This Magazine Cover Makes Me Want To Cry...
The child in me grieves for the legacy of The Cosby Show and the man who upheld it. Not because I'm infatuated with Bill Cosby or in denial concerning the horrendous allegations against him (some of which he testified to in court). My heartache is because the demise of Cosby's legacy fractures my very own history.
You see, both The Cosby Show and it's spin-off, A Different World, played a big part in my childhood. I have fond memories of gathering with my family before the television on Thursday evenings, glued to NBC in anticipation of the laughter and family values the Huxtable family would bestow upon us. We were never disappointed.
Cosby, though he is the flawed man that he is (to say the least), gave us something nearly magical. He showed us that we could be loving and kind. We didn't have to be broken. Our families and our wallets could be whole. We could be educated and peaceful. He gave us hope. He gave us and millions around the world joy so spectacular that thirty years later we still smile at the sight of little Rudy lip synching to Ray Charles. Through entertaining scenarios, we learned the importance of a strong family unit, the value of education, and the strength of integrity.
Unlike a lot of my friends, I was blessed to have my father in my home. He was a hard worker and wore himself out doing what he had to do to provide for us. His work schedule rarely gave us time to hang out and communicate the way Cliff often did with his children, and I wanted that so badly as a child. Sandra, Theo, Denise, Vanessa, and Rudy didn't know how lucky they were. I would have listened to every longwinded, fabricated, repetitive story Cliff wanted to tell if I were in their shoes. Despite the difference, I still saw my own father in Ciff Huxtable. They were both patient, kind, and loving. They were my example and the foreshadow of the husband I am now blessed to have.
I also saw a bit of Clair Huxtable in my mother—and it felt good! She was beautiful, educated, and never stooped to a level lower than classy. But don't get it twisted. She'd still handle you. A tiny part of my soul still winces whenever I hear her tell Denise, "she can go discover America." No television mother has ever been as graceful as Clair. She skillfully loved and disciplined her children, all while maintaining a successful career and keeping the attention and affection of her man. She knew how to soothe him, too, whenever life had worn him down. She was superwoman. I wanted to be like her, too. Five children, a husband, and a career in all.
Though the revelations of Cosby's grotesque behavior shocked us all, should the image of a strong black family that he gave us be demolished? Especially now, at a time when we haven't seen one so beautiful and empowering since? (Although I must say, Reed Between The Lines had a lot potential, and I find Black-ish to be quite enjoyable.)
Do I even have the emotional strength to think about Hillman College? Oh, my goodness! I just knew after high school I'd enroll there and live in Gilbert Hall. I was gravely disappointed to learn later in life that this school only existed in the imaginations of A Different World's talented script writers and the hearts of devoted fans who watched the show for six seasons. The show single-handedly inspired many in my generation to not only go to college, but to attend an HBCU. How spectacular is that?
Furthermore, I believe I fell in love with love by watching Dwayne and Whitley. Who didn't want a love like theirs? I'll never forget the feeling of pure exhilaration that went through me when he stole her away from Byron at the altar. Everyone in my house hollered. I've watched this particular episode so many times over the years that I know it line by line. (My husband will testify to this.) As an author, I aim to give readers the same butterflies I felt whenever these two interacted on screen.
Not only that, but the images of smart and beautiful black women, both on The Cosby Show and A Different World, shaped my young mind to have a particular outlook concerning my future. These women didn't have to take their clothes off, sleep with numerous men, carry expensive handbags or prance around in certain shoes to be sought after or obtain greatness. They became doctors and lawyers, were great friends, supported each other, and had healthy relationships. I was most certainly going to be like them.
So why exactly does this Ebony cover hurt me so much? I already knew that Mr. Cosby's actions damaged the legacy of these shows. In fact, my heart broke over the summer when my nephew heard of Cosby's actions and vowed never to watch The Cosby Show again. He meant it, too, as well as thousands of others across the world. This, to me, is almost just as heartbreaking as the very accusations against Cosby.
In my opinion, by attacking, attempting to erase, and vowing never to partake of anything involving Cosby, we actually hurt ourselves. We diminish our own history. We teach our children and the rest of the world that the Cliff Huxtables in our communities never really existed. It turns the kind, gentle, loving father figure he represented into a rapist.
In our current state, our most popular images come in the form of loathsome and stereotypical reality show caricatures. Can we afford to do away with the image of Cliff and Clair Huxtable? Can we do this to ourselves and our children—especially in the middle of the Black Lives Matter movement, when all of us are praying for our own the safety?
Furthermore, what about all of the other legacies that came from these shows? Malcom-Jamaal Warner, Phylicia Rashad, Kadeem Hardison, Jasmine Guy, Cree Summer, Lisa Bonet, Charnele Brown, Tempestt Bledsoe. All talented actors—all mostly known for their affiliation with Cosby. Do we just throw them and their hard work out of the window, too? Are we just supposed to forget about That's So Raven? Here And Now? Queen? A Raisin In The Sun? Polly? Though not as popular, they play a part in our cultural history as well. Doesn't that matter?
What about all of the other great things Cosby has done? What about the colleges he kept from closing, and the thousands of dollars he gave in scholarships so that the real Dwayne Waynes, Kimberly Reeses, and Lena Jameses could actually receive a higher education? Does that mean absolutely nothing now?
I don't think so.
We shouldn't be so quick to shatter the image of The Cosby Show. It's a staple in our culture. Cosby's actions were indeed horrific, foul, vile, disgraceful, completely disgusting, and appalling. But Theo didn't have anything to do with it. Nor did Clair, Sandra, Denise, Vanessa, or Rudy.
Neither did Cliff. He and his wife still have their Hillman degrees.
It's painful, but we need to find a way to heal. Maybe then we can separate Bill Cosby from Cliff Huxtable. They are not one in the same.
Even if we can never collectively forgive Cosby for the wrong he's done, we have to hold on to positive works he accomplished. We need The Cosby Show. It's a part of our history, and a part of all of us.