We thought we saw ourselves in him and his family on The Cosby Show, a sitcom supposedly based on Bill Cosby’s real life. Turns out, it was just TV
By HEATHER BARMORE
This photo here has traveled with me from one apartment to the next finally settling in my office and then my work-space in my home. I must have been approaching 21 at the time which I can only tell by my perfectly bobbed and relaxed hair along with that cashmere sweater and the pearls. This was my preppy, quintessential American University phase. Somewhat ironic since, though, I was attending American University, I had spent much of my childhood planning to attend Hillman College. Hillman, the fictional institution of higher education on The Cosby Show, and the brain child of Bill Cosby, the man with whom I am engaged in what looks to be compelling conversation. I was proud of that moment as was my mother who had snuck me backstage at her job’s convention so that I would meet the man, the myth, the legend: Dr. Cosby.
I haven’t been sure what to do with this photo since the sexual abuse accusations against Bill Cosby have come to a frenzy over the past week. Of course people, even celebrities, do terrible things and make mistakes. Often they are forgiven for their transgressions after the requisite heartfelt apologies and contrition. But this…this feels different. Is it possible that Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, father to Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa and Rudy is among the worst of the worst?
Before you, ever so gently, remind me that Dr. Huxtable and his lawyer wife Clair are nothing but television characters, I will tell you that I do understand how television works. Just remember that the show premiered in the 1980s not too long after blacks had spent decades fighting to be seen as equal to their white counterparts. Suddenly, the country was introduced to this black, male OB/GYN and his black female lawyer wife with their five children. The Huxtables weren’t simply aspirational; they were proof to white America that Blacks were just like them.WE were and are just like them; with children who need to be taught and raised to be quality members of society. The black middle class was not only a real thing but thriving. WE could be professionals as well. WE could be “normal” and approachable. And it was that normal of the Huxtable family, created by Bill Cosby, that we allowed into our homes each week. Black Americans, once a week, saw flecks of ourselves, friends and families on our screens. It was ground-breaking.
I scoffed at my black friends and family recently – though few and far between – who said that it couldn’t be true or to just leave the man alone. I scoffed because I am a good liberal feminist who believes in the existence of rape culture. And then I remembered that for years these same friends and family saw their reflections on a screen. While it may seem as if I am putting far too much pressure on this television family, imagine going for years without seeing anything positive about you or your culture, anywhere and then, finally some television producer realizes that you and those who look like you, with your brown skin and afro puffs, are also important.
I do believe that there is truth in what is being said about Mr. Cosby, though it isn’t simply the validity of the allegations but the mere implication that someone whom we all once held to a high, even impossible standard, is not perfect. Possibly even what many would refer to as a predator.
Above is the briefest moment, captured on film well over a decade ago. I have decided to place it in my desk drawer, face down but in protective covering. I would never want to ruin it.
Heather Barmore started her personal blog, No Pasa Nada, to document her life in Washington, D.C. and entrance into “adulthood.” Eight years later, she no longer lives in D.C. and remains skeptical of this whole “adult” thing. She currently resides in Albany, New York where she is an education lobbyist by day and a political blogger at Poliogue: The Art of Political Dialogue by night. She also contributes to Babble Voices at Change in Action.