Cosby Robs Memories
ATLANTA — America’s dad was sentenced to prison and all I could think of was his damning pound-cake speech. The year was 2004. Comedian Bill Cosby was at an NAACP awards ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, criticizing the African-American community. “These are people going around stealing Coca-Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake,” he said, describing black youth. “And 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 to disparage the way they and their parents talked and their penchant for choosing the frivolous over necessities, and squandering opportunities won by the civil rights movement. There was so much truth in those words they landed deep down in my heart and laid there like white lint on a black sweater. It was ugly and out of place and all I could think was, “Careful, Bill.” It wasn’t what he said that bothered me so much as it was how he said it, that he was somehow different, bigger, better than those he was criticizing. Of course, I had no idea the number of women who’d accused Cosby of sexual assault. Then 10 years after Cosby let loose, comedian Hannibal Buress let loose on him. “He gets on TV, ‘Pull your pants up black people, I was on TV in the ’80s! I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom!’ Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches.” The joke went viral and we know what happened next. Dozens of women came forward accusing Cosby of sexual assault. By the time the star went to court three years ago, 60 women had come forward with similar stories: Cosby had drugged and raped them or tried to. While I feared something like this might happen when Cosby, void of any noticeable compassion, made his pronouncements, I had no idea it would be nearly as bad as this. In April, the comedian was convicted by a Pennsylvania jury of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand in 2004. Last week, at 81, he was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison. I felt a deep loss because, for me, Cosby personified the best of us, meaning the black community. He was funny and kind and generous. And best of all, he changed the way the rest of the world looked at black families. We weren’t just a bunch of low-lifes with our hands out. We were responsible men and women who graduated from high school, went to college, married and raised our children like the rest of society. He and “The Cosby Show” made us human in a way I’d never seen before, not even in my own family, at least not the one in which I grew up. Neither of my parents finished high school and they always struggled to make ends meet. The life my siblings and I managed to carve out stood in stark contrast to that but I often felt burdened by the negative images of black families and black people in general. I still do. Maybe that’s why, when the Cosby debacle finally came to a close, I just felt a deep sadness. Glenn Bracey, assistant professor of sociology at Villanova University and self-described “Cosby Kid,” said he felt betrayed and embarrassed by Cosby. “People forget how few images of accomplished black families were on network television in the 1980s,” Bracey said. “Cosby showed us as whole people — professionals, parents, students with learning disabilities, grandparents, artists, etc. We could all see ourselves in the Cosby family. We could defend ourselves and our communities from whites’ attacks by pointing to Cosby. Cosby’s actions have tarnished our memories and robbed us of a hopeful symbol. It’s beyond painful.” Psychologist Debi Silber said nearly 90 percent of people who feel betrayed experience mental, emotional, physical flashbacks; more than 60 percent suffer from physical ailments, over 50 percent from mental ailments, more than 50 percent suffer emotional symptoms. In the age of the MeToo movement, that’s important to remember and it’s probable, Silber said, to find healing. We can get past this. GRACIE BONDS STAPLES is a columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.