Ode to a Time When Justice Looks Different, We Listen to Women and Survivors, and Blackness Is Not Used as a Means to Support Serial Rapists
Cosby has been convicted, rape apologists cry foul, and survivors are surviving the re-traumatization of watching friends support a rapist. Can we envision new systems of justice and ways of being black that don't require supporting sexual predators?
All over social media, Cosby rape apologists are passionately decrying his conviction. It doesn’t seem to matter that he admitted to putting Quaaludes in the drinks of the 62 women he violated. He framed drugging the women in a cavalier manner because apparently everyone used to do ‘ludes in the 60s. You know, no big deal. He just forgot that really essential part of allowing the women to consent to drugs and sex before chemically rendering them immobile and unable to say yes or no. He even joked about slipping mickeys in women’s drinks in a 1969 comedy routine. He clearly felt an unquestioned entitlement to these women’s bodies. And somehow, the voices of 62 women are eclipsed to many by the perspectives of one powerful man who wanted to drug women and assault them, but not have any consequences for those actions.
When I look at this picture of Cosby, I wonder what happened to this young man to make him prey on so many women, crack jokes about drugging and taking advantage of them, and have no remorse about it. No sense that he did something wrong. In another article I wrote on masculinity in Wakanda, I stated:
“Our high school football coaches teach us to exploit and target the injury of a limping rival quarterback. Win by any means necessary, trample over others. The only thing that is important is to SCORE! A lot of us take this mindset into our off-field lives, and even use the same lingo… you are expected to prove your manhood by finding a girl and SCORING! By any means necessary. Keep pushing past verbal and non-verbal cues to get to “home base.” We are taught that our own pleasure, urges, and social status is more important than the humanity and agency of girls and women, and masculine peer pressure tends to reinforce this.”-from “Healthy And Toxic Masculinity In Wakanda: A Intersectional Afrofuturist Perspective.”
Besides all of the ubiquitous manifestations of rape culture, and patriarchal messages that devalue the lives of women and femmes, I wonder if his football training is a factor. And I wonder if becoming a rich, powerful, and influential man just fed that unchecked toxic masculine expression. We may never know. What I do know is that a lot of rapey-ass guys are outing themselves in their defense of Cosby. Perhaps they see too much of themselves in him and it’s frightening. To be clear, I'm no angel, and I have had to do a lot of work to unlearn my patriarchal programming (which has no finish line), and I continue to confront the ways that I may have caused harm in the past or the ways I may mess up in the present. So this isn't a holier-than-thou thing. I was also drinking the rape culture Kool Aid ever since I was watching Pepe Le Pew cartoons. So yeah. I saw a man furiously defending Cosby on someone else’s Facebook page (don’t bring that mess to my page, trust) and saying “if that’s rape, then women are being raped every day!” Umm. Yes, actually, women are being raped everyday. Which is an atrocity. He was trying to equate smoking and drinking consensually with someone to slipping Quaaludes into someone’s drink on the low, disabling their ability to consent. It was frightening that he didn’t seem to see a difference. I guess the best thing about rapey guys publicly outing themselves in social media is that everyone in their community can see and take note. Kind of like if he went into women's bathrooms and scrawled warnings about himself in the stalls.
I’ve also really been feeling for all the survivors out there (of all genders) who are watching their so-called friends, family, and community members shed rape apologist tears for a serial rapist. I can’t even begin to imagine how triggering that could be. I see you. Sending love to you all.
I mean, I understand that so many of us, including myself, LOVED the Cosby Show. Couldn’t miss an episode. I understand that he was like a cultural father figure to many. I understand that black men are overly persecuted. I understand that he put some folks through college, and did many other things for black communities. Granted, I wasn't feeling his conservative respectability politics, but I did appreciate other things about him. It was hard, but I wasn't going to excuse him in the name of his legacy, or in the name of blackness, and sacrifice the humanity of scores of women in the process.
