I'm sad too, but not for Bill Cosby

As part of his October 2014 stand-up act, comedian Hannibal Buress reminded the country of the sexual assault allegations surrounding fellow comedian Bill Cosby. Referring to him as “the f–king smuggest old black man public persona that I hate”, Buress went on to say:

“He gets on TV, ‘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,'” Buress mocked. “Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches.”

Buress couldn’t have known, but his comments served as the catalyst for many of Cosby’s victims to speak up publicly about their assault at his hands.  While a handful of his victims had already publicly accused Cosby of raping them (Andrea Constand, Beth Ferrier, and Tamara Green), it turns out there were many, many more.  As the number of accusations increased, more victims chose to speak up publicly, some for the first time.  Barbara Bowman was among the first women to allege that Cosby sexually assaulted her. Days later, Joan Tarshis came forward with her own allegations. Then there was Janice Dickinson, followed by Therese Serignese and Carla FerrignoLouisa MoritzAngela Leslie, and Linda Joy TraitzMichelle Hurd, Renita Chaney Hill, Victoria Valentino, Joyce Emmons, Kristina Ruehli, Jewel AllisonJena T, Judy Huth, Chelan, Helen Hayes, P.J. Masten, Beverly Johnson, Chloe Goins, Lisa, Lachelle Covington, Shawn Brown, Donna Motsinger, Katherine McGee, Linda Kirkpatrick, Lynn Neal, Kasey, and Cindra Ladd.

Recently, three more women have spoken up, raising the total number of allegations against Bill Cosby to three dozen. Heidi Thomas decided to speak up and her story mirrors the stories of so many of Cosby’s victims. 30 years ago, she was questioning her career choices when she was given the opportunity to meet Bill Cosby. Seeing this as a way to further her career, Thomas journeyed to Reno, Nevada, in the hopes that Cosby would coach her and help her develop her acting skills.

Thomas says she was picked up by limousine at the airport in Reno. She questioned the driver because she remembered seeing the city lights behind her as they drove away. Thomas says she was confused because the postcard she bought at the airport showed Harrah’s as being in the middle of town.

The driver told her that a friend let Cosby use their house outside Reno so “he doesn’t have to deal with all of the paparazzi,” Thomas says.

Thomas says Cosby greeted her at the door of the sprawling house, and later, the coaching began.

She says she performed a monologue, and when she finished, Cosby asked her to do a cold read of a person who was intoxicated.

According to Thomas, Cosby wasn’t impressed. Thomas wasn’t much of a drinker.

“How are you ever going play an intoxicated person … if you’ve never been drunk?” she says he told her.

She says Cosby wanted her to relax, and he gave her a glass of Chablis.

Thomas admits that her memory of the next few hours is “foggy,” but she says that at one point, he may have asked her something like, (Are you) “feeling the part now?” or “Feeling the lines now?”

Thomas says that when she woke up, Cosby was next to her in bed, naked and “forcing himself in my mouth.” She says she remembers feeling like she wanted to throw up.

Soon after, Thomas says, Cosby was getting on top of her again and referring to himself in the third person.

“I’m your friend … your friend is gonna (ejaculate) again,” Thomas remembers him saying.

Rather than get angry with Cosby, Thomas says, she made excuses and asked herself, “What’s happened? Why am I here? Why is he naked? What did I say? What did I do?”

Thomas says she remembers eventually storming out of the room and slamming the door, and then apologizing for being “rude.” The next thing she can remember is riding with Cosby to his show. She says the rest of her memory is spotty: She recalls a cook offering her strawberries and having wine with Cosby before his show. But, she says, she doesn’t remember much more from the four-day trip.

Thomas says that months after the incident in Reno, she learned Cosby was going to be in St. Louis. She says she traveled there and was able see him backstage after one of his shows, but never talked to him about what happened in Reno. She was never alone with him, she says.

“There’s another thing I wish I could explain,” she says of the trip. “[The] closest thing I can say here is I just wanted to make this right … I’m still not thinking I’ve been abused. I’m thinking this is all my fault.” Thomas says she wanted to see if Cosby really thought she had talent.

That was 1984 — and Thomas says that she’s been haunted in the years since, thinking that maybe she’d brought it on herself. She chose not to confide in anyone, including her agent or the talent agency.

But Thomas says everything changed a few weeks ago when she learned that her mother knew something had happened in Reno. Thomas says she learned this from a friend; her mother had never mentioned a word of it to her in all these years.

Indeed, Johnson says Thomas called her from Reno back in 1984 after her first full day there and after the alleged incident. Thomas says she doesn’t remember making that call, but her mother has little trouble recollecting the confusion and anguish she felt hundreds of miles away.

“I remember standing in the kitchen thrilled to hear from my daughter. She was excited.” Johnson remembers making some small talk when she said Thomas said something very disturbing.

“I did something wrong and … I got away and slammed the door,” Johnson remembers her daughter telling her.

