Friday, July 10, 2015

Bill Cosby: Rape, The Court of Public Opinion and How Dr. Huxtable Let My Father Down

My dad just put his head down in silence.

He had nothing to say about Bill Cosby.

My dad has an opinion about most current events and I really like this about him. He has the ability to synthesize things that are happening in the world and make connections to personal experiences. So when I brought up Bill Cosby last winter, I expected for him to have something to say about him. Instead, he seemed really sad, almost hurt and it was clear that didn’t really want to talk about the accusations.

When my parents came to America in the late 1970s it wasn’t history books that helped my parents what it meant to be American, it was comedians. For my mom, it was Lucile Ball in reruns of I Love Lucy, that helped her understand feminism, the possibility of power dynamics in a marriage and what it meant to face the challenges of being an immigrant in America. For my father, it was Bill Cosby. Through his stand-up routines and television shows showed my dad what it meant to be an American dad.

Great comedians aren’t just people who make jokes. They are sociologist, historians, psychologist and journalists. They reflect thoughts we are afraid to acknowledge and provide important insights. Only through laughter can comedians help us acknowledge the failings of our society with optimism and hope.

Growing up, I remember my dad talking about the superiority of Bill Cosby. To my dad he was better than Richard Pryor because he didn’t use swear words. My dad used Bill Cosby sayings around the house like jokingly calling my brother and I “brain-damaged.” I have fond memories of watching Cosby’s films, stand-up specials and televisions shows with my dad. We even watched the horrendous Leonard Part 6 together and I’ll never forget how much my dad laughing at this classic scene:

It’s because of my dad that every week, I’ve search for updates on Bill Cosby. I feel that I need something, some kind of explanation to help me understand what was really going on. This last week we got sworn testimony that Cosby got drugs with the intention of giving them to woman to rape them.

Cosby defenders hang on to the “innocent until proven guilty” line in the face of this testimony. While I agree that this idea is the cornerstone of our justice system, it needs to be acknowledged that we regularly fail at this idea. Thousands of people in America are serving prison terms, many of them minorities because they were judged guilty without given a chance to prove their innocence. To hold onto this idea for Cosby, without the acknowledgement of how this idea fails so many is na├»ve.

There is also this idea that the court of public opinion is invalid. Public opinion has continued to shape the way that we interpret law and our constitution. Once upon a time, the courts upheld segregation as constitutional. When it was overturned the court of a public opinion had a significant role in the reinterpretation of this precedent.

Is it wrong that we have a legal system that so often puts innocent people in jail? Yes. Is it wrong that a person can have their reputation ruined simply by court of public opinion? Yes.

However it is even more disturbing that many people’s reactions to rape accusations are blind skepticism “Why didn’t you report this earlier?”

It is counterproductive that we spend more time educating girl how not to get sexually assaulted rather than teach boys not to rape by teaching the nature and dynamics of consent.

It is shameful that if you can run fast enough, and throw a football accurately enough you can rape someone with no consequences.

If you believe that Bill Cosby is guilty then his downfall should be an important reminder to you that must be respectful and always get consent when having sexual relations with another person. Marital rape does exist and a person who consents before a sexual activity can take away this consent during sexual activity.

If you believe that Bill Cosby is innocent let this be a reminder to never put yourself in a situation that could be misconstrued as sexual assault. If you aren’t careful and accusations come up, the court of public opinion will not be kind.

The reason the court of public opinion has such a vicious reaction to rape accusations is because of how much we are failing to address this issue in America. If we knew that rape accusations were taken seriously and just punishments were handed out, then we wouldn’t see this reaction. If it disturbs you that Cosby is being judge so harshly, then do something about it and donate money to one of the many organizations that are bringing awareness to issues surrounding sexual assault.

Rape isn’t like property damage. For many, this damage can never be fixed. This action has the potential to steal from a person one of the most meaningful, spiritual and for some people religious ways that they connect with themselves and other people for the rest of their lives.

We believe, maybe wrongfully so, in public figures. This belief helps us believe in ourselves, and to have that shattered, takes away little part of that belief in humanity that we struggle to hang onto through the years.

I’ll never forgive Cosby for taking a piece of that away from my dad.

I don’t have any faith in Bill Cosby. He’s not going to come out with the truth, and he’s not going to atone for any of his sins. But I do have faith that one day he will move on from this life and face judgment far more righteous than any of us can comprehend.

I’m doing my best to not let Cosby’s actions affect the memories of enjoying his humor with my dad. But it’s hard and part of me wishes like Dr. Huxtable taking the final dollars out of Theo’s hands, that these tarnished memories could simply disappear.

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