The Problem With Bill Cosby's Race Defense

Photo: Matt Rourke/AP/REX/Shutterstock.
As public accusations of sexual assault against famed comedian, actor, and creator of the beloved Cosby Show have turned into criminal charges of aggravated sexual assault, Bill Cosby has remained mostly quiet. Last month, Cosby’s daughter Evin wrote an impassioned letter in defense of her father, insisting that the accusations are untrue. On Monday, another one of his daughters, Erinn, claimed on The Breakfast Club that racism is a major factor in the charges against her father. Now, Cosby himself is speaking up and, according to The Grio, he too believes that race might have something to with the scandal.
While Cosby's legal counsel advised against him going into detail, his daughter made her position very clear. “The media created the story and the outcome before any court will ever test the claims,” she told The Breakfast Club. She explained, “How my father is being punished by a society that still believes that Black men rape white women that passes off as ‘boys will be boys’ when white men are accused.” She’s right about the social context. Black men are more likely to be prosecuted for crimes like rape than white men are. And antiquated ideas about Black men’s sexuality make them more susceptible to accusations of rape.
Cosby’s camp isn’t the first to suggest that rape allegations against a Black man are simply attempts at revenge, or the result of racism because sexual aggression coming from Black men is considered an easy sell. Black communities have long resisted these myth-based assumptions. But in doing so, the space to have honest conversations about male privilege, sexism, and sexual violence in our communities has been diminished. Rape, and most other violent crimes, are most likely to be committed by someone of the same race as the victim. So even though those harmful myths about Black men exist, they do not exonerate Black men. Male dominance exists across racial lines.
Their position that Cosby is being persecuted because of his race contradicts their insistence that the allegations against him have to be proven in a court of law in order to be upheld as credible. We know that in addition to Black men being labeled as perpetrators, the criminal justice system does not work in the favor of women who come forth as survivors of sexual assault. That the person who cites a history of unlawful criminalization against Black men suddenly has so much faith in that same system to exonerate him seems hypocritical.
We need to be able talk about a biased justice system and violence against women at the same time, because that’s how we are all experiencing it.

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