Johnson says she continued trying to get more information from her daughter on the phone.

“‘Did he rape you?’ She said, ‘No, I got away.'”

Johnson says she wanted to comfort her but didn’t know how. “I couldn’t reach her. I couldn’t touch her. I didn’t know anyone in Reno to send her to. She was on the other side of the earth.”

Thomas says she returned to Denver with no memory of the flight or the ride home with her parents.

“I don’t remember seeing them. What did we say to each other? How did she look? I-I-I have nothing.”

Johnson says she decided not to mention the phone call — or let on that she knew in any way — because she just wanted “things get back to normal” for her daughter.

Thomas has never spoken publicly about this incident, until now. She says finding out that her mother knew all along was what freed her to speak.

“I finally find out that she knows, that Dad knows, that they are supporting me if I want to go public…Then it became full steam ahead, I want to empower people.”

“I was beginning to think though…that whole keeping-your-silence is a form of acceptance. It’s not supporting the women who are coming forward. It’s not helping … and if enough people make enough of a fuss, maybe we can get a culture that starts to listen,” Thomas says.

Reading her story brings tears to my eyes and enrages me. She remained silent because she felt no one would support her. And that’s what happens in our culture. People don’t support victims of sexual assault and rape. They blame them for their assault. They tell victims what not to wear, where not to go, who not to hang out with. They give all sorts of “advice” to sexual assault victims. But support? There’s far too little of that to go around. This is one of the reasons that many victims of sexual assault and rape stay silent. If no one is going to support you…if no one is going to believe you, why speak up? And this is something that flies over the head of Cosby’s attorney:

Cosby’s attorney has called the spate of sexual assault accusations against the comedian “ridiculous.”

Martin D. Singer said in a statement it defies common sense that “so many people would have said nothing, done nothing, and made no reports to law enforcement or asserted civil claims if they thought they had been assaulted over a span of so many years.”

Here’s the thing Mr. Singer-if you pay attention to what the victims are saying, you will learn exactly why they remained silent. But no, you don’t even have the decency to listen to them and actually pay attention to their words. You dismiss them out of hand. I’ve been trying to cut back on insulting others a little bit, but your callousness and indifference to the sexual assault of one woman, let alone three dozen, enrages me. You and your serial rapist client are morally contemptuous assholes who most likely have no compassion to spare for former models Linda Brown and Lise-Lotte Lublin, who recently spoke about their horrible encounters with Bill Cosby:

Brown said she was 21 when she met Cosby in 1969 at a restaurant in Toronto. She went to his hotel room, because he wanted to give her a gift, and when she got there he gave her a soft drink. She took a sip, blacked out, and woke up naked in bed with him, where she says she was raped.

“I felt like a rad doll and like a real-life blow-up doll for him” she said. “I felt dirty, ashamed and embarrassed,” and fooled into believing that Cosby was “nice, trustworthy and honorable.”

“I want people to know who Mr. Cosby really is: He has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality and if you trust him then he has fooled you as well,” she said.

Lublin was 23 when she met Cosby in 1989 in a Las Vegas hotel where he sought to evaluate her acting skills. He insisted she have a drink to relax.

“I trusted him because of who he was, and how well he was respected around the world,” she said. “The taste was horrible and unfamiliar to me because I was not a drinker.”

She fell into a stupor, remembers Cosby wrapping himself around her and stroking her hair and then she passed out. She woke up at home with no memory of how she got there although her car was in the driveway.

“Bill Cosby appears to think that rape is a joke,” she said. “Let me tell you something, Bill, I’m not laughing.”

She vowed to lead a campaign to press Nevada legislators to throw out the statute of limitations for sexual assault. Such a change would not help in her case or in the cases of most of the women who have accused Cosby.

“I will do everything in my power to change the law that protects criminals and re-victimizes the innocent,” she said.

For his part, Cosby continues to deny the dozens of allegations against him. On Wednesday, he released a statement saying:

Dear Fans: For 53 years you have given me your love, support, respect and trust. Thank you! I can’t wait to see your smiling faces and warm your hearts with a wonderful gift — LAUGHTER. I’m ready!

I thank you, the theatre staff (Heymann Performing Arts Center), the event organizers and the Lafayette Community for your continued support and coming to experience family, fun entertainment. Hey, Hey, Hey — I’m far from finished. Sincerely, Bill Cosby.

Yes, we know you’re not finished (you are at NBC though). You continue to press on with your North American tour (which you laughably tout as “family, fun entertainment”). You do so because you still have supporters. You still have people who refuse to believe you’re a serial rapist. You still have people who think your carefully crafted media image represents the type of person you are. I know that there are many people, especially African-Americans, who are having difficulty reconciling the idea of a much-loved, well-respected icon being a rapist. The doors you’ve opened for others, the paths you’ve helped pave, the barriers you’ve helped shatter…these are things that people rightly appreciate. Hell, I appreciate the work you’ve done.

