Black cultures, communities, and bodies are being assaulted upon every front. From oppressive policies, to police brutality, to cultural appropriation, to anti-Black terrorism, to unequal access to a quality life, to monolithic representations in the media– the value of our existence is constantly being undermined. It is devastating, frustrating, and infuriating.
This leads many of us to feel a sense of defensiveness, a need to prove that we are smart, civilized, law-abiding, respectful, family-oriented, and everything that the White-supremacist power structures have said we are not. And because we live in a world where each Black individual somehow represents all Black people, we become ashamed when a Black person does something that indicates otherwise. You cringe when the other Black student comes late to class. You lower your head when the other Black person talks too loudly on the phone in a public place.
But these feelings of shame and defensiveness lead to a lot more than brief moments of social discomfort. It leads some of us to ignore, repress, and even condemn those of us who come forward to implicate another Black person for something truly egregious.
How dare you air out our dirty laundry?!
True story: For someone who has been battered by her partner to call the cops on him and be chastised by other members of her ethnic community for “making them look bad” is maddening. In response to the pressure from her community, she dropped all charges against him and took him back. Then he beat her and her son. In such a desperate effort to preserve their image in the face of continual sabotage, the community criticized rather than supported a victim of domestic violence, leading to her ongoing victimization. There’s a term for this. It’s “victim-blaming.”
Unfortunately, many Black community members had similar responses when over forty people accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault.
But, he’s Cliff Huxtable!
Bill Cosby is more than a comedian and Jell-O spokesperson. He is an actor. He is a scholar. He is an educator. He is a symbol for the rarely-seen positive media representations of blackness. But he is also a rapist. [Of course, I was not there and cannot be 100% sure of this; but over forty people with nothing to gain accusing him holds a lot of weight to me.] The idea of Bill Cosby being a rapist is a hard pill to swallow, but that doesn’t mean we should all spit the pill in the faces of people he allegedly victimized. Many Black people have refused to even consider the possibility of his guilt. Instead, some of us— despite dozens of testimonies and the recently leaked court documents—would rather believe that the accusers are all lying, that it is somehow their fault for being raped, or that their experiences of sexual assault are invalid due to unrelated instances of moral depravity. All of this victim-blaming has been taking place to protect the image of a man who, to many, represents the Black community in such a wholesome way.
White people have the privilege of being recognized as a collection of unique individuals rather than as a monolithic group, so when it came out that Stephen Collins (best known for playing Reverend Camden on 7th Heaven) sexually assaulted under-aged girls, there was no indictment of the entire White race. I am well aware that Black people do not have this same privilege. However, it is important to remember that Bill Cosby is not Cliff Huxtable and Cliff Huxtable is not blackness.
We are not a dichotomy of opposing narratives. We are not either family men or gang members. We are not either school teachers or prostitutes. We are an amalgam of various lifestyles and experiences– some of which are good, some of which are bad, many of which are combinations of the two.
We need to do better in reconciling difficult truths with combating oppression. We should not have to respond to the denigration of our race by pretending that we are perfect, especially when it is at the expense of victims. We need to make it clear that, as with White people, one Black individual does not in any way represent the entire race.
We cannot continue to silence people within (and outside of) our communities who are suffering at the hands of fellow community members. We cannot continue to condemn those who have been brave enough to report. We cannot continue to defend our community at the expense of its members. We cannot hold ideals of blackness as more precious than Black people.
Not everything is a conspiracy against the Black man. And as difficult as it may be, it is better to let the truth prevail, address it, and work towards creating solutions, rather than to pretend that problems don’t exist.