Your heroes always disappoint you in the end.
Rarely have we witnessed a fall from grace as shocking as this one. Bill Cosby is an American icon, regarded by many as one of the greatest stand-up comedians who ever took the stage. His NBC sitcom probably did more to improve race relations in the United States than a thousand protests. By taking viewers inside a black family without making race the central theme of the show, the Cosby Show vaulted to the top of the ratings, earning its place in American cultural history.
And then, in November, the legacy began to crumble.
But let’s back up. This isn’t Cosby’s first flirtation with controversy. In a speech in May 2004, Cosby made headlines when he criticized black Americans who placed more importance on sports, fashion, and “acting hard” than on self-improvement and education. He blamed parents for not teaching their children the value of a moral life, inevitably drawing criticism from liberals who don’t like pushback against their usual narrative. Far from backing down, he reiterated his comments at a speech that summer, slamming blacks who chose crime over hard work. Time and again through the years, he has utilized his platform to teach a message of self-reliance and standards to a generation of African-Americans in underprivileged communities.
A Dark Shadow
As the accusations have rolled in over the last couple of months, one can’t help but wonder if there isn’t something a little bit sinister behind the scenes. Is it merely coincidence that his public shaming would coincide with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement? Is it a matter of happenstance that one of the most popular black entertainers of our time is being made irrelevant just as the “blame the white man” point of view is again gaining ground?
Perhaps. Perhaps it is just a coincidence. After all, this isn’t just one or two accusations. Nearly 30 women have come forward to accuse Cosby of raping or sexually assaulting them, and their stories share too many similarities to be dismissed. Many of them were independently reported through the years. The evidence is so great that it would take a conspiracy theorist of almost limitless credulity to buy into Cosby’s complete innocence.
But whatever the truth is behind the allegations, the troubling juxtaposition of the man who many saw as the ultimate American dad and the man brought to light by these accusations is proving too much for many to handle. Among those who suspect something’s up is Cosby’s longtime TV wife Phylicia Rashad. Roger Friedman reported speaking to Rashad at a movie event this week, where she said:
What you’re seeing is the destruction of a legacy. And I think it’s orchestrated. I don’t know why or who’s doing it, but it’s the legacy. And it’s a legacy that is so important to the culture.
Whether it’s a sinister cabal, an unfortunate matter of timing, or something else, it’s sad to see America lose one of its cultural heroes. I hope his message to young African-Americans won’t be lost in the scandal, but that would be assuming it hadn’t been lost already. But other so-called black leaders offer a message far more alluring: it’s them, it’s them, you’ll never get anywhere because of them. It’s a message much easier to swallow than the one Cosby preached.