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cosbyCosby and I are the same age. We were born in an era when it literally was a man’s world. Men could get away with all sorts of activity that would be condemned today. Treatment of women as second class was common. The times dictated that women were born to serve at the pleasure of men.  That’s just the way it was.

It is not at all surprising that Bill Cosby would have taken advantage of his power and prestige during the years when women would throw themselves at men in power, especially celebrities. 

I am not defending Mr. Cosby’s actions (whether the accusations are true or not). I am only pointing out that such behavior was typical of the times. Most men would think nothing of getting a woman drunk in order to take advantage of her. High school and college kids even today think nothing of spiking the punch or lacing a dring with drugs in the hopes of getting lucky with some hot girl. So why all the furor about Bill Cosby’s action three decades ago? We should have expected that he would have participated in this type of behavior just as being a slave owner was part of being a Southerner.

I think what makes us angrier at Bill Cosby than most other men who acted similarly is that we accepted his persona as Dr. Cliff Huxtable, the penultimate family man, as the reality. Even Cosby’s real life appeared beyond reproach. His books on fatherhood, parenting, and marriage, along with his long term marriage to Camille, set him apart from the rest of the pack. We want to have someone who stands for family values, morality, and righteousness. Cliff Huxtable and Bill Cosby became that ideal. Bill Cosby’s behavior destroyed that image. It is similar to telling a child that there is no Santa Claus and no Tooth Fairy.  

I would not be surprised to learn that a majority of men born between 1937 and 1960 have participated in some form of misogynistic behavior during their lives. And it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that many men used some form of coercion to gain sexual access to women. It wasn’t until very recently that common behaviors in the workplace, including but not limited to sexual innuendos, sexual overtures, and even physical contact, was considered sexual harassment.

Given this historical context, why should anyone be surprised that the women Mr. Cosby is alleged to have abused waited until 2014 to come forward? Back in the those days women, the victims, were assumed to be guilty of initiating any type of sexual advancement  by men. Women who were raped would rarely come forward. Look at what happened to Monica Lewinsky as recently as 1998. This courageous young woman was vilified. She was called a slut, a tramp, a whore, you name it. It was assumed that Clinton, the then-president of the U.S., was innocent. We want to preserve our heroes. And even when found guilty, his reputation remains virtually intact; he is a sought-after public speaker and wise elder statesman. What happened to Monica? She continues to be viewed as a tramp.

Bill Cosby’s behavior was wrong. Bill Clinton’s behavior was wrong. But, just as slavery was wrong, it was common and part of a culture that says men in power are the rule makers. And in a society that continues to view women as an underclass – just at it continues to view people of color as an underclass – it takes courageous women to stand up and say, this behavior toward women is wrong today and was wrong thirty or fifty years ago. 

I encourage Mr. Cosby, a man I personally have admired since he first broke onto the scene with Robert Culp in the iconic TV show I Spy, to use this opportunity to step forward and acknowledge that both Dr. Cliff Huxtable and Dr. Bill Cosby, are humans who were caught up with the times. For Mr. Cosby, a black man, it is even more important. He continues to serve as a model to black youth even today, who need models more than ever, of a man with the integrity and courage to admit, “I was wrong and I am sorry.”