A Tarnished Star

Four words.
Bill Cosby is over.
Most likely he will never spend a night in jail. Most likely he will spend the sunset years of his life dragging his ass from civil courtroom to courtroom. Most likely he will spend a great deal of time looking out a window and asking himself, “How did this happen to me?”


You did it to yourself, Bill.

I can no longer defend Bill Cosby any more.   To defending his darkened and tarnished soul imperils my own. It imperils every Black man who defends Cosby and denigrates the women whom have called him out for his trespasses against them.

I wanted to believe Cosby.  I desperately wanted to believe. I wanted to tell myself this was all a horrible, horrible mistake and there was a reasonable, plausible explanation.

But a lie cannot live forever and there have been too many women, too many awfully similar accounts, too many who were intimidated and ridiculed and humiliated into silence, who repressed their pain and have only now found their voice and are speaking up loudly and clearly: A beloved and powerful man drugged me and raped me and nobody believed me.

How can I cry for Michael Brown and Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin and not cry for Tamara Green, Barbara Bowman and yes, Janice Dickinson too? How can I righteously decry violence against Black men by White cops and not decry violence against White women by a Black man? Just how much of a hypocrite am I willing to become to protect a sacred cow?

All out of alibis.

All out of alibis.

I don’t want to be a fool and only a fool could believe all these women are making shit up merely to trash Bill Cosby. The conspiracy theories behind JFK’s assassination would pale into insignificance in comparison to what degrees of delusion one must submit to believe Cosby is an innocent being pursed by spurned starlets.

That is a level of deliberate blindness I can’t deal with. While I will always cherish Cosby for the man he was, I must turn my back on the man he has turned out to be.  The Cosby I thought I knew, the Cosby I watched on I Spy and The  Electric Company and Uptown Saturday Night and The Cosby Show was a mirage, a fake, a fraud, a public image that masked a deeply sick man and serial sexual offender.
Bill Cosby is a rapist.

What changed my mind? Beverly Johnson did.    As America’s first Black supermodel, it is not easy to dismiss Johnson when she in writes in Vanity Fair how Cosby assaulted her and how she overcame her initial reluctance to tell  her story.

…I struggled with how to reveal my big secret, and more importantly, what would people think when and if I did? Would they dismiss me as an angry black woman intent on ruining the image of one of the most revered men in the African American community over the last 40 years? Or would they see my open and honest account of being betrayed by one of the country’s most powerful, influential, and beloved entertainers?

As I wrestled with the idea of telling my story of the day Bill Cosby drugged me with the intention of doing God knows what, the faces of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and countless other brown and black men took residence in my mind.

Beverly Johnson: It takes an icon to take down an icon.

As if I needed to be reminded. The current plight of the black male was behind my silence when Barbara Bowman came out to tell the horrific details of being drugged and raped by Cosby to the Washington Post in November. And I watched in horror as my longtime friend and fellow model Janice Dickinson was raked over the coals for telling her account of rape at Cosby’s hands. Over the years I’ve met other women who also claim to have been violated by Cosby. Many are still afraid to speak up. I couldn’t sit back and watch the other women be vilified and shamed for something I knew was true.

When I sat down to write my memoir in 2013, I pondered if I should include my Cosby experience. I didn’t want to get involved in a he-said/she-said situation. Now that other women have come forward with their nightmare stories, I join them.

Finally, I reached the conclusion that the current attack on African American men has absolutely nothing to do at all with Bill Cosby. He brought this on himself when he decided he had the right to have his way with who knows how many women over the last four decades. If anything, Cosby is distinguished from the majority of black men in this country because he could depend on the powers that be for support and protection.

First, the pennies fell from my eyes. Second, I felt nauseous over what I could now clearly see.

I apologize for doubting. I apologize for being a Cosby apologist. I apologize to Janice Dickinson and all the women I’ve been so flippant and dismissive and callous and cruel toward. I’m sorry for my appalling ignorant insensitivity.

Mostly though I’m sorry for aiding and abetting a sexual predator.

I wanted to believe in the myth of Bill Cosby. Letting go of what I thought I respected and admired for even longer was harder than I thought it would and it hurts. This is something very hard for me as a Black man to say to White people. It hurts to lose a Black success story. There are so many Black failures and fuck-ups rubbed under your nose in that you yearn for and look long and hard for a brother who seems to be doing it right.

