I wasn’t expecting to feel anything other than satisfied, but I’ll admit I’m a bit conflicted about Bill Cosby’s conviction for sexual assault.
To be clear, I’m relieved that Andrea Constand — the former Temple University employee — won her case. I’m glad that she and the prosecutors took up that fight again after the first case ended in a hung jury. And I’m especially glad this second time around that the women who weren’t allowed to speak during the first case also had their day in court. So, on the legal front, case closed.
But, it is not so easy to close down the emotional piece of this — the piece that has left me struggling with how to regard Cosby’s overall legacy. Not just his groundbreaking TV show, which fictionalized the lives of black people I knew. But also his comedy routines, some now firmly a part of pop culture.
My dentist told me Cosby’s 1983 hilarious routine about his visit to the dentist was a part of his training curriculum. And I was always most proud of his work off-stage creating opportunities for black directors and producers, and single-handedly helping found the organization of black stunt professionals.
Maybe I wouldn’t care so much if Bill Cosby were just another guy who did wrong, but he isn’t. He was America’s dad, a black man, who did wrong. It might be 2018, but rarely are black people able to enjoy their success or suffer their crimes individually. The rest of us feel it, too.
I believe Cosby’s accusers, yet as a black American, it’s heartbreaking to see his achievements erased. It’s hard to watch his image devolve into a guy who drugs women to force them into sex.
In the months leading up to the trial, a national TV correspondent gathered professional African American women and men from greater Boston for a group interview reflecting our reaction. The interview sparked heated exchanges divided along gender lines, though interestingly, not along age lines. All the women agreed with me that Cosby’s cultural contributions didn’t absolve him. All the men recounted the painful history of falsely accusing black men of sex crimes. I remember one man saying, “There is no evidence, but because of these accusations everything he worked for will be destroyed.” The interview never aired, and I’ve often wondered if that guy ever changed his mind once the case went to trial.
But, I told the interviewer that night that I didn’t think Cosby’s signature work — The Cosby Show — should go off the air. I know it’ll be even harder now to watch that series and not think of what happened to the women.
But, then again I never confused Bill Cosby with his warm and loving alter ego Cliff Huxtable. That went away years ago when I interviewed him. He was alternately arrogant and dismissive in the time before we took the stage. I held my own during the verbal jousting match, but I remember being disappointed that he wasn’t even polite. It won’t be so hard to reconcile that Cosby with the 80-year-old guy who may get 30 years in prison. Justice has been served, thank God, but at a price much more costly than a ruined legacy.