19 November 2014
The Cosby Show Trial
A black celebrity is accused of date-raping a number of women, at least several of whom are white, and conservatives are rallying to his defense, while at least a few blacks are experiencing a bit of schadenfreude at his plight. The reason is simple: Bill Cosby has become best known in recent years for scolding black culture and condemning much of hip-hop culture in particular. This made him a hero for white conservatives who could let him make charges many of them wouldn't dare make. They see Cosby as an espouser of "personal responsibility," someone who won't just blame blacks' problems on whites. Hostility toward Cosby among black opinionators is based largely on how they think whites will exploit the comedian's criticisms. Americans in general seem to assume a zero-sum relationship between "personal responsibility" and "social justice." If Cosby and other high-profile contrarians (e.g. the basketball broadcaster Charles Barkley) argue for more personal responsibility, they're assumed to downplay the need for social justice. When Cosby denounces "knuckleheads" in the hood, he's accused of stereotyping (if not blaming the victim) and of enabling stereotyping attitudes among whites. Without ever seeking political office, Cosby has become a political figure, which may be why we haven't seen white conservatives dismiss him, in light of the new or revived charges against him, as just another [n-word]. He has individualized himself in opposition to the supposed black consensus or "herd mentality" in a way that O.J. Simpson, for instance, never did. As a result, we can see conservatives indulging in conspiracy theory, suggesting that the liberal media is out to destroy Cosby because he challenges political correctness or the hegemony of "social justice" thinking in the black community. On the other side, some black opinionators see the Cosby scandal as the humbling of a hypocrite who had no business passing judgment on anyone else, much less the disadvantaged of his own race. Add to the mix all those celebrity-worshippers who always presume the celebrity innocent when relative nobodies accuse him of such things, as well as the dead-end bigots who do now see Cosby as just another [n-word] and we have yet another case where people will find it difficult to judge the charges objectively. Because Cosby's fate may have an impact in a wider realm in which many hold a stake, people will be tempted to judge the case as a means to an end rather than on its own terms. But if Cosby has been defined increasingly by his own judgmental attitude -- his supporters might call it his moral courage -- I suppose the result will only be fair, even if it also proves very annoying.