Loving Cosby: Battling My Willful Ignorance of an Icon's Abuses

by Aprill Hawkins

To this day, there is nothing I love more than a good “The Cosby Show” marathon. I will cancel every plan I have to post up on my couch and watch the lives of the Huxtables unfold. Watching “The Cosby Show” is a wonderful experience of nostalgia, and who doesn’t love a trip down memory lane. But with the recent accusations of sexual assault against Bill Cosby, I’m not sure I will ever enjoy it like I once did.

I remember when the Ray Rice incident broke and how disgusted I was with Rice’s heinous act, as well as the NFL’s reaction. Many people wanted “proof” before they would place blame on Rice for being an abuser. I couldn’t understand why there was a need for people to see the videotaped proof when Rice had already admitted what he’d done.

And before Ray Rice, there was R. Kelly. I have long since turned in my R. Kelly fan card, however, there were several years in between my initial disgust and my complete break from his music. (I blame this on immaturity and a lack of empathy.) Fortunately, I’ve gotten to a point now where I immediately turn the radio station upon hearing his songs. His history of engaging with underage girls has been documented for years, yet it oddly became normalized as the quirk of a musical genius. It wasn’t until I read the firsthand accounts from the underage girls with whom he’d had sexual relationships that I really “got it.” These women will be affected for the rest of their lives by the actions of an adult who took advantage of them, and knowing what I know about the lack of support black women receive in regards to sexual assault, I chose not to support a man who perpetuated (and could still be doing so) those crimes against women.

My love of the Cosby Show goes a little bit deeper than did my love of R. Kelly’s music. So I remained willfully ignorant to reports that I knew existed regarding Bill Cosby, and the growing number of sexual assault accusations that have been leveled against him over the years. Dr. Cosby has long since deviated from the humorous, loveable TV dad we all adored in the 80s and 90s. Since then, he has become a polarizing figure, touted and denounced for his views of blacks in America. I’ve seen the articles and heard the rumors before now, but until recently, I hadn’t read the accounts and stories of the 13 (and possibly more) alleged victims of Dr. Cosby’s purported sexual harassment.

I recently viewed and shared a clip from the “Oprah’s Where Are They Now?” series featuring several cast members of A Different World, another show of which I have great memories. The way they spoke of Dr. Cosby and the reverence they have for this man, whose creativity and drive reformed perceptions of the “normal” black family and higher education, is not unusual. They all spoke of how a conversation with him would leave one “better” afterwards, which is a narrative often told by others in the industry who have worked with or been influenced by him.

When I finally decided to read the specifics in regards to the allegations against Dr. Cosby, I wondered, “How could I not know about this?” The truth is, I chose not to know about it. By turning a blind eye to information, I could rest in a state of non-hypocrisy. Maintaining a strong moral compass can be of immense inconvenience and as long as I could truthfully say, “I didn’t know,” I could continue watching my beloved “The Cosby Show” re-runs in ignorant bliss. I had to admit to myself I didn’t want to give up a watching a show that I identified so heavily with and that was so effortlessly entertaining.

So this is my problem. This is where I struggle. Before, I could justify my willful ignorance, telling myself things like, “Maybe it was a money grab for these women.” But these are the same justifications other people use that piss me off, regarding sexual crimes committed against black women. After I read some of the personal accounts against Bill Cosby in, I found myself in a difficult space.

I realized he’s no different than R. Kelly, who I’ve deleted from iTunes and publicly denounce due to him being a sexual predator. It irritates me to no end when I see people excited to go to his concerts and ask about his latest albums. I have to look at myself and realize that I am also one of those people when it comes to my love of “The Cosby Show.”

So here I am, resting in my hypocrisy, stuck between the need to maintain a moral consistency and wanting to indulge in a show that has influenced me a lot throughout my life. But when I ask myself, “What if I knew one of those women? What if I were close to them, would I still be able to support Bill Cosby’s work?”

I know the answer is “no.”

Photo Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Aprill Hawkins is an educator living in Chicago, by way of St. Louis. She enjoys reading, writing, traveling, and mentoring.

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