Call Me Clever: A young man’s disappointment in losing Bill Cosby the Father Figure

By Thato Magano (@pothaeto)

 As a man, particularly a black man, who was in part raised by Bill Cosby through The Cosby Show, I am still numbed by these revelations. This man who was a role model in his public life, and by extension his private life as The Cosby Show seemed to have been modelled on his personal experiences, has proved to be nothing but a fraud has left me floored. In a world where black men always seem to be scavenging for role models, the likes of Bill Cosby were a beacon of hope upon which I always knew I could turn.

The past four weeks have been like an unravelling of sorts for me. It all started last month with a headline that came into my Facebook news feed unexpected. I had to double check that I was reading was right. The headline screamed ‘Hannibal Buress on Bill Cosby: “You’re a rapist”’. I knew the name Bill Cosby, I didn’t know the name Hannibal Buress. I was familiar with Dr Huxtable and by extension Bill Cosby after years of watching The Cosby Show reruns on SABC, if I remember correctly, on a Friday evening after Generations came on.

The broader societal significance of the show was lost on me as a young teenager observing this black family but I remember we always tuned in because we were offered entertainment that was wholesome. All that I knew then was that I identified most with the bright eyed, too smart for her pants Rudy who had an answer for everything and was allowed to be her mischievous self within the context of a loving family. I remember Claire as the mother that held the Huxtable family together and wishing she had been my mother when my own mother had been away working from home and I was raised by my grandparents.

And then there was the always available, always ready with a life lesson father of the family, Dr Huxtable. I still don’t know his name to this day but I can tell you that he was always there. He modelled a new way of fatherhood that I had never seen before. Approachable, he seemed a real human being who loved his wife, his children and his job seemed to come a close third.

As I’ve gotten older and paid attention to what The Cosby Show signified, I always think of one word: home. Understanding the race and class dynamics that played themselves out in the Unites States and in South Africa at the time, the significance of the show and what it portrayed abut the black family dynamic, particularly in a country where that dynamic was not the norm became pronounced.

And to know that a black man had insisted on these narratives, deeming his community worthy of those depictions on television was always the greatest story about The Cosby Show that was yet to be told and one that I would lap up when I was finally able to comprehend the show’s significance. Another gem was that he had fallen in love with and married Camille and they had been together for as long as Bill Cosby has been Bill Cosby.

When the trend was to offer profanities to get the biggest laughs, Bill Cosby insisted on a clean set for his stand up performances. With these actions, Bill Cosby seemed to break every conceivable stereotype I was led to believe about black men and the black community. I even remember Chris Rock admitting in an interview with Oprah that jokes about Cosby and Oprah were off bounds as he had conferred “black royalty” status on them, saying “well how many black people do you know who have made it? I don’t need to f*** with the two I know”. That had sealed it for me. Chris Rock’s reverence made him beyond reproach in my eyes.

And now in the past month, since that headline from Buress’ performance, a total of seventeen women have come forward to accuse this almost-hero-in-my-eyes of sexual assault, most of it committed in the glory days of The Cosby Show. At first I had to ask around if other people also knew about these allegations and the confirmations came in fast and furious. As Buress says in his clip, “google Bill Cosby rape, that shit has more hits than Hannibal Buress”, I was on google looking for evidence.

As the weeks have gone on, almost all women who have spoken out have detailed the same modus operandi employed by Cosby: lured by the opportunity to meet him or to be cast in The Cosby Show, drugged, fondled, waking up with pain around the genital area and Cosby in a gown warning not to tell anyone or there will be consequences.

In the past four weeks, Bill Cosby’s silence has been the loudest statement he has made about these allegations. I’ve had to seek out what his personal defence is through his counsel and it has not inspired much confidence. The once towering figure of wholesome fatherliness that was Dr Huxtable, and, by extension, Bill Cosby, as it is still incredibly hard to separate the two seems to not have anything to say to these allegations. All he has offered are lawyers attacking the credibility of the women levelling the accusations.

As a man, particularly a black man, who was in part raised by Bill Cosby through The Cosby Show, I am still numbed by these revelations. This man who was a role model in his public life, and by extension his private life as The Cosby Show seemed to have been modelled on his personal experiences, has proved to be nothing but a fraud has left me floored. In a world where black men always seem to be scavenging for role models, the likes of Bill Cosby were a beacon of hope upon which I always knew I could turn.

Bill Cosby crafted an image of a man committed to debunking the myths and stereotypes of depicting black men as lazy, unintelligent and mandingos with unquenchable sexual appetites. His body of work was testament to this. He had worked hard to create a successful show and a loving, sustained marriage to Camille and seemed successful doing so.

In purposefully curating this wholesome image and over the years assuming the role of father superior for young black men with ultimate moral rectitude, these revelations are an indictment on his legacy, leaving most of us wanting and asking where can we turn to when it seems that there is so few of us who make it to that level of Cosby’s success without the myriad of scandal.

I wouldn’t expect this much from Bill Cosby had he not projected himself to be above reproach in curating the narrative of his life but because he has done so, I expect more from him. His story was the one I could tell people with confidence when I was told I didn’t have heroes but now all that is gone.

24 Comments
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