Cosby wasn’t just the first leading man on television.  He was one of the funniest comedians ever.  He proved it for decades on television, on film and onstage.   He championed jazz music, a genre near and dear to my heart.  Cosby didn’t forget his roots as he gave back to Black colleges with endowments and financial support.   Education was a cause he and his wife Camille championed.   What was there not to like about the man?

As it turns out, plenty.   But it was all whispers and shadows.   Easily ignored and easily dismissed as spurned women or calculating starlets trying to shake some dollars out of a Black hero with deep pockets.    Even as the numbers of women coming forward grew and changed, what stayed the same was their stories.   A young woman meets, an older and powerful man who seems to have an interest in their career or just a good time and he’s glad to help, but first drink this.

He kept us all in the dark.

Until  Johnson came forward it was possible to rationalize why Cosby was remaining stolidly silent.   Until Beverly Johnson came forward it was conceivable to invent scenarios to explain away the allegations.   Until Beverly Johnson came forward it was possible to keep up, however dim, some small hope Cosby might not have been guilty of the terrible things the women were saying he had done.

Beverly Johnson cancelled all that.  No more lies or alibis.  No more illusions.   This is not a conspiracy.  This is not mass hysteria.   This is it.   It’s over for Bill Cosby.

It hurts to lose a man you’ve admired. It hurts to lose someone who was a father figure. It hurts like hell.  But my father wasn’t a rapist. My father was not Bill Cosby.

It hurts me to say I’m sorry to anyone I offended, outraged or disappointed. It hurts, but it would hurt more not to say five little words: Bill Cosby is a rapist.

It hurts to type those words.   It would hurt more not to.

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10 thoughts on “A Tarnished Star

  1. It’s okay. Believing that the man that gave us Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was a serial rapist is hard for all of us. Had I not worked at Temple during the time of the first lawsuit, I might not have believed it myself.
    But what’s weird about this is that it took a Black woman, an Icon as you point out, to make it real for some people. Black women don’t usually have that kind of power. And when I read her Vanity Fair piece, I could feel Beverly Johnson’s pain…She didn’t want to do this. She didn’t want to tell this story. She was doing what Black women do all the time…think of our men…often more than they think of us…

    • There’s nothing okay about it, Denise. I wanted to believe in Cosby. And I bulldozed over a lot of people I shouldn’t have to do so.

      That bothers me. It bothers me a lot. That it didn’t bother me sooner bothers me even more.

  2. Damn, man. Hard to read and must have been impossible to write. Such brutal honesty, especially such brutal honesty with one’s self, is not easy to come by. Can’t help but applaud you for that.

    The whole situation is tough, but you’re right. There’s too much evidence and too many waves against this man to hold out the truth.

  3. Truth from you as usual Jeff. The tie in of the male perspective was impactful. I knew something was up with him back when he started publicly chastising Black people and coming down on Black comedians for their grammar, I always felt like it was a smoke screen and he was hiding something. Rape in any form is inexcusable no matter how rich, successful and iconic the penis is.

  4. Like you, when Beverly Johnson came out with her story about Bill Cosby, I had to believe all the other allegations. The thing is, she admits to wrestling with telling it. I like your analogy comparing white cops killing black men/a black man raping white women, distinguishing the situations. We should be angry about both regardless of race. However, Bill Cosby has deeply disappointed me. It goes to show that no matter who you are, one should be thoughtful to do the right thing all the time. What you do today can come back to haunt you tomorrow.

  5. My husband kept defending him too, saying: “How can he be found guilty without a trial? He’s been tried in the court of public opinion.” I was also skeptical, at first. How could America’s Dad be a serial rapist?

    I’m also a woman, and I know that powerful men have taken advantage of women throughout history. And to deny their accusations is to show them a lack of respect. They are the victims. Do women lie about rape? Yes, but rarely. And too many woman with direct links to him have come forward. The Playboy Bunny, whose name I don’t recall, spoke with anger about his attack with anger–righteous anger. Beverly Johnson was the final nail in the coffin.

    The man who has been lecturing the black youth of America about how to behave properly turns out to be the ultimate hypocrite.

    I just want to know why.

  6. It is always hard to recognise yourself when your staunch defence of what you think is right was in fact an acerbic act in denial of what others knew was right.

    As hollow as you may feel, take some heart from the fact your public acceptance and apology seeks to redress your acts, in hindsight, and do what is now right.

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