However.

In spite of your accomplishments, you are still a human being. You are not a peerless paragon of perfection untainted by human foibles. You are a complex, flawed, human being. Your flaws exist alongside your accomplishments. You are the first African-American to star in a weekly prime-time television series. You are also a serial rapist. You brought Cliff Huxtable to life and in the process, presented an image of African-American families that helped shatter racial stereotypes. You are also a peddler of the bullshit that is respectability politics. I recognize that it’s difficult for many out there to view you in this nuanced manner. You’re an icon. You’re an inspiration. You’re a hero. But there’s a problem with that.

Elevating humans to hero status often results in flaws being ignored. Commendable attributes are praised while flaws are rationalized, downplayed, or ignored. Biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins is admired and well-respected in the atheist community for (among other things) helping to lead people away from religion. And yet, he’s a Rape Culture apologist–a fact that many of his supporters deny. The late Mother Teresa is lauded the world over as a saint and a hero who did much to help poor people and those in need. In response to the question “Do you teach the poor to endure their lot?“, Mother Teresa once said “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people“. Despite Mother Teresa’s endorsement of human suffering as a good thing (or any of the other criticisms against her), there are many people who still view her as a saint whose shit smelled like roses. Even after allegations of doping arose, fans across the world continued to idolize Lance Armstrong, refusing to entertain the idea that the seven-time Tour de France winner used drugs to enhance his performance. I suspect that even after his admission of drug use, he still has supporters. Elevating humans to iconic or heroic status brings with it the danger of their follies being ignored, rationalized, or even outright ignored. What’s worse, when that icon or hero is discovered to have done something decidedly unheroic-like say, sexually assaulting 36 women-it can be difficult for some to accept that the person they admired and held up as virtuous is actually a flawed human being. That’s a problem currently facing Lee Daniels, co-creator of the television series ‘Empire‘. Daniels recently sat down for an interview with CNNs very own peddler of respectability politics, Don Lemon:

“It is very, very hard, and what bothers me most is if there is an iota of truth to this … the one person of color that means the most to me is pulled down,” Daniels told CNN’s Don Lemon on Wednesday. “If he is guilty, it says that we are human, which is what I like to examine with every character that I breathe life to. We are not black, it is not white — it’s grey. We are all complicated, and we all like to point fingers and drag people down and drag people through the mud when stuff ain’t right. What’s fascinating is it’s not going to change. I pray for him. I pray for him. I’m sad. I am wrecked by it, I am gutted by it. He’s a man. And the victims, you know?”

Oh dear Isis, where to start? Oh yeah, with his doubt over the accusations. “If there is an iota of truth to this” indicates that Daniels is uncertain whether or not Cosby is a rapist. Unfortunately, that means he still has doubts about whether 36 women are being truthful. Remember upthread when I discussed believing rape victims? This is what Daniels needs to do. No one is asking him to place Bill Cosby in the mental file marked rapist for all time and never adjust his opinion of the guy. We’re saying “believe the women”. If it turns out that all 36 of them are lying, then he can adjust his opinion. If we’re ever going to see a reduction in incidents of rape and sexual assault, it is vital that we support victims.

Then there’s the confusing comment “if he’s guilty, it says that we are human…”. Whether he’s guilty or innocent doesn’t change the biological fact that Bill Cosby is a human being. He’s not some highly advanced human who no longer has flaws. He’s not an evolutionary offshoot of humanity. He’s not some non-human species of animal. This is exactly why it’s problematic to have heroes. No matter what he’s done, Cosby is still a human being. Understand that Mr. Daniels, and you might begin to understand how Bill Cosby can be both an inspiration and a sexual predator.

As for the rest, I’ll simply restate what I said elsewhere:

I’m sad too.
I’m sad for the 36 women who were sexually assaulted or raped by Bill Cosby.
I’m sad that according to Jennifer Lee Pryor (widow of the late Richard Pryor) Cosby’s actions were a well-kept secret in Hollywood.
I’m sad that people around the world are leaping to the defense of a man they know precious little about, and are taking his word over the word of 3 dozen women (implying in the process that they are lying and he is being truthful). Given the rape statistics which are readily available to anyone reading this, it makes far more sense to believe victims when they allege that they were attacked (and if it turns out that a victim is lying-which doesn’t happen anywhere near as often as too many people believe–you amend your opinion).
I’m sad that so many people still think of rapists as “men who jump out of the bushes and attack random women”, rather than people whom the victims know.
I’m sad that Bill Cosby likely won’t face the inside of a prison cell.
I’m sad that people think Bill Cosby is just like the warm, affable, fictional characters he’s played on television shows.
So yeah, I’m with you on the sadness. Not the prayer thing though. That’s a complete waste of time.

I’ll add one more thing: I’m not sad for Bill Cosby. He’s a scumbag.

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I'm sad too, but not for Bill Cosby
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