NO TEARS FOR THE BLIND: Reflections on America’s and our Addiction to Patriarchy
By george white, jr.
A jury convicted Bill Cosby the other day and I feel a stunned relief. I am stunned because I was afraid that justice would never be done; stunned by the number of people who continue to defend him, and stunned by the venality of his TV-news surrogates who do foolish things like equating Cosby with Emmett Till. I don’t know if it is all of this shock or just pent-up anger and a sense of betrayal, but I have no tears. I have Lili Bernard’s words tumbling from my eyes.
THIS IS EMMETT TILL ( HE WAS ACTUALLY LYNCHED)
Lili Bernard was one of Cosby’s victims and she exited the court in tears, following the verdict. Her eloquent speech outside the courthouse reminded everyone of the pain of their suffering, both from the trauma wrought by Cosby and for being rendered invisible by the public. Her beautiful words reminded us of the possibilities of justice in the 21st century. It also reminded me how weak we all can be.
To say that I was a fan of Cosby is an understatement. My parents had a couple of his comedy albums in their record collection. The Cosby records were always near the front of the double bin, near Miles Davis, James Brown, Ray Charles, and James Galway; Richard Pryor was always in the back, but we found him eventually. I was barely older than the records themselves but I memorized nearly all the stories and riffs from “Bill Cosby is a Very Funny Fellow, Right” and “Why Is There Air?”, released in 1963 and 1965, respectively. Repeating them to my friends and neighbors was one of my first forays into public speaking. I loved Cosby through re-runs of “I Spy” and Saturday morning viewings of “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.” I was hooked well before he became “America’s Dad,” or as close to that as any Black man could be.
Ironically, one of the themes of many of Cosby’s stories (and a lesson my parents tried to teach us) was empathy or the need to take seriously the lives of others. Lili Bernard’s speech reminded me of the first time I took a girl seriously. It was during one of those hot Alabama Summers and we were in Fairfield, playing with our cousins when the youngest clutched at her chest, suddenly. She was asthmatic and needed her inhaler. I could see that she was in peril, so I took her seriously. And maybe that’s the thing; we only take women seriously when we can see that they are in peril. But it’s when we can’t see peril that many of us are blinded to their burdens, their lives, their pain. Blinded by the stories we men tell about ourselves. Or blinded by advertising, the most ubiquitous form of culture in America. Lili Bernard’s impassioned speech hammered home how we are blinded by celebrity, fame, and power. Or, at the end of all those verses, the chorus just sings “we are blinded by our addiction to patriarchy.”
I met Cosby, by accident, a few years after the meteoric run of “The Cosby Show” had come to an end. My wife and I packed the kids (2 at the time) in our minivan and drove to Portland, Oregon to attend the annual convention of the National PTA. My mother’s term as President was coming to an end and we wanted to be there to celebrate it. Cosby was the keynote speaker. Before my Mom’s final speech and Cosby’s presentation, we (my parents, wife, and kids) surrounded Cosby for a picture and I shook the hand of the man who had been a hero for so long. He seemed tired and sad. I just assumed it was because of the relatively recent death of his own son. But maybe he had something else in his mind. Maybe he was disappointed that there weren’t a bevy of vulnerable women to prey on at the convention. Who knows? But the point is that I engaged in the same deceptive editing that he had done to the public. I had assumed that because I knew his art that I knew who he was. And I cannot stand here and say that if I had known what he had done for decades that I would have acted any differently towards him. I could not see Lili Bernard or the other victims.
I don’t have all of the answers and even though I’m not guilty of Cosby’s crimes, I’m not innocent. Nonetheless, I will try to live my life in a way that my children see a model of manhood that does not prize punching, or drugging, or shoving, or running over with cars, or raping, or shooting. I want them to see that a woman owes a man nothing, not even the truth she needs to hold in just to keep safe. I want them to be able to see in the interactions I have with my wife/their mother, my friends, colleagues, or even strangers, that being a man does not have to mean domination, rabid competition, or the extraction of another’s dignity. And if I succeed within our circle of love, maybe I can model manhood for others. Men are not born monsters but it’s way too easy for us to become that when we are blind. Maybe by living in this way, I will learn to better see. And continue to take women seriously.
Speaking of which, Michelle Wolff was right: “Flint still doesn’t have clean water!”