History tells us that no matter what, people are rarely ever happy when a verdict is rendered in a rape or sexual-assault trial, regardless of what that verdict is, typically because someone declares the whole ordeal an injustice, either for the accused or the alleged victim. The real injustice, however, is the way our individual perceptions of a situation we know very little about can drastically influence the way we view the people involved and, in some cases, whether or not we believe them at all.
As a kid, I remember watching “The Cosby Show,” sitting on the living room floor with my parents up high on the couch behind me, and all of the positive things my mother used to tell me about Bill Cosby – how he changed the way white America thought of the typical black American family, how his show set an example for young black kids aspiring to be doctors or lawyers who’d never seen black people portray these roles on TV.
Two years ago when I first heard that Bill Cosby had been accused of rape, I immediately discounted the news. When I learned that 13 different women had come forward anonymously, all with similar accusations that Cosby had drugged and assaulted them, I realized this was more than just a rumor.
What hurts me the most is the fact that I want to believe it’s all a lie. I would love to sit at home and maintain the belief that Cosby was wrongly convicted, that the decades-long fight against him was part of an elaborate scheme to ruin his legacy, as so many have claimed. But what hurts almost as bad as the denial is the realization that the accusation of one woman would not have been enough to convince me.
When the man himself has admitted under oath to giving Quaaludes (sedative pills) to women whom he wanted to have sex with, and so many women claim to have been offered similar drugs before finding themselves in non-consensual sexual situations with him, it’s hard to argue that Cosby is anything other than guilty. So why was he let off the hook so many times? And why do so many still refuse to believe?
At this point, more than 50 different women have spoken out against Cosby, yet many still cling to the notion that he has been framed. Mr. Cosby’s publicists said on national television that the case was comparable to a “public lynching,” and even invoked Emmett Till, a young black man who was murdered after being falsely accused by a white woman of what today might be considered sexual harassment.
To me, comparing Cosby’s conviction to the fate of Emmett Till is just insulting. For one thing, Till was not ever put on trial and was literally lynched over accusations as mild as whistling at a woman. There are dozens of men who have been accused, to this day, of similar or worse behavior who aren’t even facing jail time.
Cosby has been accused of much worse by far more individuals, and his own deposition aided in his conviction. As if Till’s tragic and wrongful death has any correlation to the 30 (but maybe closer to 10) years in prison Cosby faces for actions that his own words seem to corroborate.
Nonetheless, Till was murdered over accusations that the woman who made them admitted to falsifying decades later. Stories like Till’s and countless other lesser-known black men who died as a result of false accusations have left a scar on the memory of Black America. These sad truths also have carved out a space where the innocence of a black man is often suspended in a limbo of expectations in the minds of many black Americans.
Let’s not climb a horse too high and claim that Cosby didn’t receive a fair trial: he’s successfully avoided accusations and settled out of court regarding the same offense in the past, and continued to perform and even lecture black Americans on morality for years after that. Only after the #MeToo movement and the retrial allowing for testimony from other accusers (and the release of his sealed incriminating deposition) was anything close to a guilty conviction for Cosby even made possible.
The number of women who’ve spoken out against Cosby is so astounding it’s disgusting, and some find the number too outrageous to believe. My question is: if one person can’t be trusted, and 50 people is too many to be trusted, at what point is an alleged sexual assault survivor considered credible?
What’s most interesting about Cosby’s case – the first associated with the #MeToo movement to result in a conviction – is the fact that the case was settled over a decade ago and brought back to court in 2014 due in large part to comedian Hannibal Buress casually complaining on stage about Cosby’s attitude.
How is it that a woman can file a civil suit against a (now-convicted) rapist (in 2005), 13 other women can individually and anonymously testify that they also had been drugged and assaulted by that same man, and that man can walk away with a clear name and no criminal convictions? I ask with more incredulity, how can a black man be accused of such crimes and walk away from it? The sad truth is that at the end of the day, a man’s power and reputation are often treated with more credibility than the accusations of a woman, no matter who she is.
Black women should know this: there’s a long history of unreported sexual violence committed against black women by men of different races. White men have historically gotten away with rape without so much as an accusation due to the fears of black women. Rape and sexual assault are problems that have plagued our people since the days of slave ships in a ruthless cycle of violence and silence. Why, then, do some people accuse the black women who’ve spoken out against Cosby of being part of an elaborate scheme against him? If racism is the heart and soul of these accusations, why are multiple black women still not credible enough against the word of a single black man?
On Ohio University’s own campus, in the Scripps College of Communication alone, at least one building has been renamed and one award rescinded after allegations of sexual misconduct from a certain alum (FOX News’ Roger Ailes) came to light. It’s taken much more for Cosby’s reputation to topple in the eyes of some Americans.
It took five women testifying alongside Andrea Constand before a jury was willing to consider the possibility that Cosby was guilty. It took a male comedian (who also happens to be black) telling his audience to look into the case before suddenly people were ready to publicly entertain the possibility. Most of these types of cases pivot primarily on “her word versus his.”
That being said, it’s sad to think that some would rather hold on to the idea that scores of women, not all of them white and each of them independent from the others, would speak out against a once-beloved cultural icon just to be part of a petty scheme. The idea assumes a lot about the character of these women, as is often assumed of women whenever they try to be heard.