The notion of being in solidarity with a serial rapist because they are black is possibly one of the most disgraceful “pro-black” stances I have ever heard. What about the blackness of some of the assaulted women? Any solidarity for them? If it’s not clear by now, I am not a subscriber to what I will now call "The Killmonger Effect", ie, it's ok if you have abused women if you have made a strong testament to uplifting black community. Nope. No pass. Violence to women, femmes, and LGBTQ folks is not upliftment of black community. One friend posted online, “These Cosby rape apologists need ‘Make America Rape Again’ hats.” I would add #RapistLivesMatter t-shirts.
Seriously though, yes, there are white men that definitely need to be prosecuted too. We should not ignore white male supremacy. Fact. However, listing these white men to me as a defense for Cosby to not be convicted, just tells me you're like "If white men can get away with being serial rapists, why can't black men?" Yeah. I'm not here for any of that white supremacist toxic masculine mess. Wanting black men to have the "privilege" to rape without consequence like rich white men. That’s some straight up leftover plantation mind bizniz, wanting to be like massa who used to rape without consequence. That is not my model of freedom, justice, liberation, blackness or power. Let go of toxic massa dreams please. Thank you.
It is worthy to mention that Dr. Lawrence Nassar, the former U.S.A. Gymnastics and Michigan State University sports clinic doctor, received sentences of 60 years for child pornography charges, as well as 40 to 175 years in jail for the sexual abuse charges of approximately 265 young women athletes (I have to stop and breathe after writing that number). The athletes included famous Olympian gymnasts like Simone Byles, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas. An unprecedented hearing ensued where 150 young women read testimonies of their ordeal, survival, and condemnation of Nassar to his face, despite him having the audacity to ask to be spared of having to hear them. Judge Janice Cunningham wasn’t trying to hear that. This was the closest to a restorative justice process that I’ve seen for sexual assault in this country’s official justice system. Nassar is a white man. Or at least reads as one in the US. Reads as white more than Zimmerman did.
It is also worthy to mention that R. Kelly married Aliyaah when she was 15; had videos of himself having pee-pee parties on minors; and has multiple allegations of child molestation, including witnesses saying he currently has what they called a 14 year old “sex pet.” (so much ewwwwwwwwwww) R. Kelly is a black man. He is still selling out concerts and living his life.
Let’s also not forget (although we may want to) that hip hop pioneer and Zulu Nation icon Afrika Bambaataa was accused of molesting young men in 2016, and that has also faded away. He is also a black man. And he is also living his life and not going through court trials or anything. KRS-ONE verbally attacked the survivors, said that anyone who is a detractor of Bambaata “needs to quit hip-hop,” and referred to Bambaataa as “infallible.” It feels like this unattainable notion of human perfection and infallibility has become imbued onto a number of our male cultural icons. A dangerous notion to imbue onto any human. Especially those with a lot of power and influence.
So yes, white male supremacy is real, and ALL sexual offenders should be brought to justice regardless of race and status. But those memes going around showing Cosby as the only person being convicted for sex crimes while white men skip around free doesn’t paint the whole picture. It doesn’t include these other cases. And give it some time, it took 43 years to convict Cosby, it may take a while to stop these other men too. Maybe even in less time. Because, #TimesUp.
People. Please, please, PLEASE. Specifically if R. Kelly is finally brought to justice, I’m begging Cosby supporters not to say this is a conspiracy too. Will marrying an underage girl and video tapes of him urinating on underage teens be enough evidence? Lawdamercy. I’m just realizing that he’s been doing this since the days of using VHS tapes. At least. Woy. For real though, will people still say it’s a conspiracy? Cosby had 40 plus years of allegations. Arresting someone after decades of them running free and sexually assaulting people isn’t a conspiracy. If anything, the conspiracy is that it took almost half a century to put a stop to this! Some rape apologists feel that it’s a conspiracy because it’s said Cosby was planning to buy NBC. I don’t care if dude was going to buy NBC, The White House, or Mars. He’s a serial rapist. Also, I get that folks are all Pied Pipered by R. Kelly’s music. I don’t want to hear it, and I DEFINITELY have zero interest in supporting him by buying concert tickets or albums or anything of his. At the same time, I know that if we boycotted all music done by abusive folks, we’d probably end up sitting sadly in a corner blowing a kazoo.
