Entertainer Bill Cosby is escorted from the Montgomery County courthouse in Norristown, Pa., on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. Cosby, 81, was sentenced to three-to-10 years in prison. DAVID MAIALETTI / PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER / TNS
Photo: David Maialetti/Philadelphia Inq
Photo: David Maialetti/Philadelphia Inq

This Life with Gracie: ‘America’s dad’ lifted us, then betrayed us

America’s dad was sentenced to prison Tuesday and all I could think of was his damning pound-cake speech.

You might remember it, too.

The year was 2004. Comedian Bill Cosby was at an NAACP awards ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, criticizing the African-American community.

“These are people going around stealing Coca-Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake,” he said, describing black youth. “And then we all run out and are outraged, ‘The cops shouldn’t have shot him.’ What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand?”

He went on to disparage the way they and their parents talked — ‘Why you ain’t,’ ‘Where you is’ — and their penchant for choosing the frivolous over life’s necessities, and squandering opportunities won by the civil rights movement.

There was so much truth in those words they landed deep down in my heart and laid there like white lint on a black sweater.

It was ugly and out of place and all I could think was careful, Bill.

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It wasn’t what he said that bothered me so much as it was how he said it, that he was somehow different, bigger, better than those he was criticizing.

Of course, I had no idea the number of women who’d accused Cosby of sexual assault. I wasn’t even aware of rumors that I understand now had been circulating for years.

Then 10 years after Cosby let loose on the black community, comedian Hannibal Buress let loose on him.

“He gets on TV, ‘Pull your pants up black people, I was on TV in the ‘80s! I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom!’ Yeah, but you rape women, Bill Cosby, so turn the crazy down a couple notches.”

It was like chickens coming home to roost.

The joke went viral and we know what happened next. Dozens of women came forward accusing Cosby of sexual assault.

By the time the star went to court three years ago, 60 women had come forward, all with similar stories: Cosby had drugged and then either raped them or tried to.

While I feared something like this might happen when Cosby, void of any noticeable compassion, made his pronouncements, I had no idea it would be nearly as bad as this.

In April, the comedian was convicted by a Pennsylvania jury of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand in 2004. Last week, at age 81 he was sentenced to three to 10 years in prison.

This time, I was simply startled. It wasn’t that I didn’t think he’d finally be convicted and sentenced, it was how I felt about that.

Glenn Bracey, assistant professor of sociology at Villanova University and a self-described Cosby Kid, said he feels betrayed and embarrassed by comedian Bill Cosby. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

I felt a deep loss because, for me, Cosby personified the best of us, meaning the black community. He was funny and kind and generous.

And best of all, he changed the way the rest of the world looked at us, meaning black families. We weren’t just a bunch of low-lifes with our hands out. We were responsible men and women who graduated from high school, went to college, married and raised our children like the rest of society.

He and “The Cosby Show” he created made us human in a way I’d never seen before, not even in my own family, at least not the one in which I grew up.

Neither of my parents finished high school and while we didn’t subsist on welfare, they always, always struggled to make ends meet. The life my siblings and I managed to carve out stood in stark contrast to that but I often felt burdened by the negative images of black families and black people in general. I still do to a certain extent.

Maybe that’s why, when the Cosby debacle finally came to a close, it was like losing a best friend and I just felt a deep sadness.

I wondered if I was alone.

RELATED | After verdict, fans struggle with Bill Cosby’s guilt, guile

Glenn Bracey, assistant professor of sociology at Villanova University and self-described “Cosby Kid,” who benefited from seeing middle-class black people on television, said he felt betrayed and embarrassed by Cosby.

Like me, he agrees the comedian humanized us blacks.

“People forget how few images of accomplished black families were on network television in the 1980s,” Bracey said. “Cosby showed us as whole people — professionals, parents, students with learning disabilities, grandparents, artists, etc. We could all see ourselves in the Cosby family. We could defend ourselves and our communities from whites’ attacks by pointing to Cosby. Cosby’s actions have tarnished our memories and robbed us of a hopeful symbol. It’s beyond painful.”

Psychologist Debi Silber says feelings of betrayal can leave all kinds of mental, emotional and physical problems in its wake. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Psychologist Debi Silber said all those emotions are normal.

According to Silber, nearly 90 percent of people who feel betrayed experience mental, emotional, physical flashbacks; more than 60 percent suffer from physical ailments — low energy, difficulty falling or staying asleep, extreme fatigue; over 50 percent from mental ailments — feeling overwhelmed, unable to focus or concentrate; more 50 percent suffer from emotional symptoms — sadness, anger, anxiety, fear, rejection, taken advantage of, a sense of abandonment, irritability, and depression.

There was more but you get the picture.

“This is what betrayal can leave in its wake,” Silber said. “As Bill Cosby abused his power at the expense of those involved, the victims have their work to do in order to resolve, recover and heal from his actions.”

In the age of the #MeToo movement, that’s important to remember and it’s absolutely probable, Silber said, to find healing.

If there’s a silver lining to this and all that ails America at the moment, this is it: We can get past this.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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