Ebony Magazine stirred a mini-firestorm of rage when it dredged up an old photo of the Cosby show television family, plopped it on its November cover, and then fractured the picture.
The obvious point being that embattled comedian Bill Cosby not only disgraced his legacy but disgraced the hitherto near sacrosanct image and legacy of the celebrated Cosby TV show family, the Huxtables.
The premise of the show was that there are fully intact, respectable, high-achieving, prim and proper black middle-class families. The Huxtables was an in-your-face counter to the ancient damaging, hurtful and false stereotype of the black family and by extension blacks, as crime, drug ridden, dysfunctional, eternally wallowing in ignorance and poverty single-parent black families.
The show’s wild success and popularity was evidence that it gave many blacks a positive, upbeat look at themselves, and the strengths of many black families. It also gave many non-blacks a glimpse of an upwardly mobile black family that seemed to be no different than any other such family.
The Ebony cover is under fire because it seemed to tear down the last remaining shred of what was good and decent about Cosby and the black family.
The criticism badly misfires and ignores too much. Namely, that it was Cosby, who in lectures, speeches, press appearances, and a best-selling book, went on a one-man crusade to tell the world how supposedly lousy the black family was.
Along the way, he cobbled together a mish mash of his trademark anecdotes, homilies and personal tales of woe and success, juggled and massaged facts to bolster his self-designated black morals crusade. He made the stock claim that blacks can’t read, write or speak coherent English, and are social and educational cripples and failures because of their own ineptitude, sloth and indolence. Cosby was lionized by conservatives as the ultimate truth speaker for hammering blacks.
While Cosby was entitled to publicly air black America’s alleged dirty laundry, there was more myth than dirt in that laundry. Some knuckleheads in black neighborhoods do kill, mug, peddle dope, are jobless untouchables and educational wastrels. They, and only they, should be the target of wrath.
But Cosby made a Grand Canyon-sized leap from them to paint a half-truth, skewed, picture of the plight of poor blacks and the reasons and prescriptions for their plight.
At the time, Cosby publicly bristled at criticism that he had taken the worst of the worst behavior of some blacks and publicly hurled that out as the warped standard of black America. Cosby insisted that he did not mean to slander all, or even most blacks, as derelict, laggards and slackers. Yet, that’s precisely the impression he gave and the criticism of him for it was more than justified. Even the title of his book, “Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors,” conveyed that smear.
Cosby did not qualify or provide a complete factual context for his blanket indictment of poor blacks. He made the negative behavior of some blacks a racial rather than an endemic social problem.
In doing so, he did more than break the alleged taboo against publicly airing racial dirty laundry; he fanned dangerous and destructive stereotypes.
That was hardly the call to action that could inspire and motivate underachieving blacks to improve their lives. Instead, it further demoralized those poor blacks who are doing the best to keep their children and themselves out of harm’s way, often against towering odds, while still being hammered for their alleged failures by the Cosbys within and without their communities.
Worse, Cosby’s blame the victim slam did nothing to encourage government officials and business leaders to provide greater resources and opportunities to aid those blacks that need help. “Come on People,” intended or not, continued to tar the black communities and the black poor as dysfunctional, chronic whiners and eternally searching for a government handout.
Cosby’s one-sided, stereotypical-laced crusade against alleged black dysfunctionality was a zero sum catch 22 contradiction. If any of what Cosby said about the black family’s alleged chronic dysfunctionality was true, then that must mean that his beknighted Huxtable family was nothing more than a made-for-TV fraud. And that he and the show gamed millions to believe that such a black family really existed, when it didn’t.
There were more than a few critics even then who knocked the Huxtables as just that, a myth, and lambasted the show and Cosby for creating the fairy tale image of an intact, achieving black family.
Ebony’s fractured cover of the Huxtables merely messaged what Cosby had done long before his disgrace and fall; and that’s publicly malign the black family.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Torpedoing Hillary: The GOP Plan to Stop a Clinton White House” (Amazon ebook). He is also a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.