NOW we hate Bill Cosby the sexual predator, but we still defend Bill Cosby the creator of The Cosby Show, as though the show wasn’t the embodiment of the destructive respectability politics in which Cosby (and many others) have been advancing since 1865 (18, not a typo). The Cosby Show was a cultural jewel, indeed. On the one hand, it finally presented an image of the black family that defied the decades old myth of black family dysfunction. In that way, it presented a truth that most black Americans have always known about our own families: my family is not inherently pathological. On the other hand, The Cosby Show portrayed a black family whose structure and every day experiences were in no way realistic for the overwhelming majority of black families (or non-black families!). In doing so, it entrenched the notion that if black people would simply choose to be “respectable" like the Huxtables, all of our problems would be solved.
The Cosby Show was his Pound Cake Speech. It colluded with the Reagan-era destruction and reversal of civil rights, the entrenchment of structural racism, and the ideology that racism is over and whatever problems plague blackness in America are the fault of black people. It posited that if you, black person, had a “bad race day,” than perhaps you should ask yourself why you didn’t choose to become a doctor, and choose to marry a black lawyer, and choose to have five heterosexual black children who will choose to never be: raped, arrested, molested, harassed by random members of the public, told they had bad attitudes or bad hair or the wrong skin tone, assaulted because of their ‘inappropriate’ sexuality, exposed to outright racism by their teachers, shunned for loving someone of a different racial group, or confused or saddened about why they were randomly excluded from opportunities given to their very close white friends, making them feel even more worthless.
When you create an ideal like the fictional Huxtables, but erase all of the very real racialized and gendered struggles that permeate the everyday lives of nonfictional Huxtables (i.e., Mahans), you have a formula for a TV sitcom that: white America will adore because it so beautifully affirmed the warm fuzzy colorblind racism that was getting a foothold at that time, and that; black America will embrace because it was the first and only prevalent cultural product that went so far in its depiction of a non-pathological black family – even if it means being ambivalent toward or ignoring the detrimental victim-blaming colorblindness on which the entire show is premised.
But most importantly, the show was just brilliantly hilarious! Like I said, a cultural jewel. Nevertheless, I feel zero predilection for defending someone whose politics, cultural products, and actions make clear that he’s never given a damn about the lived humanity of someone like me or the beautifully diverse group of women and men that I call community.
For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.