I knew there was something creepy about Bill Cosby when I ran into him in 1978 in San Francisco at Enrico’s, a trendy tourist stop on Nob Hill. He was sitting with a white couple and I was passing out fliers for Huey’s upcoming trial. I handed the couple a flyer.
Cosby jumped up and lit in to me as I began to speak. Cosby ranted, “Huey Newton is nothing but a thug and a hoodlum!”
He continued his diatribe for about another minute. As I looked down upon him, angry thoughts entered my mind. Before I joined the movement, I had looked up to Cosby just as millions of other black people. He and Robert Culp starred in the TV series I Spy as undercover CIA agents masquerading as globe trotting professional tennis players. It was the first such role for a black actor.
At that moment as I stood there, Cosby had me feeling defensive about our embattled leader whose star power had diminished by 1978. Some of Cosby’s accusations hit close to home. After all, at the time, Huey was facing his own allegations and Cosby was the squeaky clean successful Hollywood actor. Like everyone else, I did not know about Cosby’s rampage of drugging, assaulting, manipulating, and raping women. Despite his dark secrets, Cosby was quickly becoming a rising star just as the black resistance movement was slowly dying.
The government wanted nothing more than to wash away that period of revolution and resistance of the 60s and 70s. And it was people like Cosby who played a critical role in helping black America to forget that very special part of American history. Cosby became the new funny face of black America. First, he was the smiling Jello pusher.
Then came the first show of its kind: a sitcom about a highly successful black gynecologist and his upper-class family, starring yours truly Bill Cosby. There would be no more Good Times and JJ’s ghetto community in the projects struggling for day-to-day survival. Or What’s Happening!! with Raj, his single Mama, his friends Dwayne and Rerun, and his pouty little sister Dee.
With a hit show, Cosby went on to become filthy rich and very powerful with connections in Hollywood. He was soon followed by Oprah who wanted to be just like Bill – wealthy while accommodating whites and mollifying blacks. I remember the 80s hit “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by singer Bobby Mcferrin. In reality, there was little to be happy about while the gang wars, crack epidemic, and HIV/AIDS hysteria was just beginning to cause havoc in the black community. On top of that, you had Ronald Reagan ushering America into an era of neoliberal political culture. Under the spell of materialism and individualism, we forgot all about our collective resistance and the murderous killing of Fred Hampton and the sacrifices of so many others from Medgar Evers and Malcom X to Martin Luther King, Jr.
Years of police murder, brutality and mass imprisonment of Black and Latino males pass with little outcry. Then, Ferguson erupts as a response to the killing of an average young black man, Mike Brown. And seemingly out of nowhere, a new movement is born, reminding us that our struggle for justice and equality is never-ending.
The Ferguson rebellion along with the deaths of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin and all the other innocent black males killed by overzealous cops have sparked our memories to come back. And in the midst of this newfound resistance, Cosby’s many victims are surfacing and speaking out after years of silence, trauma and shame, exposing him as another wealthy member of the elite that cares nothing about women, people of color, or “the lower class” – as Cosby often referred to the working poor.
Cosby will eventually have to pay for his crimes, just as Darren Wilson will have to pay for his. And that justice may not come from the courts. But it will come from the condemnation of the people. This is far worse than any legal punishment.
Aaron Dixon is a speaker and writer. He is the author of My People are Rising: Memoir of a Black Panther Party Captain (2012). In 2006, he ran for the U.S. Senate as a Green Party candidate in Seattle, WA. In 2012, he travelled to Palestine/Israel with the African Heritage Delegation. Aaron is working on his next book and writing public commentary on current news and events. He lives in Albuquerque, NM.