Whether we think these people are being set up or that they are brilliant artists, or iconic community contributors, we are still talking about sexual predators that have been causing harm for way, way, way too long. Cosby in particular wasn’t in any problems until 2014, when comedian Hannibal Buress called out Cosby as a rapist in one of his routines. It basically took a man to point this out for it to be taken seriously, after many, many years of women raising their voices around this travesty. To conspiracy theorists, is Hannibal Buress a part of the conspiracy to stop Cosby from buying NBC? I actually don’t want to know, it’s a rhetorical question. But by the way things are looking, R. Kelly better watch out if Hannibal starts cracking jokes about him.
This isn't a conspiracy. You want to be pro-black? Cape for Kaepernick. Cape for Assata. Cape for Mumia. Cape for black and brown folks killed by cops for having a broken taillight. Cape for all of the black and brown transwomen who are murdered without any justice and not even spoken about. Cape for black immigrants. Cape for black disabled folks. Cape for black teachers. Don't cape for serial rapists who admitted to drugging women. To say it's not a good look is an understatement. You may find women and survivors in your life trusting you less. Like how you may not trust white folks who are giving cops the benefit of the doubt when they kill unarmed black folks.
I implore Cosby’s supporters (I’m directing this towards cis-men, though it’s become clear that people of all genders support him) who can’t understand why survivors waited this long to come out about Cosby assaulting them... I ask you to take a deep breath, and let it fill your ribcage. Hold it, then exhale slowly. Ask yourself if you had, God forbid, excitedly approached Cosby for an autograph, and then you woke up some time later feeling violated… would you be immediately telling everyone and posting about it on Facebook? Would you waste no time sharing this shocking, humiliating, dehumanizing, traumatizing experience? While also knowing that Cosby is such a powerful and respected man, and that people would side with him, and vilify you for trying to tear him down? Might you instead consider doing your own healing around it instead of going through the gauntlet of the judgement of MILLIONS, and court processes that question your character in relation to this deep wound you have received? Might you find the strength to share your story when you learn that you are not the only one, and that there are people who will finally believe you? Might you?
Allow empathy to arise. Extend humanity not only to Cosby, but to the survivors.
Speaking of humanity, I must admit I still have such mixed feelings when the US brand of "justice" is served. As a prison reformist/abolitionist, it's hard for me to celebrate anyone being "rehabilitated" by being thrown away into the prison industrial complex. Yes, even people who do monstrous things. In my opinion, the prison system is a toxic, patriarchal, capitalist machine of white supremacy. The US is the largest jailer in the world, and it’s become a profitable business to cage humans and provide constitutionally approved slave labor. The overwhelming majority of inmates aren’t even in there for violent crimes. It’s mostly drug-related charges. Which, as we know, is a mechanism to target black and brown people, thinly veiled as the “War On Drugs.” (You should read Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in The Age of Colorblindness.” Better than me trying to hypertext every third word for references.) Far from rehabilitation, these systems further dysfunctionalize anyone who goes through it, adds trauma, strips rights that allow them to function if they get out, and just toxifies our society even more in general.
I do wish there was real rehabilitation, restorative justice processes, and more compensation for the survivors than "he gonna be locked up now." It's validating, and it's good to know he can't hurt any more women, but I'm not sure how healing it is. Perhaps some survivors experience it as healing, I don't know. But none of this gets to the root for me. Putting humans in cages will not stop people from becoming sexual predators, will not stop rich and privileged men from feeling entitled to women's bodies. I envision a world where consent culture is introduced into the mix of rehabilitation, so that the boundaries and humanity of all people (including ourselves) can be honored. It would also be introduced waaaaay earlier when people are children.
I understand wanting to have someone like him locked away too (and he probably wouldn’t have much of a psychological shift in his 80s), I'm just ready for new systems. I feel we need to reclaim old ways where the village was an intact unit before we were split into "rugged individuals" looking out for our own bills and concerns. For many indigenous cultures, when folks caused harm, the whole tribe/village would assemble and help facilitate firm and loving resolution. We are far from that, but it only takes intention to co-create similar paradigms.
In conclusion, until we have a new justice system, may this event of Cosby’s conviction inspire us all to embrace consent culture, and may it also be the tipped domino that triggers the dethroning of powerful, abusive men in the highest offices of the land. All of em. All. Of. Them. Ase'.