender politics are meeting for me at an uncomfortable crossroads.
Because I’ve read the secret letter to MLK advising him to kill himself despite his audacious civil rights work, read about Malcom X’s assassination in the Audubon Ballroom shortly after declaring he believed in brotherhood of all men, witnessed the maligning of Obama’s presidency, noted Dave Chappelle’s being labeled as “crazy” for walking away, and the countless attempts to discredit Black men who aim higher than promoting the self-destruct mentality of ratchetry, it’s hard to not look at these allegations through a different lens.
Because I was molested by two different family members before I was nine, and didn’t tell my parents until twenty plus years later, I can understand not telling. I had a few reasons for not telling, but mostly, I didn’t want to disrupt the peace. We never disrupted the peace in my house. Children should be seen and not heard. No yelling. Stop shouting. As a kid, you interpret things in your own way based on what you’re told often enough. It's hard to not look at these allegations through a different lens.
The truth is I don’t know what to believe in this case. I know that’s not a popular sentiment since we’re supposed to pick a side and stay there. But there’s too much murk. Too much history. Too much cliché: Where there’s smoke there’s fire. Black men are under attack. True and true. Yikes.
Here’s what I do know.
As a society, we are irresponsible, even negligent in the way we treat victims of rape and sexual assault. Like how I grew up, with the seemingly innocent rules to guide our conduct, we tell victims how to behave. Do not disrupt the peace. No yelling. Stop shouting. Women (and children) are to be seen and not heard. Even if they have been wronged. And by the way, what were you wearing?
The perpetrator doesn’t have to be famous. He can be a neighbor, boyfriend, frat boy, the boss, the guy from the dating website, the man who assaulted a woman on her way home. These can be more easily swallowed because they're just human. There is a woman at NYU carrying around a mattress because the administration refused to acknowledge and discipline her alleged rapist (and fellow student.) Why? Because she feels she is not being heard. No yelling. Stop shouting. Do not disrupt our peace.
We inadvertently tell rape victims it’s not okay to say that they’ve been victimized; that they should tuck away the experience and carry on because taking any action against the alleged perpetrator is going to disrupt our comforts; our peace. We tell them that they were complicit in their being attacked. Because anything else would make us uncomfortable, causing disruption in our already made up minds.
How does this disrupt our peace? Glad you asked.
If we believe Bill Cosby did these things, our fairytale icon will tumble off the shelf; shattered into one thousand irretrievable pieces. If we believe Ben Roethlisberger raped a woman, we won’t be able to wear the black and gold Steeler war paint with as much zeal. If we believe R. Kelly to be guilty, the Chocolate Factory will not sound quite as sweet. If we believe Woody Allen to be a pedophile, our favorite film becomes just a b-movie from the past. If we believe the priest who gave us First Holy Communion molested an altar boy, our vision of moral authority spins out of control and dies in a fiery crash.
If we believe these people, the people we look to as an example of family values and respectability, sports and camaraderie, artistic genius, and moral and religious authority are actually human, they will have broken our trust and sullied our means of escape from life’s hardships.
We would rather believe our heroes are blameless than give up or reconfigure our slice of happy. Instead of empathizing, or looking at the situation from a different way because we perhaps don't want to side with the powerless, we say things we probably wouldn’t say if it were a loved one in the victim seat.
”Why wait this long to tell?”
“But they took the money though.”
“But he was never convicted.”
Can you imagine telling someone that in the height of his popularity America’s Favorite TV Dad drugged and raped you? Can you see how if another woman said she was drugged and raped, you would find the courage to say you were too? Can you see how taking the money and going away could be the only chance to have some feeling of retribution? Can you see how this could be your sweet gullible sister? Your raunchy auntie? Your fun-loving daughter? Your feisty best friend? You? Guys. What if your favorite defensive end plastered you with alcohol and roofies and you woke up with an “ache” in your tight end? Hey. I’m just asking.
Right. That wouldn’t happen to you. You’d have smelled the GHB in the glass, and would have punched him the face, of course. But remember - he’s the biggest, toughest, heaviest dude on the field who has you by one-hundred fifty pounds. You’ve got no hand skills for him. No knife. No gun. And he has just…handled you.
Soooo, fella, are you coming forward? In front of all your buddies who are his biggest fans? Don't answer.
Can you see how this could all be a lie to smear Mr. Cosby's legacy? Can you see how if he defends himself, he will be seen as defensive and guilty? Can you see how if he doesn't defend himself, that he may be seen as aloof and guilty? Can you see how we have automatically decided he has to prove his innocence, as opposed to his guilt?
Side note: Back in the 80's, the popular rumor about Teddy P was that he was in a car crash that came about because he was in a compromising situation with a man. It's not until this year that I read an article from the transgender woman who stated that she and Teddy P had nothing going on, that he was giving her a ride home, and that he didn't even know that she was transgender. It's small things like that, that make me think about how quickly we jump to conclusions, how quickly the gossip is spread and accepted as truth, and how long it sometimes takes to get to the truth.
I’m not saying you have to believe that Bill Cosby did this. Or that the women are lying. There are unscrupulous people (including celebrities) in this world.
I just don’t think that our default should be to write off these accusations or blame victims (for not being smarter about certain situations) based on what that means to our own comforts.
One woman who lies about being raped does not mean all women lie about being raped. One man who rapes does not mean that all men rape. It’s irresponsible to paint that picture and worse yet, to believe it. But the biggest irresponsibility is the lack of critical thinking and empathy.
Here’s one more to grow on: if you automatically believe the woman in question must have done something to encourage her attacker or had not done enough to protect herself, do you also automatically believe that Eric Garner could have done more (like not selling illegal cigarettes or standing on a street corner) to not give the police an excuse to choke him to death? And do you also think Michael Brown could have done more (like “getting the f*ck on the sidewalk” or running faster or pulling up his pants) to not give Darren Wilson an excuse to shoot and kill him?
My answer is no. I don’t know what your answers are, but I do know we need to take more of a responsibility for each other - a responsibility that overrides protecting our comfort levels.
I still don’t know if Bill Cosby is guilty or not. (Though, I will say this doesn’t look good.) I still don’t know if the women are in on some elaborate scheme to discredit Bill Cosby.
I do know that these reactions should cause us to critically examine our culture’s disregard for crimes of a sexual nature and crimes of racial bias.
I do know that when it (abuse of any kind) is happening to someone else, it’s happening to you.
Don’t think too hard on that one.