2014 American Black Film Festival - Portaits - June 21, 2014

Of all the ways legendary TV actress Phylicia Rashad could speak on rape allegations against former co-star Bill Cosby— and in this instance, rape allegations from multiple women of varying generations spanning decades— “Forget these women!” is by far one of the worst ways to respond.

Although Rashad initially told columnist Roger Friedman that when it comes to rape allegations leveled against her TV husband, Bill Cosby, she did not “want to become part of the public debate,” Mrs. Huxtable proceeded to offer remarks that now place her directly at its apex.

“Forget these women,” Rashad said. “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.”

Rashad became especially dismissive when she offers an “Oh, please,” once the names Beverly Johnson and Janice Dickinson came up in the interview.

The Cosby Show

When anyone claims to have been sexually assaulted, you do not simply “forget them.” It’s probably best not to throw out an “Oh, please” either. When more than one person alleges the same violation, it’s even more difficult to just “forget them.” It’s fair to be skeptical— particularly if you know the accused on an intimate level — but to be both dismissive and denigrating about rape can provide a disturbing image of one’s character.

It’s easy to see why Rashad might be defensive, but she doesn’t sound any less haughty or less demeaning to women who are already claiming to have been victimized, and no less foolish when it comes their intentions.

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It brings me no joy writing that. Like me, Phylicia Rashad is a Houston, Texas native. Like me, Phylicia Rashad is a Howard University graduate. Phylicia Rashad and her sister Debbie Allen have always been inspirations as to how far I could move from a city that at the time, felt too small for my big dreams.

Still, she’s wrong.

Perhaps Rashad could have taken cues from her TV daughter, Keisha Knight Pulliam, who when asked by Wendy Williams about the Cosby controversy, explained, “Honestly, that’s not the man I know.”

And like Rashad, Williams when on to speak on how “revolutionary” The Cosby Show was to pop culture. Knight Pulliam replied, “The Cosby’s, we were the first family that no matter what race, religion, you saw yourself in. … At the end of the day they are allegations. … I don’t have that story to tell.”

This is fine. The difference is Knight Pulliam speaks to her experience, but not in a way that downplays someone else’s truth. I wish Rashad had done the same because she seems more concerned about the legacy of The Cosby Show than the humanity of the women claiming to have been stripped of their own by her former co-star.

The Cosby Show

Rashad appears to worry that Cosby’s great strides in education and entertainment will be ruined. The problem with such logic is that Cosby had already soiled his own legacy for future generations when he spent the much of the 2000s bashing poor Black people. If that demographic is part of the mainstream one Dr. Huxtable was to inspire, Cosby had already done his part to taint that.

TV imagery is important and The Cosby Show was groundbreaking. But it’s still a work of fiction. Until Cosby directly addresses the truth about his character, we need to stop caring so much about protecting the one he made up.

Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem, and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him @youngsinick.

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