Why America cares more about race than sexual assault
ANALYSIS | A dive into the Bill Cosby trial
On June 5, Bill Cosby’s criminal trial began in Norristown, Pennsylvania.
Dubbed “America’s Favorite Dad” after starring in the popular ‘80s sitcom, “The Cosby Show,” Cosby is now facing time in prison for an alleged sexual assault in 2004.
Americans are having a hard time accepting the idea that a pop culture icon could also be a longtime sexual predator.
In this volatile racial climate, many black Americans are more concerned with Cosby’s right to receive a fair trial, than his victim’s right to receive justice.
Within the black community, conspiracy theorists claim Cosby was targeted after his second bid to purchase NBC, despite its owners confirming the TV network was not for sale. This theory alleges Cosby’s accusers are part of an elaborate plan to destroy his image and career, effectively ending his quest for power in the media.
Though he was charged with sexual assault in the past, and admitted to drugging women using Quaaludes with the intention of having sex with them during a civil case he settled in 2005, Cosby’s supporters maintain his current public scandal is the result of racism.
Cosby’s daughter described his impending trial as a “public lynching,” likening his downfall to a time in American history when black males were stalked and killed by lynch mobs at the slightest hint of sexual impropriety toward a white woman.
In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was viciously murdered for whistling at a white woman while visiting relatives in Money, Mississippi. After his mother demanded an open-casket funeral, photos of Till’s disfigured corpse were published in Jet magazine. Decades later, his accuser revealed her story was fabricated.
His murderers acquittal by an all-white, all-male jury stirred racial discord that still reverberates across America today. Till’s death brought attention to the history of racial violence that characterized life in the South and underscored the problem of racism in this country.
It is true that America has a disturbing legacy of murdering innocent black men and black boys falsely accused of sexual assault.
While there is a well-earned distrust of the criminal justice system when it comes to fairly prosecuting black males, Cosby’s case bears no resemblance to what happened to Emmett Till. To compare his sexual assault trial to a lynching is irresponsible.
Cosby is a 79-year-old celebrity with a documented history of infidelity and sexual deviance. One-third of his accusers are black. The majority are unable to press charges after exceeding their state’s statute of limitations. Cosby is not facing an all-white jury and, despite his criminal charges, is still being heralded as a comedic legend.
After Nate Parker sold his film, “Birth of A Nation,” to Fox Searchlight for a reported 17.5 million dollars, the films release was marred by the publicized details of his past rape trial. A former student athlete, Parker left Penn University after standing trial even though he was acquitted of the charges.
In the end, Parker lost in the court of public opinion when his court documents went viral in 2016. Rather than demonstrating sympathy for the victim, who committed suicide after suffering from mental illness stemming from her alleged rape, Parker’s supporters claimed he was a victim of racism because he was accused of raping a white woman.
Several articles were published comparing Parker’s fate to that of Casey Affleck, who settled multiple sexual harassment claims and still won an Academy Award. But, comparative justice arguments have no validity unless the cases compared are the same. Affleck was accused of sexual misconduct, not rape, and both cases were settled out of court with victims that are still very much alive.
The fate of Parker’s victim coupled with his lack of remorse was enough to sway public opinion, derail the success of his debut film and push him back into obscurity.
When a black celebrity is accused of sexual assault, it is customary to mention Hollywood’s most infamous white sexual predators, Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. Allen continues to work as a film director after marrying his former lover’s adopted teen daughter and being accused of molesting his adopted daughter. Polanski is an award-winning film director and convicted statutory rapist that fled the U.S. before sentencing, but continues to work in the industry.
Yet in the world of entertainment, for every Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, there is an R. Kelly and CeeLo Green. Singer and music producer R. Kelly evaded conviction after being charged with 21 counts of child pornography, resulting from his leaked sex tapes with an underage girl. Entertainer CeeLo Green pled no contest after being accused of drugging and raping a woman and only received probation. Both Kelly and Green maintain careers in the recording industry.
There is a well known culture of misogyny in Hollywood and it is time to address it. It is not justifiable to dismiss Cosby’s sexual assault accusations because some famous white men have eluded criminal conviction for years. While it would be ideal if Hollywood blacklisted artists that committed sexual crimes — it isn’t going to happen unless the public demands a change.
Those arguing for Cosby’s freedom in the name of comparative justice are campaigning for his right to assault without consequence — simply because he is black and susceptible to racism.
As a rape survivor and a woman of color, that argument doesn’t fly with me. A desire for racial equality within the criminal justice system does not negate the human rights of a victim.
Rape is a violent crime. Rape victims don’t need your comparative justice arguments — we need you to fight with us to ensure perpetrators are prosecuted.
Rape convictions are so rare, there is no reason to waste energy debating how the ethnicity of a rapist could impact their criminal proceeding and whether they will receive a heavier sentence than their white counterparts. The real issue — the fact that no one should be raping anyone, and if they do they deserve to go to jail— is getting lost in the process.
Survivors deserve to have our voices heard, our stories believed, and our pain recognized — without being traumatized by the attitudes of rape apologists. Every time you emphasize the plight of an alleged rapist, you minimize their victims experience of trauma.
Rapists don’t deserve your sympathy. Even if they happen to be famous.