In May 2004, comedian, social critic and philanthropist Bill Cosby took the stage at Constitution Hall in his hometown of Philadelphia. It was a gala commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown decision on school segregation. Cosby was being honored for his by then near legendary philanthropy to African-American colleges. The mostly black audience, chock full of veterans of the civil rights and social justice movements past and present, fully expected to hear Cosby reminisce about the gains and importance of the civil rights fight and reflect on the massive racial disparities, poverty and economic inequality that still ensnare millions of African-Americans today.
They got a shock. Cosby did nothing of the kind. He instead launched into a long-winded, bitter verbal rampage against alleged ignorant, gun-toting, baby-making and jail-deserving young blacks. Cosby then put the capper on it when he angrily shouted that even more blacks deserve to be dumped in the slammer and even evoked God to bolster his scream, "God is tired of you," and so am I. The stunned audience didn't know what to make of Cosby's tirade. But an endless column of conservative columnists, right-wing talk show gabbers, bloggers and unreconstructed bigots did. They had found just the man to put the proper face on their long-standing manufactured growth industry in black, and especially black male, victim bashing. He was perfect. He had none of the odor of the handful of black conservatives such as Clarence Thomas and Alan Keyes who were routinely trotted out to rip and disparage blacks, and who engendered near universal ridicule and condemnation from African-Americans. Cosby by contrast was seen as a real civil rights man, a liberal, and to boot just as universally admired by blacks.
In the days after that, as Cosby ramped up his new found crusade against alleged black dysfunctionality, his stock soared to new heights among conservatives. He was feted, toasted, and quoted as the fount of all wisdom for daring to speak the supposed truth about blacks. He was a man who would air black America's dirty laundry, brave the wrath of civil rights leaders, black activists, and black columnists and let the chips fall where they may. This all culminated in his getting an unprecedented one hour to tout his blacks must clean up their own ghettos spin job on Meet the Press. He topped that with a book, Come on People, which quickly roared up the charts. In the book, he harangued and lectured, cobbled together a mish-mash of his trademark anecdotes, homilies, and personal tales of woe and success, juggled and massaged facts to bolster his self-designated black morals crusade. Stripped away it was the same stock message that blacks can't read, write or speak coherent English, and are social and educational cripples and failures. To no surprise, the cheers for Cosby from the racism-deniers were wilder and louder than ever.
The problem with all this was that even then the rumors and allegations of Cosby's unsavory personal hijinks and antics were swirling around the gossip mill. It was a near textbook case of picking the Cosby that people wanted to believe was the real Cosby. For Cosby's conservative cheerleaders, that Cosby was the one who was quick to harangue poor blacks for their alleged faults and utter not a peep about the institutional causes of their plight. There was not even a peep from him encouraging government officials and business leaders to provide greater resources and opportunities to aid those blacks that need help. But why would he if blacks allegedly killed, mugged, peddled dope, were jobless untouchables and educational wastrels, and made endless babies with reckless impunity? The blame fell on their head alone.
Now that Cosby totters dangerously on the verge of disgrace he's again important for two reasons. The first is obvious. You have not one, two, three, or even five women but at last count 13 women, some of whom were underage at the time of the alleged offenses, claiming variously that he raped, drugged , assaulted, abused, and then discarded them like dirty dish rags. These allegations alone would almost certainly bring a loud clamor for the alleged offender who didn't have the name, money and icon status as Cosby to be shoved into a court docket and, if convicted, a jail cell. The ad nausea takeaway from this is that wealth and fame can always trump public outrage over real and alleged bad behavior.
The other thing that makes the ugly Cosby saga important is it casts yet another glare on the colossal hypocrisy of conservatives who routinely and blithely turn a blind eye to some of the worst behaving characters as long as they loudly pulverize blacks for their alleged bad behavior. Cosby is hardly the first or last to be cheered and lauded for his biting criticism as long as the bite is on blacks. Now that the bite is again on him, the question: Is Cosby still the darling of the right?
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.