Bill Cosby: Why Did We Look The Other Way?

Bill Cosby

A common thread follows all of the media’s hind-sighted revelations of their Bill Cosby coverage: He was intimidating, he was respected, and he was a beloved figure.

As such, they were reluctant to challenge him publicly. From his biographer Mark Whitaker to Erin Keane of Salon, Cosby was allowed to slip through the cracks, despite numerous allegations of the most heinous order because of those reasons. This is why Cosby had been shocked into silence when NPR reporter Scott Simon raised the subject in a radio interview. Cosby had enjoyed a long precedent of the unspoken rule that such things would remain unspoken.

In a Sept. 7th op-ed in The New York Times titled “Rape and Rotherham” columnist Ross Douthat wrote of a small industrial town in England where gangs of Pakistani men raped approximately 1,400 girls. According to Douthat, a combination of political and racial correctness led to the perpetuation of these crimes, and more so, to them being overlooked and gotten away with.

“The crimes in Rotherham,” Douthat wrote, “seem scripted to vindicate a reactionary critique of liberal multiculturalism: Here are immigrant gangs exploiting a foolish Western tolerance; here are authorities too committed to ‘diversity’ to react appropriately; here is a liberal society so open-minded that both its brain and conscience have fallen out.”

Which brings us to Bill Cosby, who as of this post has had at least a half-dozen women accuse him of sexual harassment, ranging from forced oral sex to rape. The famed comedian has declined to even comment on the troubling allegations in recent interviews (the few whereby journalists actually dared to ask).

In a society that idolizes celebrity above all, that elevates certain personas as “successful” based on box-office dollars and bookability, we have unwittingly created a culture of exploitation. By equating celebrity with power, Hollywood built a system whereby a sovereign can rule (and overpower) underlings.

This is not unique to Hollywood. We have seen this in the Roman Catholic Church. We watched it unfold in Penn State. We have been here before. But there is another dimension in this case: Is it possible that in our effort to elevate a black persona to such royalty in an effort to show just how liberal and just how post-racial we are, we gave less credence to claims about his sexual impropriety? Is it then possible that we not only created the culture that allowed him such omnipotence, but celebrated it as a way to revel in our open-mindedness?

It’s important to realize not only that these allegations came to light long after they had been reported by white females, but only caught the nation’s attention at the hands of Hannibal Buress, a black male comedian. Was this the only such scenario that could have brought such a damning indictment on Cosby? Have we learned once again that political correctness does little more than to mask an underlying problem and that racism, sexism, and a rampant rape culture is alive and well in Obama’s America?

And is this something Bill Cosby not only recognized, but cultivated as a cloak under which he hid his alleged misdeeds? Cosby has been known in recent years less as the pioneer who brought the Huxtables into our living room in the ‘80s, but as a harsh critic of contemporary black culture. His rants have taken no prisoners, challenging his fellow African-Americans to “do a better job.”

For example, in a speech to the NAACP, he launched this invective: “People putting their clothes on backward: Isn’t that a sign of something gone wrong? People with their hats on backward, pants down around the crack, isn’t that a sign of something? Or are you waiting for Jesus to pull his pants up? Isn’t it a sign of something when she has her dress all the way up and got all type of needles [piercing] going through her body?”

Is it possible that his offense was also his best defense? Was he pointing fingers away from himself so forcefully so that no one would dare look his way?

Douthat counsels us to look not at the old framework from which sexual predators have come before, but at the circumstance through which we enable them to be born. Precisely, those to whom we give a blank check in the form of respect, love, and the power of intimidation. To those we are afraid to challenge publicly.

“Show me what a culture values, prizes, puts on a pedestal, and I’ll tell you who is likely to get away with rape,” writes Douthat.

Bill Cosby was a man we could feel good about not only because he presented a vision of a true progressive America but in part because he made us feel good about ourselves, by showing us how non-racist we were. And yet by not holding his feet to the fire we demonstrated exactly how unequal the system is—in very much the same way we dismiss all criticisms of Obama as racist. Are most critiques of Obama based in some racial bias? Most likely. However, denying that some opposing viewpoints have actual legitimacy does a disservice to us all.

By holding any figure above the fray, by failing to question and challenge anyone who carries power, is the first step to creating a window through which evil can fester.

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