These last couple of weeks have been brutal to say the least. I’ve seen highly regarded individuals brought down a notch or two before, but I have never witnessed anything like what we are seeing with Bill Cosby. This man was one of the major cultural entertainment icons of my youth. For my parents generation, it was Elvis Presley, The Beatles and so on. But for a child of the ’80s, they didn’t get much bigger than Bill Cosby.
And now, everything he built over the course of his professionally distinguished life lies in ruin. And apparently, he has no one to blame but himself.
Now, I will acknowledge up front (like everyone else who dares broach this subject) that Bill Cosby has never been convicted of a crime. And I will further acknowledge that when this issue first started gaining traction, I was among those who hoped that the one or two accusers coming forward were attention-seeking opportunists grasping for their fifteen minutes of fame. But we are way beyond that now, and even the most ardent supporter of Mr. Cosby has to find it difficult to brush off all these allegations with the argument that everyone is lying but him.
However, it still makes me sad. And it makes me wonder what will become of the treasures he gave us professionally. Because much of what he did in the comedic realm is truly priceless. But in this day and age of instant and complete judgment, will all the work of Bill Cosby the Entertainer be deleted from the culture in the name of political correctness? Who knows, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me-and it would certainly be a shame.
You see, history is replete with examples of greatness being delivered by an imperfect human source. I won’t go into a list of examples because the list would be far too great indeed. I will simply leave it at this: I hope we will be able to divorce the man from his art. Because the world will be the lesser for it if we are not.
But of even greater concern to me is the loss of Bill Cosby as a communicator on race. Now I know I’m not supposed to address this subject because I am a white man with no knowledge of the struggle faced by the African-American community. And I also know that Mr. Cosby’s famous/infamous “Pull up your Pants” speech has been widely rejected by said community. Nevertheless, I’m going to talk about it anyway. And I’m going to start with Ferguson, Missouri. Now, so that I can hopefully address this with some credibility, I will begin with an example from within my own culture.
Where would the Mormon church be today had the followers of Joseph Smith looted and burned down Kirtland/Nauvoo/Salt Lake City every time they were treated unfairly by law enforcement?
In fact, they would be in the exact same “nowhere” that far too many in the African-American community find themselves today. And that nowhere is a tragic place to be.
Because the reality is, despite all the promises, despite all the grand pronouncements from politicians and “leaders” of the black community, no one ever truly comes to save those who find themselves in nowhere. It just doesn’t happen. They are quite literally on their own.
Don’t believe me? Ask yourself this: If these riots threatened to spill over into “white” America, ie. the suburbs or a fashionable retail district, what would happen? Sadly, we all know the answer. The national guard, and possibly other military units, would be called out and the results would be ugly. We would be talking about 80 deaths overnight instead of 80 arrests. This thing would be over today and everyone involved would be subdued or in the morgue.
But it isn’t spilling over. And so what is happening instead? We, the nation at large, are standing back and letting a community destroy itself, and we are letting the innocent majority trapped inside suffer with no hope of rescue. Why? Because we, the majority culture collectively, are afraid of the labels passed around by the “PC” crowd and those who have a vested interest in keeping the folks of nowhere exactly where they are. I know such a suggestion sounds insidious, but it also happens to be true.
And thus it remains. No one ever truly comes to save the people of nowhere. If you disagree, I defy you to look at every inner city in America or look at every Native American reservation spread across this land and try to tell me differently.
And that is where the loss of Bill Cosby as an icon is truly sad. He recognized the inherent flaws undermining the inner-city culture. He understood that the only way to truly save someone from nowhere is not to try and turn nowhere into somewhere, but rather to educate those who will be educated and get them out. For others to take you seriously, you have to present yourself seriously…and you can’t do that with your pants hanging below your butt or your ability to communicate compromised.
Would Bill Cosby have been able to single-handedly deconstruct these problems that grew out of decades worth of racism, family disintegration and poverty? Of course not. But as a role-model, he could have saved a few. And that is where true progress gets started.
But now he’s gone. His potential for good forever wiped away because of a hideous double life he had managed to keep under wraps until now.
So, for those who would see a comparison between the African-American community and the Children of Israel, we have to keep looking for that iconic leader who can lead his people to the promised land. And we can’t let discouragement overwhelm us because yet another possible Moses turned out to be nothing more than a Sampson wearing hideous sweaters.