Bill Cosby, Christian Silence, and Rape Culture Perpetuation

Recently I was in search of inspiration and I needed to start my day with a word of inspiration or at least a couple of good songs. So I turned to the local gospel station to find the Yolanda Adams Morning Show in full swing. Adams, like many over the past few days, talked about Bill Cosby’s deposition, in which he confessed to purchasing drugs to drug women for sex. Adams, instead of talking about how problematic Cosby’s action were, asked why a woman would go to a married man’s hotel room. She tried to deflect by saying that she wasn’t condoning what Cosby did but that it still remains that the women shouldn’t have visited the room of a married man in the first place. Following her comment others on the show chimed in to talk about what they felt were the missing pieces in the situation and one man even remarked about how, when he saw Bill Cosby’s stand-up routine years ago, he was just so inspiration. After they finished bloviating they moved on and so did I. My hope for inspiration was dashed away by everything they didn’t say and so I turned my attention elsewhere, specifically to Big Sean’s “Dark Sky Paradise.”

I didn’t turn on the radio to hear what Yolanda Adams and friends had to say about Bill Cosby but since they decided to speak, I hoped they would speak correctly about the situation. I haven’t even talked much, publicly, about Cosby because I’ve been trying to figure out if it’s an expedient use of my time and voice. But as the days wear on and more information is revealed and I see how people are processing it, I realize that I can’t remain silent. I can’t remain silent because there are so many women who remain silent and even now their silence is being eclipsed by those who choose not to see situations, such as the one we are currently watching unfold with Cosby, as a cause for concern. Silence is a huge part of the issue of hand with Cosby, scores of sexual abusers, and the abused.

When you do a search for Christian websites who have covered the latest news on the Cosby situation you come up with nothing. They aren’t talking about the fact that he confessed to purchasing the drugs; they aren’t talking about the fact that he used the drugs and his power to sexually abuse women; they aren’t talking about the problem with the people who, only now, believe he raped the women because of the deposition; they aren’t talking about anything. Yet, these same sites that are quick to talk about the implication of the SCOTUS’s same-sex marriage ruling. They are also the same sites that publish endless articles about pre-marital sex and other people’s sex and sexuality, but given the opportunity to talk about sexual violence they remain silent on the issue more often than not. They fail to realize that sex is an issue of social justice  which means that sexual abuse is a stifling of that justice. Christian silence on the matter suggests that the only sex we ought to care about is consensual sex between married and unmarried people or non-consensual sex between pastoral authority figures and those under their care; i.e. Catholic priests, youth pastors, senior pastors, and others in roles of power. Yes I said it. There’s no problem publishing articles on these men, but usually in doing this, the women, the victims, are left behind. Christian silence on Cosby, also suggests that maintaining the pristine image of the fictional figure of Cosby in American consciousness deserves more attention than the heinous crimes he committed.

I’ve heard some people remark about the loss of one of America’s greatest father figures and, as most of us know, Cosby’s confession has led to several networks pulling “Cosby” and “The Cosby Show” off the air. My problem with this is that it isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. I will suffer the loss of a fictional figure if it means that, in reality, a woman gains her wholeness back. Since the allegations against Cosby started, many questioned his victims accounts. I’d be remiss if I didn’t confess that, initially, I was skeptical about the veracity of the multiple victims’s claims. I understand that for many it was hard to believe that our fictional father, the lover of Jell-O pudding pops, the funny guy with the ugly sweaters, was guilty of raping countless women. He has lived as a moral exemplar in our consciousness for so long–for at least as long as I’ve been on this earth. So, for at least 34 years, Bill Cosby has been a moral exemplar for dads all over the world and his family has been the template for every wannabe perfect black family.

So I get it, given this it was hard to strip him of his illustrious title when the allegations broke. But this is also the problem with our culture, we exalt public figures to god-like status and sometimes conflate their fictional selves with their actual selves if they’ve graced our television screens for long enough to leave a mark.

(SN regarding the show: What we ought to grieve, if we grieve anything connected to the show, is the fact that people are so blithely unaware of the affirmation of patriarchal values implied in taking the show off the air. By this I am suggesting that taking the show off the air communicates that the most important person on the show was Bill Cosby/Cliff Huxtable and it discounts the power and value of the influential female leads. Personally I learned a whole lot more from Claire than I did Cliff, so I hate the idea of killing Claire with Cliff. I believe her legacy in black consciousness is just as strong and worth keeping the show in syndication.)

Back to the lecture at hand: To grieve the loss of Cosby the fictional dad before you part your lips to say a word about the matter of rape culture that pervades this entire situation is to idolize the man and sin against your brother and your sister. The idol must be destroyed and the people, the victims, must be built up. But first, people have to admit that rape culture is the most important issue at hand here and that it must be talked about.

A few people got the Cosby story right by calling it what it is, “Rape Culture.” In this context rape culture is, as public intellectual Marc Lamont Hill states, “NEEDING Cosby to admit he’s guilty before we believe it.” Rape culture is more news headlines saying nothing about rape in their coverage of the Cosby case. Rape culture is putting a statute of limitation on the amount of time a woman has to report her sexual assault before no legal action can be taken or it won’t be taken seriously. Rape culture is every action that gives more power, even if only rhetorical, to the rapist over caring for the victim. And finally, rape culture is every Christian who is silent on this or thinks that the discussion of rape culture within the context of Cosby case is a distraction. I’m here to say it is far from a distraction if you consider the sheer volume of sexually abused bodies that line church pews Sunday after Sunday. Given this, talking about Bill Cosby without talking about rape culture is the real distraction. And continuing to be silent and/or talk about the wrong thing in cases like these will only serve to further wound the wounded.

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