My heart was broken this week; some part of that is from shame. I threw out and deleted every Bill Cosby item from my libraries; some dating to my elementary school days. Cosby is a comedy genius. I know his Noah routine and several others by heart. Bill Cosby: Himself is a masterpiece. Having worked in show business for almost 25 years, I have some experience with being disappointed by celebrities. I’ve met a few I’ve liked, but more often there is a large gap between the public face and backstage. But I still listen to The Indigo Girls, Itzhak Perlman, Diana Ross, Audra McDonald, James Galway and other idiots; my admiration for John Lennon is undimmed, notwithstanding my disdain for the choices he made. I have a pretty high tolerance for assholes. The Cosby case is different.
The story exploded earlier this week, after NPR’s Scott Simon ran an interview wherein Cosby declined to answer questions about resurfaced rape allegations:
SCOTT SIMON: “This question gives me no pleasure, Mr. Cosby, but there have been serious allegations raised about you in recent days.”
BILL COSBY: [SILENCE]
SIMON: “You’re shaking your head no. I’m in the news business. I have to ask the question. Do you have any response to those charges?”
SIMON: “Shaking your head no. There are people who love you who might like to hear from you about this. I want to give you the chance.”
Since Monday, two more individuals have come forward with their own stories, bringing the total number of women who claim that Cosby abused them to at least sixteen. Five women have shared their remarkably similar stories, which date from the late 1960’s through 2004. It seems likely that more will follow, but the numbers only add to the tragedy at this point.
Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in The Atlantic on Wednesday that he was convinced of the case against Cosby in 2008:
At the time I wrote the piece, it was 13 peoples’ word — and I believed them. Put differently, I believed that Bill Cosby was a rapist.
The heart of the matter is this: A defender of Bill Cosby must, effectively, conjure a vast conspiracy, created to bring down one man, seemingly just out of spite. And people will do this work of conjuration, because it is hard to accept that people we love in one arena can commit great evil in another. It is hard to believe that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist because the belief doesn’t just indict Cosby, it indicts us… It destroys our ability to lean on icons for our morality. And it forces us back into a world where seemingly good men do unspeakably evil things, and this is just the chaos of human history.
When somebody posted something on Facebook a few weeks ago, in essence “I can’t believe what I’m reading about Bill Cosby,” I replied that I’d been aware of the allegations for many years. I was comfortable with the idea that Cosby hadn’t been convicted of wrongdoing; I believed his lawyers when they claimed that rape allegations had been “discredited.” But the allegations were NOT discredited – a lawsuit was settled in 2006. As Coates writes,
…believing Bill Cosby does not require you to take one person’s word over another — it requires you take one person’s word over 15 others.
Now sixteen. And counting.
I didn’t want to believe what I’d been hearing. I love Cosby’s comedy routines. If the stories are true, my favorite routines were recorded in the midst of his predatory behavior, during which he drugged and raped many women. But the tipping point has arrived; too late, and thus my shame. To continue to support Bill Cosby is to say that sixteen women are conspiring against him, with no apparent gain for themselves. I’m done, and I should have been long ago. May his victims find peace.