I am disappointed. Phylicia Rashad is a legend. She is graceful, beautiful, and a wonderful, Tony award winning actress. She played a black woman on television who was sophisticated and sharp, and who broke down feminism for the masses. She’s my Soror, and I like to think of her as my TV auntie, too. A lot of people do.
But Phylicia let me down. In an interview posted on Tuesday, Rashad is quoted as responding to a question about Bill Cosby’s alleged acts of rape by saying: “Forget these women. What you’re seeing is the destruction of a legacy. And I think it’s orchestrated. I don’t know why or who’s doing it, but it’s the legacy. And it’s a legacy that is so important to the culture.”
On ABC news this evening, Phylicia elaborated on her statement. “…that was a misquote. What I said is, ‘This is not about the women. This is about something else. This is about the obliteration of legacy.’ ” Girl…. same difference.
By “these women” Rashad is referring to the at least 27 women (including three who came forward just today!) who have said they were drugged and raped, or almost raped, by Bill Cosby during his heyday.
Phylicia is asserting that the existence of a massive, decades long conspiracy where dozens of women from different circles falsely report having eerily similar assault experiences at the hands of the same man is so much more likely than a reality where Bill Cosby raped these women, that we shouldn’t even give the women’s stories a second thought. We should forget them. Now Phylicia, you know that don’t make not a lick of sense.
What we are seeing here is not new. It is a rerun. Black America, denied positive representation on everything from the Supreme Court to our television screens, finally got a piece of what we’ve been craving…. only to find out that the black man embodying our wishes ain’t shit and that success for him is not actually a triumph for black women. But, desperate for that representation, for the preservation of legacy, we decide to side with him anyway– as even inspirational women like Maya Angelou did during the confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas. We place the responsibility for his tarnished legacy at our feet, and the feet of those he has hurt, instead of at his. This time we have the chance to do better.
Phylicia Rashad had the opportunity to say that the progress of black people in America does not have to happen on the backs of black women, and does not require us to be trampled and gagged into silence. She had the option of defending The Cosby Show, its critical contributions to American culture, and what it has meant to black people, without defending legacy of a man who is almost certainly a serial rapist and who has not even stepped forward to defend his own self. She didn’t take those opportunities, but we can.
Phylicia Rashad, ma’am, I will not forget these women. This is about them, and they will continue to be heard.