Over the course of the last few weeks more than 20 women have come forward with accusations of sexual assault by media icon, Bill Cosby. The media has exploded with coverage of the allegations and Cosby’s response. What has caught my attention the most in reading through all of this though, has been the difference in reaction between communities.
I read articles on two of my favorite news platforms, The Grio, which is geared towards the African diaspora community, and Jezebel, a more feminist toned outlet. Both articles adressed the same thing, Janice Dickinson coming forward to accuse Cosby. However, it wasn’t the articles that caught my attention but rather the comments on the articles. I get a kick out of reading comments, because I feel it tells me more than the actual article sometimes. The comments on Jezebel were as I expected them to be, a long list of women sympathizing with Janice’s plight and asserting the unfortunate upholding of rape culture in society. The comments underneath The Grio article were a conglomerate of side-eye emojis and memes that labeled Janice Dickinson a liar who was reaching for another moment in the spotlight. What was probably most interesting about the differences in the comments wasn’t that it was women on one side and men on the other, but instead that a majority of the comments condemning Janice Dickinson on the Grio were from Black women.
I wasn’t a child of the Cosby media reign. When Theo graduated college, and Dwayne and Whitley said their I do’s, I was just coming into the world. Even though I didn’t experience the Cosby age the way those older than me did, it doesn’t mean it didn’t influence me; I lived for it. I’ve spent a better part of my life believing that a good relationship is finding the Cliff to my Claire and that my ideal college experience would mirror the Hillman lifestyle. It was those positive representations of faces that looked like mine, that inspired my decision to go into media, so like many in the Black community I have always had a high level of respect for Bill Cosby and his media creations. In light of this, it has been difficult for me to “choose a side” in my belief of guilt. I want to believe that Cosby is innocent, but I also want to respect and recognize that we have been so seamlessly socialized to accept rape culture, that we often times condemn the victim. So when I took a step back from it all to look at the bigger picture, I realized that my decision would really hinge on which identity I claimed first; race or gender.
Reading the comments on The Grio and seeing so many Black women condemn these women for coming forward made me realize that they didn’t feel a need to battle rape culture, but rather a need to battle the attack of a positive Black figure. Whether you like him or not, Dr. Cosby has, historically, had a major influence on the Black image in media.
It is almost instinctive for Black women to come to the defense of Black men, because in our hearts they are us; we birthed them, loved them, and raised them. Black women are quick to protect Black men, as is clear from the predominately female led protests and demonstrations for the loss of Black life at the hands of the police; so it is not surprising to see them defend Cosby automatically. As a Black woman something in your head recalls that there is a history of systematic takedowns of powerful Black figures, and that these allegations by a mass of white women against one Black man seems too unbelievable to be true. But then you remember that the same men who we protect, have so often failed to reciprocate that protection with the same force. You’re reminded that just because Cosby has done so much good for the community does not mean he doesn’t have his own demons that manifested in the deepest forms of misogyny. After all, he is still a man.
So you shift your focus to the defense of the women in the situation, understanding that rape culture has prevented many women in the past from confronting and holding accountable, her attacker. You want to support your fellow woman, where society has failed to. The violation of the female body is an ultimate crime, and as a woman you should protect your fellow woman, but then you remember that your “fellow woman” has time and time again failed to protect you. As a woman of color you have been marginalized, as a woman, by other non-WOC. White women have failed to protect your sanctity and your body; they haven’t suffered the same violations as you and therefore have been somewhat incapable of acknowledging and identifying with your unique pain.
There are some who would argue that men of color come above white women, but I grapple with that idea, considering Black men are still gunned down in the streets for being Black and unarmed. At the end of the day women of color end up at the bottom. Not only are we not white, but we also aren’t men, and since “choosing a side” in the situation seems as if it means either siding with white women or Black men, it leaves us hanging in a weird space. The emergence of Beverly Johnson’s story seems to have changed the game a little for some, since she is a woman of color; but for a majority of what I’ve seen Black women still don’t seem to be buying it.
I haven’t been able to come to a concrete decision on how I feel about this situation. I try to stay removed from the conversation, because I’m unsure of what to say. When I look at articles and think about it, I keep in mind that Bill Cosby is a powerful man, rape culture is alive and well, and this is not a post racial America. I have yet to pick a side, and frankly I didn’t write this post to aid myself in that. Instead this piece was to examine this idea of choosing and prioritizing my identity. Am I a woman first, or am I Black first? I pose that question to my fellow Black women and even other women of color, when you identify, who do you stand with first?