Last month, I was asked to speak with a Chicago high school’s media class about the NHL’s Patrick Kane, victim shaming and blind loyalty.
To gauge the group, I asked them if they thought Kane was guilty of what he’s accused of. Many of them believed he’s innocent. Next, I asked the students to name some of their favorite athletes. Many said names like Stephen Curry, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson. So I posed a hypothetical question to the group. I said switch Kane’s name with your favorite athlete. Now, what would be your first reaction now? It went like this:
Student: He didn’t do it.
Me: How do you know?
Student: Because he’s a good guy.
Me: How do you know he’s a good guy? Do you know him personally??
That particular student said what most of us would say about someone who entertains us. It’s human nature to not want to separate the person from their talent. This is what Black America is facing with Bill Cosby. However, it is more complex than many want to admit.
Last week, Ebony posted the cover of their November edition to their social media accounts. The cover shows a shattered picture of the Huxtable family with the title “The Family Issue(s).”
To say that the reaction was polarizing would be putting it mildly. Per usual, social media was lit:
Lost in all this conversation about Bill Cosby and the Ebony cover, as per usual, is how bad of a father that Cliff Huxtable was.— Joel D. Anderson (@byjoelanderson) October 16, 2015
Ignorant mf, the Ebony cover shows a broken image. What do you think we're talking about? The broken image of Dr. Cliff Huxtable.— Ferrari Sheppard (@stopbeingfamous) October 15, 2015
I'm not going to talk Cosby 24-7, but it's interesting to hear people say "where were y'all on this in the 80s." I was off being a child.— Jamilah Lemieux (@JamilahLemieux) October 18, 2015
It seems that Ebony recognizes that an uncomfortable conversation needs to be had in Black community about the legacy of Cosby’s work.
I thought the cover was on point, encapsulating how Black people feel about Cosby and his legacy. Admittedly, I can't look at any of his work the same. Uptown Saturday Night, Fat Albert, The Cosby Show, you name it.
When the news of Cosby’s behavior first hit, I took a wait and see approach. But the deposition of a past testimony made me not look at Cosby the same.
I think my change of heart came from a combo of expecting a daughter any minute now, and a hatred of the respectability politics he subliminally pushed on the masses. At this point, there are two things we know – the allegations are quite damming and that Cosby still holds a special place in the hearts of many African-Americans.
Most of us can’t name many positive Black Male role models on TV sitcoms. Also, when one of us is either the first, or one of the few, we root and fight for them. See social media when the Williams sisters play tennis or the reaction when Viola Davis won an Emmy. See how we react when a Black college football coach loses his gig.
This is why most Black people won’t entertain any serious criticism of President Obama whether it’s warranted or not.
For many of us who grew up in the ‘80s, the Huxtables were what we aspired to be. They were the perfect Black family. I watched “A Different World” and wanted to attend an HBCU like Hillman. I ended up at Hampton University. Ironically, Cosby was the commencement speaker there after I graduated.
Many fans feel compelled to defend their heroes when they’re caught up in a scandal. After all, we think we know these people. In actuality, we do not.
Growing up, one of my favorite athletes was New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor. I named my first pet “L.T.” after him. No matter what he did off the field, I loved him anyway.
Years later, on the day I finally found a #56 jersey in my size, I turned on SportsCenter to see that Taylor got busted for a prostitution charge. I was shocked. Maybe I put too much on him. I blindly believed that he was not only a great football player, but a good man off the field as well.
Here in Chicago, we’re seeing how blind loyalty can cloud someone’s judgment regarding the Patrick Kane sexual assault case. Ironically, we’ve seen the same reasons men like Cosby were able to evade any blame for so long:
This development in the Patrick Kane rape case is horrific. And you wonder why victims sometimes choose the civil suit route instead.— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 23, 2015
It makes you wonder how some of those people would feel if someone they knew was being chastised in such a way. Fellow Shadow League contributor Sunny Cadwallader said it best:
@evanFmoore They wouldn't want it being discussed, dissected & debated on Twitter. The memory itself is gut-wrenching enough for victims.— Sunny Cadwallader (@CadChica) September 23, 2015
This leads me ask this question: Can I separate the person from the entertainer like Ebony asked? I believe that can be done. That doesn’t mean that I should ignore all the bad stuff. It means that I might need to keep my fandom at arm’s length for a while.
That is what Ebony is trying to get us to think about. If anything, Ebony didn’t let us down.