Bill Cosby and his rape conviction have lifted the veil on the dangerously limited scope of patriarchal pro-blackness.
Before Bill Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison on rape charges, he was accused by more than 60 women of sexual assault. Many Black men proclaimed that the allegations were bogus, and that a nefarious, shadowy sanctum of the entertainment world rounded up women to take down a Black man who was looking to buy NBC (he wasn’t). That notion seems like the premise to a Leslie Nielsen comedy, but so many Black men — and Black women like Remy Ma — cling to it. On Revolt’s State Of The Culture, Remy Ma inferred that Cosby was being “done wrong” by the justice system, saying, “I feel that some of [the accusers] were lying.” Apparently, maintaining faith in a baseless conspiracy is easier than relinquishing faith in one of Black America’s most prominent figures.
This was a reflection of a significant portion of the public response to Cosby’s infractions. Black men’s self-serving brand of liberation was exposed through their defense of Bill Cosby amidst his rape conviction and sexual assault allegations.
After the sentencing, Cosby’s spokesperson Andrew Wyatt called the trial the “most sexist and racist” trial in American history, and said that the three psychologists who testified in the trial were “white women who make money off of accusing black men of being sexual predators.” Cosby knew what his core supporters wanted to hear, and intentionally stoked the racial flames of a case that’s continuously revealed the confines of Black men’s unilateral brand of pro-Blackness.
It’s convenient to get behind Wyatt’s condemnation of white women in a world of #BBQBecky’s and #PermitPattys, but what would Wyatt’s explanation have been if Beverley Johnson, Kaya Thompson, Chelan Lasha, or Lili Bernard, the four Black women who also accused Cosby of rape, were able to come to trial with their cases? He wouldn’t have been able to pull that card with their Black friends and psychologists testifying. Maybe he would have just stood silently, wearing one of the “Free Bill Cosby, Fuck Them Hoes” shirts that some men have been wearing.
Filmmaker and self-proclaimed “anti-racism strategist” Tariq Nasheed asked on Twitter, “if this Bill Cosby [sentence is] NOT about race, then why aren’t all the dozens of other white men in Hollywood accused of the same exact thing and WORSE, not going to jail?” Never mind the high probability that Nasheed wouldn’t care if he was related to Andrea Constand, simple facts work against his purview.
If this Bill Cosby till not NOT about race, then why aren’t all the dozens of other white men in Hollywood accused of the same exact thing and WORSE, not going to jail? Thats a legit question
— Tariq Nasheed (@tariqnasheed) September 25, 2018
Cosby was accused of assaulting more than 60 women — but only Constand’s case was recent enough to try in a court of law. Likewise, disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of misconduct on more than 80 women, but only three of the accusations were recent enough to be tried — and he’s facing life in prison. Weinstein, a white male, was even more powerful than the Cosby as one of the biggest movie producers in Hollywood.
LAPD Captain Billy Hayes, who helms the robbery-homicide unit that had 60 officers investigating allegations of sexual assault spurred by Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement, told Variety that, “the problem with a great majority of these cases is they were aged when they were reported, none of them were contemporaneous to the act, so the idea of having any forensics was not there.” There’s a chance that the minority of those cases were affected by Hollywood’s racialized and gendered power dynamics, but the verifiable answer to Nasheed’s question is simple: statute of limitations and lack of evidence. But that doesn’t feel as rewarding to Nasheed and other Black men as the belief that “they” needed to incarcerate Cosby as a symbolic “white lash” against Blackness.
Nasheed proclaimed in 2017 that white men who fought for the innocence of Oklahoma cop Daniel Holtzclaw, who in 2015 was convicted and sentenced to 263 years for raping numerous Black women, were on a “racially based campaign to support that rapist.” And now he’s doing the same thing for Cosby, mirroring his supposed archenemies.
Along with raising much-needed awareness about the Haitian revolution, Nasheed preaches that “women with more than three visible tattoos are hoes.” This variety of hyperbolic misogyny and respectability politics, which so many Black men share, frames their social agency, and is revealed in their reactions to the Cosby case. They’re not indignant about Cosby’s misdeeds or the normalization of rape culture, they’re indignant that, of all the accused rapists, the Black one was one of the few convicted. Their Black form of liberation stops at the liberation of other straight, Black men.
You have to confront the oppressor… you don’t have to look at the world through his eyes.
Nasheed’s commentary about prospective Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assault allegations isn’t fixated on advocacy for his accusers Dr. Christine Blasey or Julie Swetnick, but his belief that Kavanaugh is getting more favorable treatment than Cosby — and an assertion that a woman was flashing a “white power” sign behind Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings. He hasn’t just decentered the women in the Cosby and Kavanaugh cases, he’s made them an irrelevant aspect of his analysis.
His advocacy relies on what amounts to a flow chart of proximity to Black manhood — and whiteness. Toni Morrison once bemoaned that, “All the books that were being published by African-American guys [in the 60s and 70s] were saying ‘screw whitey’,” and that “You have to confront the oppressor.” “I understand that,” she told The Guardian. But she also powerfully noted that, “you don’t have to look at the world through his eyes…I’m not somebody else’s version of who I am.” She said her Bluest Eye book, about a girl with an inferiority complex ingrained by anti-Black sentiments in her own community, was a statement that, “guys. There was a time when black wasn’t beautiful. And you hurt.”
In Nasheed and other Black men’s inability to see past the white-Black binary, and value themselves outside the gaze of whiteness, they’re hurting everyone else. They are modern purveyors of a hollow pro-Blackness which is ironically anti-Black in its disregard for Black women and other marginalized identities by proxy of advocating for abusers. They also shortchange themselves in their preoccupation with contextualizing the worth of every crusade — and even their self worth — through the prism of whiteness. How much of that same fetishization of white treachery transfers to a belief that Cosby’s plight is a “new age Lynching,” as battle rapper Loaded Lux deemed it?
Black people’s inability to collectively match white America’s financial and social status due to structural racism has both forged an unhealthy fascination with their power and caused us to be consumed with the belief that the fear of a Black planet is the prevailing answer for every public assail against Black men — no matter who is trampled in sustenance of the idea. A sense of Black pride is crucial, but when it manifests as a crusade for Bill Cosby’s right to assail women with the same impunity as white men, it’s violent and irresponsible.
Would the world be a better place with Bill Cosby owning NBC (he would have never) while continuing to be a “sexually violent predator,” as sentencing judge Steven O’Neill deemed him? For those who continue to support Cosby, a man who only conditionally supported them, the answer seems to be “yes.” That’s why the rest of the Black community will continue to issue a strong “no” to unity.
Andre Gee is a New York-based freelance writer with work at Uproxx Music, Impose Magazine, and Cypher League. Feel free to follow his obvious Twitter musings that seemed brilliant at the moment @andrejgee.