Anthea Butler on Why Bill Cosby’s Release from Prison Was Not a Win for Black America

There’s nothing laudable about Cosby’s release. (Anjali Nair / MSNBC; Getty Images)

Black public opinion on Bill Cosby’s release from prison on Wednesday can be summed up in two tweets.

The first came from Phylicia Rashad, Cosby’s on-air spouse during the years he was declared “America’s Dad.” “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted” Rashad wrote before later deleting her tweet. The newly appointed dean of Howard University’s College of Fine Arts got an earful from many Twitter followers.

That included Janet Hubert, who played the original Aunt Viv on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” whose response rounded out the other side of Black feelings on the matter: “Phylicia what are you thinking!!!”

Unfortunately, Rashad’s thinking appears to mirror a swath of the African American community who think justice was done on Wednesday. Cosby’s sentence being overturned is a tragedy for the women he allegedly sexually abused — but it is also in a sense tragic for the people who continue to support him blindly. Like her, their reputations suffer in their continued support of an alleged predator without remorse, clinging to the version of Black success Cosby marketed.

In their mind, Cosby is a symbol of respectability politics in the African American community. For those who continue to support him because he once told listeners to pull their pants up, let me clue you in: He really doesn’t like us. We are a means to an end. We exist in his imaginary morality play of his life, there to joke about, abuse and deride. He looks to us to provide the support and cover that he, as a former convicted sexual abuser, should not receive.

This may sound harsh, considering Cosby was a major philanthropist to African American schools and causes. But I submit his continual gaslighting proclaiming his innocence and his infamous “Pound Cake” speech suggest otherwise. Cosby’s scam was drugging the African American community into thinking he was a paragon of respectability and moral behavior, all while allegedly drugging and sexually abusing women. Vilifying young Black men in the community seems to have been just one more cruel thrill for him.

Cosby promoted those moral norms as a part of his persona, developed and honed during his time on “The Cosby Show.” Regarded as a moral force, his philanthropy and moral screeds were just an extension of the character of Cliff Huxtable. But as we all know, art does not necessarily imitate life.

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SOURCE: MSNBC, Anthea Butler

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