How Bill Cosby betrayed black community


Bill Cosby once famously told a well-heeled crowd at a 2004 NAACP awards ceremony that the biggest problem in the black community was: “The lower economic and lower middle economic people are not holding their end in this deal.”

That is why our communities are failing, the comedian said over much applause. He went on to blast uneducated, promiscuous black women, lazy single mothers and irresponsible black fathers. “These people are not funny anymore. And that’s not brother. And that’s not my sister. They’re faking and they’re dragging me way down,” Cosby said.

Turns out that it was Cosby, the millionaire, self-appointed moralist for black America, who wasn’t holding up his end of this deal. He has dragged us all down. While preaching from his pedestal about the ills among the black lower and middle class, he was using his money and power, his accusers say, to sexually exploit women who were less powerful and had less money.

The saddest part is that Cosby may be the biggest faker of all. And he is definitely not funny anymore.

In 2005 court documents that were made public Monday after The Associated Press went to court to compel their release, Cosby admitted to getting prescription quaaludes to give to women with whom he wanted to have sex.

The testimony was given during a civil suit filed by Andrea Constand, a former Temple University women’s basketball coach. Constand is one of the dozens of women who accused Cosby of sexual assault. The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount before the 13 other “Jane Does” were called to testify on Constand’s behalf.

More than 25 women have publicly accused Cosby of raping or assaulting them over the past 40 years. The comedian has never been criminally charged and has vehemently denied wrongdoing.

Predators — and all those people who turn a blind eye or rush to defend heinous behavior — are doing the real damage in our communities. And our silence and failure to call out abusers is literally killing black women.

The statistics are shocking. According to a 2000 U.S. Department of Justice report, black women have a 35% higher rate of violent abuse by intimate partners than white women.

A Tufts University study found that 40% of black women reported forced sexual contact by the age of 18.

But most alarming for black women is that the No. 1 killer of black women ages 15 to 34 is homicide by a current or former intimate partner.

And while these numbers clearly point to a crisis in the black community, the problem is rarely discussed publicly. We rally around police brutality and call for much needed law enforcement reforms, and decry the high imprisonment rates for black men. We tell the world “Black Lives Matter.”

Yet we remain silent about the No. 1 killer of young black women. It’s obscene. A paltry 17% of black women who survive sexual assault end up filing a police report. Most of us remain invisible. And our abusers are too often left unchecked and free to abuse other women.

Whether the alleged abuser is a celebrity such as Cosby, or a friend or family member, we have to break the code of silence and endless victim shaming that has become the knee-jerk reaction in too many corners of black culture.

For me, Cosby is the most dangerous type of misogynist, lurking with his G-rated, Jell-O smile, preaching personal responsibility all the while allegedly using his fame and power to abuse and degrade women. All too often we black women are expected to be silent about the rampant sexual abuse in our community.

And when a situation like that of Bill Cosby or even Ray Rice, the football star caught on video decking his then-fianceƩ, plays out in the media, our first reaction is to fault the victim or suspect a media conspiracy.

Cosby, a consummate pro, played the black community like a fiddle — protesting his innocence, alluding to a mainstream media conspiracy and then pleading with black media for fairness, telling a New York Post reporter last year: “… I only expect the black media to uphold the standards of excellence in journalism and when you do that you have to go in with a neutral mind.”

He even got big name celebs to vouch for his honor. Whoopi Goldberg, Phylicia Rashad, Ben Vereen and Jill Scott all publicly supported Cosby and suggested the victims were suspect.

Since the release of the court documents, Scott has admitted she was wrong about Cosby, whom she has called a mentor.

Almost unconsciously, black women betray our womanhood to “defend the race” because we know painful the history of racism and injustice in this country. And we understand that our fight for equality is not finished.

But sometime we seem to shield our sons while sacrificing ourselves and our daughters. Our silence teaches women and girls that they matter less than boys and are not worthy of respect from men. We may be unintentionally setting them up to be victims.

No woman, regardless of race or economic status, should have to choose whether she is entitled to respect and dignity less than she deserves racial equality. I demand both.

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Roxanne Jones, a founding editor of ESPN Magazine and former vice president at ESPN, has worked as a producer and as a reporter at the New York Daily News and The Philadelphia Inquirer. She was named a 2010 Woman of the Year by Women in Sports and Events. Jones is a co-author of “Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete” and CEO of the Push Marketing Group. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.