Commentary: I’ve always argued that you have to separate the art from the artist.
Ted Nugent, for example, is clearly a racist, homophobic blowhard, and his 1975 song “Stranglehold” is an ode to domestic violence lyrically; but that bass line is irresistible. I was outraged by the things Nugent said, but never disappointed because I never saw him as anything more than a guitar player.
Bill Cosby is different.
Looking at the world through the lens of a privileged, towheaded kid growing up in an all-white neighborhood, Cosby seemed to me to be someone special. I was too young and sheltered to understand Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X, but I understood Fat Albert and his gang, and I liked them.
The civil rights movement frightened me. I didn’t know anything about institutionalized racism, such as the redlining policy in Denver that made my neighborhood all white. I knew there was a violent struggle happening, but I didn’t understand why.
My introduction to the black race came via television, primarily from two people. First, there was Diahann Carroll, who played a nurse and a single mom raising a son who was about my age in the TV show Julia, which ran from 1968 to 1971. And then there was Cosby.
In his Saturday morning cartoon show, his comedy records and then later with the Cosby Show, he touched on issues that were universal to people of all backgrounds.
I understand now that Cosby presented a sanitized version of what it meant to be a black person living in America. He avoided the difficult, controversial topics that may have felt threatening to a white audience – as did so many other black athletes and entertainers of that era.
In 2007, Cosby joined with Alvin F. Poussaint, a psychiatrist, author and lecturer, to write the book “Come on People … On the Path From Victims to Victors,” which was seen by many as a rebuke to his own race. I read the book a few years ago, and saw the controversy surrounding it as being mostly generational. I also thought at the time that it could have been a contribution to what is an important discussion.
Now I know that the moral authority I bestowed on Cosby was misplaced. He was lecturing young men about wearing their pants too low after he had spent years drugging women to get their pants off.
On Thursday, a jury found Cosby guilty of three counts of aggravated indecent assault for attacks committed against Andrea Constand in 2004 after she had been drugged by Cosby. Sadly, she was only one of many such victims he assaulted
The Los Angeles Times details accusations dating back to the mid-1960s. Sunni Welles, who was then an aspiring singer, alleges that Cosby drugged and raped her twice. She was one of more than 40 women who have come forward to allege attacks that took place over more than five decades.
I still believe that Cosby’s work helped to improve race relations in this country at a very difficult time. But all of that seems hollow now.
And so in this case, I can’t separate the art from the artist. There is nothing at all funny about Bill Cosby anymore.