In her superb New Yorker profile of Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, writer Larissa MacFarquhar tells us about his great uncle Daddy C. The Texan “saw everything in terms of race. He said that white people would never allow a black person to succeed.” This particular passage resonated with me because I had a relative or two give me that same admonition when I was growing up. And every time an African American of some prominence or wealth fell from grace, their slide became another page in the cautionary tale.
Even if we played by the rules and did everything perfectly, “they” were out to get us. “They” were bound to spring their trap at anytime to snatch whatever success was gained to keep that person and the rest of us in check. Whether the ensnared black person (usually a man) was solely responsible for his own misfortune was inconsequential. He was being punished for not knowing his place.
As MacFarquhar points out, Walker didn’t buy into that dream-stomping mindset. Neither did I. That’s not to say that I’m not mindful or aware of racism and other forces that hold blacks back. Fighting those forces remains the raison d’etre of the social justice movement. But where I draw the line is circling the wagons around someone in the wrong. Which brings me to Bill Cosby.
The man once known as “America’s dad” was charged with a single count of “aggravated indecent assault” on Dec. 30 for an alleged sexual assault of Andrea Constand, a Temple University employee, at his suburban Philadelphia mansion in 2004. It came months after a 2005 deposition he gave in the civil suit filed by Constand was made public last year. The one where Cosby answered, “Yes,” when asked by his accuser’s lawyer, “When you got the Quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these Quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?” This revelation came in the middle of a year-long avalanche of rape and sexual misconduct allegations.
Despite all of this, there are black folks rallying around Cosby employing the “Daddy C” defense. That’s what rapper Waka Flocka did in a series of tweets on New Year’s Day. “Every time a famous minority make it they throw salt in the game,” he wrote. Flocka also said the allegations against Cosby were “propaganda” and “an organized lie.”
Two days earlier, comedian Eddie Griffin came to Cosby’s defense. “There is a systematic effort to destroy every black male entertainer’s image,” he said in an interview with DJ Vlad on Dec. 30. “Nobody leaves this business clean … You’re not going to die clean.” Griffin played the title character in the brilliant 2002 movie “Undercover Brother.” But his Cosby comments are more in line with the character played by comedian Dave Chappelle, “Conspiracy Brother.”
Cosby’s life and career were defined by his incredible work. He made television history in the 1960s as the first African American actor to star in a lead role in “I Spy.” The characters and lessons imparted by his “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” cartoon series were a household staple in the 1970s. Cosby earned his PhD in education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst by writing his dissertation on that television show. “The Cosby Show” in the 1980s was groundbreaking in that it showed a prosperous, professional African American family worthy of admiration. His $20 million donation to Spelman College in 1988 made Cosby and his wife among the top philanthropists in the nation.
But we now know that “America’s dad” allegedly had a very dark side. One that allegedly led him to drug and rape or sexually assault nearly 60 women over 40 years. One that he used his wealth and fame to hide.
Cosby finds his name and reputation in tatters not because he is black. Not because “white people would never allow a black person to succeed.” Not because “they throw salt in the game.” Not because “there is a systematic effort to destroy every black male entertainer’s image.” Cosby is no longer the man he once was or even the man we thought or believed him to be because the morally reprehensible record of alleged misconduct he compiled finally caught up with him.
Neither white people nor the system did this to Cosby. He did this to himself.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj