My Day with Bill Cosby

My Day with Bill Cosby
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Bill Cosby and Nikki Johnson-Huston, Esq. at Temple University

Bill Cosby and Nikki Johnson-Huston, Esq. at Temple University

In 2008 I was asked to give my testimonial at a Fireside Chat that Bill Cosby was hosting at Temple University for education students. The agenda was to address the issue of poverty in black communities and how teachers could have a positive impact in children’s lives. Temple University, where I had attended law school, was offering me a once in a lifetime opportunity to share my story of overcoming homelessness and poverty to becoming a lawyer, in front of my childhood hero Bill Cosby.

It was an exciting moment for me because, like many people in my generation, I grew up a “Cosby Kid” watching Dr. Cliff Huxtable and Clair Huxtable, Esq. on television every week. They were a shining example of a loving, happy, stable affluent black family that I aspired to be in my own life. What made the Huxtables so impactful was that there were rarely other examples of successful black families shown in the media at the time. In fact Claire Huxtable was the first black woman lawyer I ever remember seeing on television and her character fueled my imagination that I could also be a lawyer.

My personal experience with Bill Cosby was nothing but positive. When I met Bill Cosby the day of the event he extended my role in the Fireside Chat from what was supposed to be a five minute speech, to more of a co-host role for the event. In this larger role we both spoke separately and then jointly led a discussion for over an hour. He was charming, funny, respectful and just how I imagined he would be.

The “Cosby Kid” in me doesn’t want to believe that these allegations are true. That the man who for so many of us was the father figure we were lacking in our real lives, could be a predator. This is the man who in real life gave me a wonderful opportunity. When I told him how important “The Cosby Show” and the character of Claire Huxtable was to me, he told me that I was the real life Claire Huxtable now. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.

The problem is that in spite of the positive feelings that I have always had for Bill Cosby, I believe many of the women who have come out against him. It’s not because of anything he did to me, but truthfully I have found many of the women who have accused him to be credible and I am unable to blow off these horrific accusations. It’s terrifying to think that maybe these women could have been me.

How many times as women do we tell our stories only to not be believed? Frequently the assumption is that we, the victim, were in the wrong or did something to deserve the crime that was perpetrated against us. Too many of us have been treated as if we are somehow less than deserving of respect or common human decency.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the entire story is that this man that we looked to for moral guidance was a fraud. Even if you believe him and his defenders that these were consensual relationships, where does giving drugs and having numerous relationships outside of his long marriage make him a moral standard bearer.

The reason I wrote this blog is because I have heard some people in the African-American community start to give support to Bill Cosby and question the motives and morals of the fifty women who have accused him of some truly shocking behavior. What struck me about the defense of many is the argument that Bill Cosby was not being treated the same as white celebrities with similar situations. If we’re being frank, I can’t remember anyone black or white who was as famous and beloved as Bill Cosby who has been accused of raping/assaulting at least fifty women. Am I missing something? Also for the people who are defending Bill Cosby because of his blackness, I have to ask where he has been the last few years in the defense of our blackness.

I always thought that his “Pound Cake” Speech was unnecessarily harsh, but chalked it up to him being from an older generation and not fully understanding the challenges of poverty in today’s America. His overall message of personal responsibility wasn’t lost on me as someone that has worked hard to escape the bondage of poverty but the disgust for the people that he perceived as being “less than” was troubling.

As a larger portrait of the man Bill Cosby really is, starts to unfold in the public sphere it seems as though he’s a man who see’s people as either deserving of respect, or not. He has the highest regard for education, success and achievement, but if you don’t meet his standards of appropriate behavior then you aren’t worthy of respect. This apparently would translate to his treatment of women and his feelings towards poorer African-Americans.

The problem with the “Pound Cake” Speech wasn’t just a matter of what he said (many blacks have had those conversations behind closed doors), but it was the scorn and shame that he heaped upon people who were poor and powerless, ignoring the nuanced picture of why people without many options make the choices they do. He showed an amazing lack of empathy to blacks in the same way he has shown to these women.

As someone that has revered Bill Cosby, I can honestly say that he has broken the hearts of many of us who had supported his career for decades. His legacy of showing African-Americans in a positive light and being “America’s Dad” is destroyed. He has done untold damage to the same community he lectured to about proper behavior. It’s incomprehensible to me that such a well-respected man would turn out to be an alleged serial rapist. It seems that even in the best case scenario he is a compulsive philanderer.

The people that are now coming out and protecting Bill Cosby need to ask themselves whether he is worthy of that protection. After all, was he being protective of Blacks in his famous “Pound Cake” Speech or just condescending and dismissive? He may do well to take his own advice and pull up his own pants and take personal responsibility for his actions.

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