Bill Cosby is a lot of things to a lot of people.
There’s Bill Cosby the comedic genius, Bill Cosby the philanthropist, Bill Cosby the public face of “get off of my lawn and pull up your pants.”
There’s the Bill Cosby who has been accused by over 25 women of sexual assault (sometimes after allegedly drugging them) and Bill Cosby the man who admitted to giving Quaaludes to young women he wanted to have sex with.
The last bit, the admission to mixing sex and Quaaludes (which were prescribed as sedatives in the 1970s), comes from newly released documents from a 2005 deposition. At the time, Cosby was being accused of sexual abuse by Temple University employee Andrea Constand.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Constand consented to being identified but declined to offer a comment via her attorney. During this same deposition, Cosby also admitted to giving at least one woman (not Constand) Quaaludes backstage in Las Vegas before he had sex with her. By the way, a person whose judgment is impaired by drugs or alcohol is not legally able to give consent to sex. Non-consensual sex is rape.
During the deposition, the following exchange occurred between Cosby and Constand’s attorney:
Attorney: “When you got the Quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these Quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?” “
Attorney: “Did you ever give any of these young women the Quaaludes without their knowledge?”
Cosby’s attorney did not allow him to answer the question about whether or not the women knew they were taking drugs. Without that piece of information, though, as far as the public is concerned, the separation between Bill Cosby the real man and Bill Cosby the public man/Cliff Huxtable is complete. Even Jill Scott, who previously defended Cosby, has changed her mind.
The case was settled in 2006, with the terms of the settlement being sealed.
After more than two dozen women came forward with eerily similar stories that spanned decades, Cosby still had his fair share of defenders. Many alluded to a conspiracy to bring down a wealthy, prominent black man. Yes, bring down a man in his late 70s at nowhere near the height of his cultural power. Prime target. Sure.
Others were worried that the accusations would tarnish all of the undeniable good that Cosby has done (donating millions of dollars to charities and HBCUs, creating iconic television shows featuring black casts, etc). Most of those donated dollars have already been spent, and those iconic television shows forever rest in our collective consciousness. Who could forget little Rudy belting out “Babaaaaaay” for her grandparent’s anniversary or that “Baby, please!” from Dwayne as he snatched up his Whitley during her wedding to another man?
There is no way to undo the feeling you had tuning in at 8 pm every Thursday to catch the Cosby Show and watch Cliff’s comical attempts to eat a hoagie behind Claire’s back. A Different World might have inspired you to find your very own, real-life Hillman. Nobody, not even Cosby himself, can take that away from American culture.
Cosby’s squeaky clean image was sullied 18 years ago when he admitted to paying thousands of dollars to a woman and the young woman he thought to be his daughter to keep an extra-marital affair a secret. The public seemed to forgive and forget on that one. Fortunately for him, that was before social media and the onslaught of hourly headlines full of rumors and innuendo. Of course, cheating and possibly fathering a kid outside of a marriage are not crimes, but that was certainly not the Cosby the public knew. His wife stayed with him, and so did his fans. Household business.
But these rape allegations and his admission are beyond just forgiving a cheater. Who wants to think that their “dad in their head” likes to drug women and sexually assault them? That’s a jarring and disgusting image. Given the statute of limitations in the states where Cosby is accused of committing such acts, he will likely never have to answer to a judge or jury in a criminal court.
All the public can do is deal with what it has, and most of the public does not know Cosby on a personal level. The allegations against him and this “new” admission via a 10-year-old deposition have, however, created interesting conversations. You may have discovered that your uncle, father or sister have cloudy definitions of what rape means and how some women “ask for it” by virtue of being in the company of celebrities. Those are important conversations to have.
This Cosby debacle has taught us two things. One is that Bill Cosby is a flawed, multi-faceted person who has dozens of women giving virtually the same horrifying story against him. The second thing is that America has done a terrible job of defining rape. There have been far too many “but she was asking for it” type of sentiments when it comes to speaking about Cosby’s accusers and any woman who is not the victim of a stranger-in-the-alley type of rape scenario.
Date rape happens. (You can watch A Different World for an episode on that.) Power imbalances and egos can hear a “No” but take it to mean “Yes, I’m just being coy.”
You can have your warm and fuzzy memories of family dinners in that well-lit brownstone and naïve conversations at the Pit.
Those are yours to keep.
The man who created them, no matter how awful his alleged and admitted deeds, can not take that away from you. But while you’re digging into 80s and 90s television, be sure to talk to the people around you about the necessity of consent and the value of human bodies/lives. Cosby’s career is done.
Let it die.
Instead, nurture a new generation of confident, knowledgeable, sexually autonomous men and women who don’t use the word “gray” in their definition of rape.