I don't know Bill Cosby, but
I feel like I do. I grew up watching "Fat
Albert" on Saturday mornings, eating pudding pops through middle school and
being glued to my TV all through the '80s watching his wildly popular sitcom. "The Cosby Show" was the only thing on TV
that my entire family could agree to watch together.
Pioneers gathered in front of a campfire after a long day on the trail; in
suburban Texas, we huddled on the couch to watch the adventures of the Huxtable
family each week.
My siblings and I saved our
paper routes and babysitting money to buy my dad a venerable Cosby sweater one
However, none of my warm
feelings about the Bill Cosby I saw on my TV excuses the behavior he’s being
accused of by several women as reported in the media.
Strangely, I've been
completely unaware of Cosby’s reputation as a man who allegedly sexually abuses
women until recent months. Yes, women
have been alleging that Cosby assaulted them since 2005 — on the TODAY show no less, a show I watched
religiously back then. "The Washington Post" and "The New Yorker" both ran pieces in recent months about the
allegations surrounded Bill Cosby, which include accusations that Cosby both
drugged and violently assaulted more than a dozen women.
None of this hit my
consciousness until I read a blog post calling out Queen Latifah for canceling
Cosby’s appearance on her show. Subsequent statements issued by the show
indicate that it was in fact Cosby who canceled his appearance on her show,
but nevertheless, why has it taken so long for me to break through my denial
about this larger-than-life icon from my youth?
My own denial is echoed in a
February piece on Slate.com, titled “Why Doesn’t Anyone Care About the Sexual
Assault Allegations Against Bill Cosby?” There, author Amanda Hess, speculates that the relatively muted response
to the Cosby allegations (as compared to, say, those against R. Kelly or Woody Allen) is a result of the fact that nobody wants to
live in a world where Bill Cosby is a sexual predator.
I know I sure don’t.
Here’s why the Bill Cosby allegations trouble me the most: As a mother of small children, I don’t want to think that my judgment is that off.
She also points out an
uncomfortable fact that “our collective attention span for rape allegations is
Good Lord, that stopped me
cold. If that’s true, which the on-going
careers of Woody Allen and R. Kelly suggest it certainly is, then what if this
short attention span operates at my children’s school, or the day care at the
gym or in my community? What if the
people who handle the background checks for the teachers and caregivers who
watch my children every day looked past some “indiscretions” or “allegations”
because “they didn’t seem true” or because someone had a reputation for being “a
really great teacher” or a “beloved father figure”?
That’s all terrifying because
the fact is that I have to trust my children’s schools and doctors, but here’s
why the Bill Cosby allegations trouble me the most: As a mother of small
children, I don’t want to think that my judgment is that off. I want to think of myself as someone who could
have seen through the veneer of respectability and warmth and benign authority that
I projected onto Bill Cosby. I should
have been able to intuit that something sinister lurked beneath his lovable
How could I cling so fervently
to an acting role he was playing and be so thoroughly steeped in denial? According to the reports of Barbara Bowman
and Tamara Green and 11 other women who agreed to testify against Cosby
if a case went to trial in 2006 (Cosby settled the case in 2006), he’s battered
and assaulted more than a dozen women. Of course, those allegations have never been
proved in a court of law, but I’m not inclined to discredit victims’ accounts
of a harrowing sexual assault.
How many times have I heard the
story of a child being molested or mistreated by an adult and wondered what
were the other “innocent” adults thinking? Why did they leave the child alone
with this predator?
My complex feelings about Bill Cosby (who has not been
accused of mistreating children, only grown women) and the considerable denial
about his “true” nature give me some clues about how children come to be
molested by so-called beloved family members, teachers, neighbors and coaches.
We don’t like idols to fall. We
don’t like to think that our judgments about people are wrong. We certainly
don’t like to think that the people we love and trust would hurt us or the
people that we love.