#ByePhylicia: Why Phylicia Rashad and Everyone Else Needs to Forget Bill Cosby's "Legacy"

by Anonymous

Dear Phylicia Rashad,

I am disappointed in you.

Any Black woman can tell you that her womanhood and her Blackness are inextricably linked. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that many of the people leading #BlackLivesMatter actions are Black women. We know that our communities are subject to racist justice systems. And so we also know it can be hard to accept the truth that some Black men—like your beloved Bill—are capable of horrible acts, especially when it comes to violence against women.

Yes, the trope of the hyper-sexualized, big, scary, Black man is exactly what we fight against. That’s why we were concerned about Lebron James on the cover of Vogue holding Gisele in one arm and a basketball in the other. It’s why we’ve been hurt that mainstream media entertained the idea of researching 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s criminal record. It is why we insist on calling Michael Brown a teenager and not a “monster.” We know that this world is hostile to Black men. We know racism is real.

Angela Davis, an exceptionally trained philosopher and revolutionary activist, wrote about this tension in her essay “Rape, Racism, and the Myth of the Black Rapist.” She explores political history of rape in the context of racial relations, but never does she say that Black men are incapable of rape. That’s important. We must separate the black rapist that we know has the possibility to exist in the world, and the Racialized Myth of the Black Rapist given to us by white supremacy. Davis argues that “the threat of rape will continue to exist as long as the overall oppression of women remains an essential crutch for capitalism”. Rape is morally reprehensible, but we should also be reminded that rape is used as a structural and economic tool to silencing women. We must nuance discourse to include power in this story and in others. When we say rape is about power, not sex, we utilize Davis’ framework.

She also notes that “the class structure of capitalism encourages men who wield power in the economic and political realm to become routine agents of sexual exploitation.” Sound familiar? Perhaps, like the idea of a “legacy”? It is not a coincidence that Bill Cosby has amassed great status and has been accused of rape.

Phylicia, as much as you ride for Bill, he has not even ridden for himself. In his most recent stand-up routine this week, he actually joked about the allegations. Trust, we know exactly what is being done when you or Camille show up at his side. You are doing exactly what the world has been longing for: you prove that Black women support Black men. The problem is, you’re doing it wrong. If you want to help, “support” means getting him to therapy and telling him he sounds ridiculous. Support means holding him accountable for his actions.

Phylicia, your words were harmful to people who happen to be Black Women Survivors. You said you were misquoted, and then you restated your point. You argued that there was a “declaration in the media of guilt without proof”. I’m waiting for someone to tell me exactly what “evidence” or “proof” of rape and sexual assault looks like. For many of us, our abusers used condoms, or perhaps did not penetrate. Perhaps we were involved in an otherwise consensual and public relationship, which complicates our allegations. Many of us showered any evidence away because we didn’t want to smell him anymore. And some of us have already been labeled “loose” or “thots,” so you wouldn’t believe us anyway. Traumatized, we chose not to report. Why would we invite police officers into our home when we know they have a terrible track record in our communities? Why would we talk to college administrators when they’re under institutional pressure to dismiss sexual assault allegations?

We throw around this notion of “proof” as if the detectives from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit will show up with a Ziploc baggie of all the magical evidence. But we never had “proof” that would satisfy people like you. I wonder if you also want proof that a historical Jesus actually lived, that a country called “Greenland” actually exists if you’ve never been there yourself, or that there actually was a moon landing. We believe things we have less proof of every day, because they’re more convenient than facing the facts about the character of a man you thought you knew.

Phylicia, my sister, you disappointed me. In the same way that Bill Cosby was “America’s Dad,” you were “America’s Mom”. For Black Feminists like myself, you were an important part of my ideological formation. Then I remembered, the same way that Heathcliff was a fictional character, so was Clair. I don’t know why I hoped you’d be some magical Black Feminist Fairy to stand on the side of Black Women.

So Phylicia, I’m actually glad about two things. I’m glad that Bill Cosby is not my father, because my father has been a great example of how I want men to treat me. He’s made it clear that I don’t deserve to be hurt by any man, even him. He has always been respectful of my dreams, my mind, my heart, my body, and my spirit. I’m blessed to have that.

I’m also glad that you’re not my mother. I can’t imagine calling you the morning after my Nightmare (or years later) to look for advice. You’d probably blame me for it, especially since my Monster was a Black man, a beloved member of our community, and the epitome of racial triumph within that community. Kind of like Cosby. That’s exactly why many of us never come forward, sister. Because women like you drive us insane as we stare at the ceiling in the middle of the night, wondering if we should have kept our truths to ourselves.

Phylicia, I think you are protecting the wrong person in this case. What about the legacy of the rape culture we live in—and how you are now one its most public perpetuants?

Phylicia, forget Bill’s legacy.

Photo: Shutterstock

The author of this piece has requested to remain anonymous.

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