I’ll be honest. I was very apprehensive when deciding whether or not to write this next article. Generally you are all given a glimpse into the drama that is my life, but every once in a while I do like to talk about something that can be a bit controversial or in the current headlines. The thing is, this topic also hits home for me and as a result, it’s made me really think a lot more about celebrities and those who live in the public spotlight. We often feel like we know people, especially when they are welcomed into our homes even via television and have any special kind of significance.
I’m a child of the 80s and as such I, like so many others, grew up watching many of the shows that featured Bill Cosby. From Fat Albert to The Cosby Show you’d be pretty hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t know of or who hadn’t watched these popular and even ground-breaking shows. For many, Bill Cosby is so much a part of our television and cultural history that to think of the man in any other way is difficult. When we grow to love someone based on seeing them only in one light, being shown the darkness can leave us baffled and outraged. I could identify with The Cosby Show. Like the Cosby children, I too grew up in a somewhat affluent home with successful family members. My family was never like the stereotypically portrayed black families on television. I didn’t live in or near any hood and I just couldn’t relate to those who did. I grew up knowing that a child should speak only when spoken to and that all adults were to be shown respect. I loved the clean-cut Huxtables and loved the family patriarch, Bill Cosby.
The thing is, what we see on television often times are strictly characters, they aren’t necessarily based in the reality of the people who play them. Sure, there may be similarities but that’s why it’s called acting. Think about the way we view other celebrities and athletes, we put them up on pedestals, we expect them to be an ideal that isn’t attainable by them or even others. Think also about how we present our own public selves and how much it may differ from the person we are behind closed doors and in the comfort of our own homes. What we see of people are only shades of them, pieces of their true self. Whether or not the repeated allegations of Mr. Cosby’s actions are true, we must decide on whether or not we can accept who he really is. I struggled with this even when there were allegations surrounding Michael Jackson and as recently as news of 7th Heaven’s Stephen Collins broke. We’re all human but how do we reconcile the talent juxtaposed against who they may really be in their personal life?
Sometimes all we can do is compartmentalize it all. Much in the way a victim may try to detach from the abuse, we have to accept the gift of their talent but rebuff the revolting behavior. In the court of public opinion we’re guilty until proven innocent. And where there is smoke, there is often fire. However, whether you’ve lost faith in a celebrity or someone you actually know, it’s often a loss that leaves you a bit more jaded as you move forward. The key is in trying to not be consumed by it. For those who have been abused at the hands of anyone, it’s not okay. No one has the right to cause you any harm. The thing is, sometimes it can take many years for a victim to speak out. For some of us it’s something we keep buried, we suppress it until it feels like a distant nightmare, until it manifests itself in our lives without us consciously knowing it. Just because something horrible is happening to you and you know right from wrong, we aren’t always very strong in the moment or even for a long period afterward. So to try to invalidate the misery that we survive by saying that it couldn’t have happened if it wasn’t brought to light sooner is to show that until you’ve walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, you can’t be too quick to judge.
Whether or not the allegations are true I know that for me, there will be an asterisks beside him in my mind. We are only human after all. I know that I can appreciate the talent and be disappointed in the person. And I also know that it takes a lot for anyone to publicly discuss something that they feel shameful for. Life happens. Good and bad. But when the bad does happen, you don’t have to go it alone. Don’t let it steal your joy. Life does get better and it is possible to heal.
This article appeared on page 5A in the 11/26/14 issue of The Union-Recorder.