From Fred G. Sanford to Cliff Huxtable there were significant differences on how a Black father behaved on TV. Each actor made a significant impact on American culture. But, Bill Cosby took the image of black fatherhood to new levels. The thing about these TV dads is we felt they would never betray us. But, TV is a fantasy and too many people escape into this fantasy. The “Cosby Show” was the ultimate fantasy family for American consumption. So much so, that the lines between Bill Cosby and Cliff Huxtable blurred into a distinct branding of the Bill Cosby image. Cosby was, and remains, a powerfully rich man with a distinct fan base.
All of which came crumbling down from a stand-up routine by comedian Hannibal Buress in 2014. Buress is a successful writer who has worked on “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock.” But, when Buress took to the stage and said “Bill Cosby has the f—— smuggest old black man public persona that I hate… ‘Pull your pants up, black people. I was on TV in the ’80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom.’ Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, brings you down a couple notches… I don’t curse on stage. But yeah, you’re a rapist.”
Thus began the reemergence of rape allegations against Bill Cosby. So far the list of women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault and rape has grown to between 40 and 50. Cosby himself admitted in damning court depositions that he had numerous affairs and gave women the drug Quaalude during consensual sex. The ever unfolding Cosby drama is fodder for mainstream media. Now, “Ebony” magazine has joined the debate. The cover of the November issue features an article by political pundit Goldie Taylor.
The cover art’s broken glass image is unsettling and touches a deeply psychological level in the fans of the “Cosby Show”: the Black family destroyed by dark secrets. What we saw in the “Cosby Show” was the idyllic Black family. We felt hope that anyone could achieve this stature with hard work and playing by the rules. The Huxtable family and it’s patriarch was something to aspire to and this was deliberately done by Cosby. No one in their right mind could fathom the depravity Cosby is being accused of now. Goldie Taylor stated on NPR Radio, “That there still is a very strong contingent of largely African Americans people who are defending Bill Cosby against these allegations and any notion that we would question the legacy of the Cosby show itself…is blasphemy.”
This article is coming at a time when military and university honors are being stripped away from Cosby at a record pace. The US Navy stripped him the title honorary Chief Petty Officer in 2014 soon to be followed by a host of highly acclaimed schools such as Brown University, Tuft University, Fordham University and others. He has either been removed or forced to resign from the board of trustees of colleges he was affiliated with including his alma mater, Temple University. Prominent HBCU Spelman College, an all women’s college, was the first (and so far only HBCU) to cut ties to the Cosby name.
But, as the Ebony cover states “The Family Issue(s): Cosby vs. Cliff” it is a definitive issue for Black families. There are parents whose children now ask “What is rape?” and “Why are they talking about Dr. Cosby?” Some kids even ask why the PBS cartoon “Little Bill” is no longer on their favorite channel. In the surreal imagery of the broken family portrait on Ebony’s cover, maybe it’s not some unknown person who hurled an object at Cliff Huxtable’s face. Perhaps in this surreal world the Cosby/Cliff hybrid destroyed this perfect family image.