Bill Cosby (1937- ), a Black American comedian and television actor, is best known for “The Cosby Show” (1984-1992), a Black family sitcom where he played the beloved father, Dr Cliff Huxtable. It was a huge hit with both Blacks and Whites, arguably one of the best American television shows ever. But in 2015 it is being pulled from television: dozens of women have come forward accusing him of rape and sexual assault, reporting cases that took place between 1965 and 2008.
In 1962, Cosby became a hit as a stand-up comedian at the Gaslight Cafe in New York. This was in the age of Dick Gregory, when Black comedians were expected to comment on race. Cosby did not. His White managers made sure his humour was colour-blind. They wanted him to “work white”.
In 1965, he became “TV’s Jackie Robinson”: the first Black person to star on a White American television show: “I Spy” (1965-1968). Not only that, his character did not sing or dance or widen his eyes in fear according to stereotype. He was just a spy who “happened to be Black”: accidental Blackness. He won three Emmy awards for his acting.
In 1965 Cosby said:
“Negroes like Martin Luther King and Dick Gregory; Negro groups like the Deacons and the Muslims – all are dedicated to the cause of civil rights, but they do their jobs in their own way. My way is to show white people that Negroes are human beings with the same aspirations and abilities that whites have.”
He did that in “I Spy” and his stand-up comedy and, best of all, on “The Cosby Show”. But he rarely if ever brought up White racism. That made him “safe” for Whites.
He was so trusted that he did ads for Jello, Kodak, Ford, Coca-Cola and E.F. Hutton.
Cosby was driven by respectability politics: White approval as the road to Black success. You saw that when he opposed Ebonics in the 1990s.
In 2004, he made his views on race crystal clear in the Pound Cake Speech. He gave it before the NAACP on the 50th anniversary of Brown v Board of Education, the landmark school desegregation case:
“People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake! Then we all run out and are outraged, ‘The cops shouldn’t have shot him.’ What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand?”
He went on and on like that, demonizing “lower economic and lower middle economic” Blacks, even calling them “it”, with never a bad word about Whites, not even about school resegregation. It was the Black pathology argument all the way, complete with its lies and exaggerations. He told Blacks:
“God is tired of you.”
In 2015, because of that speech and because Cosby in general poses as a “public moralist”, a judge said the public had a right to know the truth about him: that in a 2005 court case Cosby gave testimony that he intended to give Quaaludes to young women with whom he wanted to have sex.
– Abagond, 2015.
Update (July 19th): More testimony from the 2005 court case has been made public. Cosby had affairs with other women all the time and hid them from his wife. Yahoo! News: “He denied giving women the powerful sedatives without their knowledge. He said he used quaaludes ‘the same as a person would say, ‘Have a drink.””
Update (July 27th): New York magazine has printed the stories of 35 women who accuse Bill Cosby of assault (pictured above).
Update (October 17th): The November cover for Ebony magazine shows the Huxtables of “The Cosby Show” behind broken glass (pictured above).
Update (December 30th): Cosby, for the first time, is to be charged with a crime, for sexually assaulting a woman in 2004. The district attorney knew about it back then but did not press charges. He does so now, with the statute of limitations about to run out, “in light of new information.” The woman in question, Andrea Constand, took Cosby to court in 2005 on civil, not criminal, charges and settled with him in 2006. Presumably he paid her off. Some of his testimony from that trial was made public last summer (see above). More.
Sources: Mainly the Washington Post (2015) and “Is Bill Cosby Right?” (2005) by Michael Eric Dyson.
- YouTube: Pound Cake Speech performed by Nate Howard – 10 minutes (text)
- Know them by their tweets? – Cosby tweeted nothing about Michael Brown or Ferguson in the first two weeks.
- respectability politics
- colour-blind racism
- The Cosby Show
- school resegregation
- Michael Eric Dyson