Shame and the case of Cosby  

Amid accusations by 15 women of sexual violence, Bill Cosby is now the subject of news reports and editorials across the country. Surreal that he is reported to have done a stand-up show in Florida just last night, to the applause and supportive cheers from audience members eager to hear his classic take on family.

It is a shock, for sure, that these allegations came out…but then, they came out decades ago to deaf ears in the American public. What’s so troubling is that in holding an actor, storyteller, cultural icon in such high regard, we as his public refused to listen to the stories of the women who did come forward to talk of his horrible crimes, which included drugging and raping his victims.

Is there something transformative that occurs once a person crosses a certain threshold of fame? The Huffington Post published a piece entitled “Rape in the Time of Celebrity,” which includes a graphic charting the directly proportional relationship between the number of rapes permitted a male celebrity and his amount of fame; Huff puts Cosby in the “legend” category with the likes of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, both of whom were accused not only of sexual assault but statutory rape.

Of course this is terrible. Of course it is the loss of an American symbol of the modern Black middle-class family (with lots of critiques of its Hollywood-izing of the challenges of being Black in this country, to be sure). But really, this is a sorrowful story in part because this continues to happen all over the world every day, though seeming to take a back seat to the big stories in the U.S. Look up sex trafficking, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and the kidnapping and marrying off of girls and women as a form of sectaran violence and you get fresh stories any day of the week. Do we talk about these violations of human rights enough? And more importantly, when do we begin to address them as issues that concern us all as a community, not just something we hope doesn’t happen to our sister, daughter, friend, or wife?

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A crime against a woman in another country is, in fact, a crime against all women; as an expression of a system of oppression of women, such crime must be spoken of both as an individual case as well an inspiration for change beyond our day-to-day comfort and avoidance of the awful carnality of rape and FGM, the bruised, layered bloodiness of abuse, the horror and shock of 11-year-old girls being forced to marry grown men and have sex with them. Maybe it is more shocking to us that Bill Cosby could have drugged and raped several women and we could have forgiven him with our inaction. There is shame in this, if that is true.

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