Celebrity influence: high status, high responsibility

KeelandBowersHeadshotStarting with a civil lawsuit filed March 8, 2005 the names Bill Cosby and Jane Doe began to be seen together in print and in other mediums. Thirteen “Jane Does” who felt silenced and oppressed did not receive the support from the media to reveal themselves, others did not receive support to come forward.

At the time, I knew nothing of a name like Jane Doe, though I was very much cognizant of media and news as a young child. However, I knew that at 2:30 p.m., immediately after I got out of elementary school, Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable and his family would be on the television until 5 p.m.

Growing up in Black America, Bill Cosby was the quintessential image of television that carried an iota of representation to the community of which I was a part. Bill Cosby appeared as a trailblazer for the Black community in the entertainment sector, a philanthropist in his vast support of education for the systematically disenfranchised urban Black poor, all the while appearing as a father figure to all.

The child inside, who had watched, loved, and even revered Bill Cosby, could do nothing but weep during the last few months, women stepped forward  with allegations of sexual assault against him.

How else does one react to the terribly disgusting alleged transgressions of their father?

According to Slate.com, as of Nov. 26, 2014  there are 32 allegations of rape against Bill Cosby. There is a sordid past that has graced the history, a shadowed conglomeration of whispers that no one paid attention to. Victims have been met with silence until comedian Hannibal Buress opened the floodgates with an act on Oct. 16, 2014.

There is no way of proving allegations that transpired decades ago, however it is important to not dismiss and understand the seriousness of each instance of accusation. It is also important to separate what Cosby has achieved and what he has done.

Cosby changed television for the better with the creation of The Cosby Show. It was a trailblazing success that no television show after has been able to come close to.  However, this obviously does not excuse his actions.

Feb. 1 is the one-year anniversary of Dylan Farrow’s letter to the New York Times regarding the abuses her father, Woody Allen, allegedly inflicted on her throughout her childhood. It was also this same time last year that Woody Allen, who is married to a woman who was at one time his adopted daughter, received a lifetime achievement award from the Golden Globes.

Jessica Goldberg of thinkprogress.org poses the question, “What makes the public shrug off Allen’s alleged abuses but collectively shun Cosby?” Goldberg goes on to ask, “Is there some tipping point number of victims after which we all decide, ‘OK, not that many people can be lying’?”

Rape is an inexcusable act, yet our society defends the character of those deemed worthy by their celebrity status. Roman Polanski, who raped 13-year-old Samantha Gailey, fled the country in 1978 to escape formal sentencing. In 2009, Switzerland detained Polanski in relation to the 30-year outstanding warrant from the United States. Polanski’s arrest was met with complete outrage; Hollywood moguls from Woody Allen to Tilda Swinton signed a petition for Polanski’s release.

 Do we find truth in Cosby’s accusers because we live in a culture that “assumes the worst about Black men and the revelation of Cosby’s lifetime of alleged sexual violence confirmed deep-rooted prejudices against men of color? …[Or] because we have made such exceptions before in similar cases for Roman Polanksi and Terry Richardson and Michael Jackson and too many others to list?” Goldberg said.

Temple is one of 55 colleges and universities currently under sexual violence investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The department made Title IX, “available in an effort to bring more transparency to our enforcement work and to foster better public awareness of civil rights” said Catherine E. Lhamon, department’s assistant secretary for civil rights.

In the midst of this scrutiny, we must remain sure of what is right and what is wrong, even in the face of glamour and novelty. We must ensure the protection of all Jane and John Doe’s in a society where rape is taboo. There can no longer be a time where rape victims are afraid to reveal themselves due to the repercussions that they may face.

Whether or not the Cosby allegations ever come to resolution, it is important to preserve all that has been done for the advancement of people of color. We must also differentiate the success and progressiveness of all that Bill Cosby has achieved and that which he has done. There is nothing that can excuse the actions of celebrities, no matter how influential. They too must be held to the same laws and responsibilities.

Keeland Bowers can be reached at keeland.bowers@temple.edu

2 Comments

  1. Well written, Keeland. I agree that ALL should be held accountable for their actions/behavior; and while difficult to separate, their accomplishments and contributions should be appreciated.

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