A new narrative is beginning to re-emerge in the Cosby case with a re-visitation of the interview given by Cosby attorney, Monique Pressley to Professor Marc Lamont Hill on July 31, 2015.
In her interview, Pressley filters sex crimes committed in the 70s, 80s, and 90s through the lens of today’s attitudes, while conveniently omitting the fact that the stigma of rape differed greatly from today’s. In the 90s, when I heard of the first victims’ allegations – they were settled out of court – those were presented as preposterous gold diggers trying to fleece America’s dad. Back then, the identities of the victims were not revealed, so it would not have mattered if they were Black or white. Had identities been revealed, Black accusers would have been vilified as traitors as they are now. Pressley also made a very odd parallel in which she intimated strongly that these women plotted, all these decades, to eventually use mementos of their meetings with Cosby to create their cases. Rape culture runs deep the world over and it affects both men and women. In this country, rape culture runs far deeper and is inextricably woven with a strong historical race component that this attorney obviously exploited in her interview.
Since that July interview, Cosby has been charged with rape and is out on bail. Much better feminist writers than I have written extensively about the merits of the case. Yet another woman has publicly written about her own rape by Cosby and the years of deep shame and fear of her community’s shunning keeping her from coming forward. Cosby has spent years and millions of dollars in squashing anything and everything that might ruin his reputation, stooping as low as making veiled threats:
But here we are, half a year later – almost an eternity in terms of the news cycle – and I am beginning to notice that some of my Black male friends are now losing their resolve in supporting the victims who have come forward, in favor of supporting Black masculinity and the ravages of age-old white supremacist attacks.
I am beginning to see a new narrative in which those who are convinced of Cosby’s guilt are, for the most part, “white allies” or white liberal friends of Black men and women, and that the risk is of being tricked, again, as in the Michael Jackson case, based only on anecdotal evidence. The portrayal, under this scenario, is of a setup by white america to force Black America to pick Cosby as the enemy.
I understand the impulse. I grasp the societal pressures of history and the present on Black men. But the accusations against Cosby are not only exclusively made by white women. Given the intra-tribal stigma of leveling an accusation against a Black man, especially in today’s horrendous atmosphere, how unlikely is it that there are still Black women out there who have yet to come forward and don’t do so precisely because of the way they know they’ll be treated?
Those issues notwithstanding, as a survivor of child rape and a feminist, I am now put in a position of having to choose between being labeled racist for supporting my fellow rape survivors or squelch all of the flashbacks constant talk about this case has triggered and somehow convince myself this case is really about some white supremacy I was unaware of inside of me.
I am left feeling as devastated and angry as I was back in August, when I questioned a friend’s political neutrality on Bernie Sanders, only to be accused of being racist and negative and then summarily cast aside. “Ally” is no longer a positive term, but a bludgeon used to intimidate into silence.
The Cosby rape accusations are against Bill Cosby and not about Black men in America. They are about Bill Cosby. A preponderance of Cosby’s accusers being white doesn’t make the rape accusations any less what they are. Rape is most often a he said/she said accusation. There is a well-documented psychology to coming forward with a rape accusation and following through with filing complaints, the trauma of being physically examined, and then having to relive the event until justice is finally done. With rapes of the nature Cosby is accused of, with women under sedation, reporting becomes more complicated. Cosby used that to his advantage, until now. No matter, there is no quota required to either validate rape claims or exempt them from racial motivation.
In a social media exchange, someone posited to me that Cosby is the victim of a double standard whereby he is being charged and Martin Sheen is not. The only thing the two men share is very bad behavior. Everything else posited is a false equivalency.
This renewed discussion is fueled by patriarchy mixed with the long-term direct and indirect influence of Jim Crow on all of us in general. Cosby’s artful manipulation, through his handlers, of how racism colors the way we perceive, feel, and then turn on each other when our established order is upset…
“If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. (Yes, sir) He gave him Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, (Yes, sir) he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. (Right sir) And he ate Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. (Yes, sir) And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, (Speak) their last outpost of psychological oblivion. (Yes, sir)”
“To meet this threat, the southern aristocracy began immediately to engineer this development of a segregated society. (Right) I want you to follow me through here because this is very important to see the roots of racism and the denial of the right to vote. Through their control of mass media, they revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it, (Yes) thus clouding their minds to the real issue involved in the Populist Movement. They then directed the placement on the books of the South of laws that made it a crime for Negroes and whites to come together as equals at any level. (Yes, sir) And that did it. That crippled and eventually destroyed the Populist Movement of the nineteenth century.”
Martin Luther King, 1965, Selma
Just as my former friend hollered when I questioned his political motives, I am hollering now as I am being hit with mine. I am, again, conveniently being labeled a white progressive ally because that term has become the hand grenade that ends conversations. I am a fellow human. I won’t apologize for my feminist and progressive views. I will not turn against any of my sisters. I will not abdicate my femininity to protect one man from the consequences of his depravity.
Yes, Black men have been falsely accused of raping white women all throughout American history, right up until the present day. How that racial horror is perpetrated isn’t taught in our public schools and it should be. All Americans, especially white Americans, should know and understand how they are groomed practically from birth, to automatically make certain judgments that are horrific and vile. All Americans should be taught, along with sex education, the social skills with which to approach and manage sexual relationships. They should learn how gender, class, sexuality and race intersect and why. While learning those things may not end our rape culture entirely, it probably would go a long way toward reducing bias, violence and rapes.
We can acknowledge and affirm Black men without giving Bill Cosby a mention. He is one Black man. We can talk about Bill Cosby’s rapes and acknowledge his victims, and not say a thing about Black men. Cosby doesn’t represent all Black men any more than Cliff Huxtable was Cosby. Making this out the horror Cosby has been able to perpetrate on dozens of women to be anything other than serial rape is falling into the patriarchal misogynist trap. Reducing womanhood to racial and gender slogans doesn’t shore up anyone’s masculinity. It just reduces all of us into conforming with the expected racial divisions and gender roles. I will not allow polarizing language to intimidate me. I will not allow Jim Crow to win. I just won’t.