The folks over at EBONY knew they were taking a risk when they rolled out the November issue featuring the shattered image of the iconic Huxtable clan, but they ran with the provocative cover anyway.
“This was not an easy decision,” EBONY editor-in-chief Kierna Mayo wrote on Facebook about her decision to publish the bold cover. “But I believe with everything that our collective healing (from this and all traumas) is tied to baring truths, confronting selves, and dismantling crutches. We aim to uplift. However, sometimes before you rise up, you break down.”
Since Mayo took the reins earlier this year, EBONY has been doing what we’ve always wanted them to do–cover critical issues involving Black folks with respect and integrity. This year alone the magazine has featured stories on a new generation of civil rights activists, published dispatches from Ferguson, and discussed America’s fascination with Black culture, but not Black people.
For nearly 70 years EBONY has been the cornerstone of Black media, highlighting our triumphs and challenges when we were ignored, or worse, vilified, in the mainstream press. Given its history of tackling hard issues, it should have come as no surprise when EBONY turned its focus on Bill Cosby and the now-embattled legacy of the Cosby Show.
While many praised the magazine for the sheer audacity of the cover, others flooded the publication’s Facebook page vowing a boycott and accusing EBONY of trying to kneecap a “good Black man.”
Here’s just a sampling:
“How quickly everyone is jumping on the ‘bash Bill Cosby’ bandwagon. None of these allegations have been proven — I expect this from white people, but from Ebony?”
“This is the lowest I’ve ever seen Ebony go! Wow! You would think Ebony, a Black magazine would be supportive! Smh…’Dr. Huxtable’ didn’t do a thing! The other part of the family shouldn’t have to suffer!”
“Diminishing the entire legacy of the Bill Cosby show , tacky AF!! He hasn’t been charged with anything!”
“Really Ebony.. see this the problem why blacks the only ppl who can’t never back their own ppl. If he did it forgive him and move on.. i still don’t believe he did. Ijs.”
“Total ‘House – Negro”, move Ebony.. Turning on another Black trying to tarnish a show because of 1person.. When Bill Cosby got arrested.. Oh, that’s right.. He’s, Never been arrested, prosecuted, or convicted.. Hmm..”
“They want to kill the image of the Black Man and his whole family. They want hip hop and homosexuality to rule the Black house not one positive word or sign of masculine identity anywhere.”
I could go on.
Mentioning Cosby’s rape allegations is contentious enough among many Black folks who question the women’s accounts, but literally shattering the image of the only perfect Black family many have grown up with–and wish they could actually be apart of? Straight sacrilege.
Here’s the thing, though: far too many Black Americans feel respectability is the great equalizer.
Sadly, many believe that if we could only get our young men to pull up their pants, and our young women to stop acting “loud” and “ghetto,” we would finally reach the post-racial promised land where racism no longer exists and Black folks are treated exactly the same as their white counterparts.
For many, the Huxtables–and by extension Cosby’s real, beautiful Black family–were the embodiment of that goal, giving us something cool, wealthy, and gorgeous to aspire to. To see it literally and figuratively crumble before our eyes feels, to many, like a gut punch, and what do people do when they get hit? They punch back.
The calls for boycotts, the accusations that EBONY is white-owned (it isn’t), and the charges that the magazine’s staff is merely trying to bring a brotha down is exactly the thing that keeps us stuck, in pain, preyed upon, and clinging to the idea that if we were just respectable enough, we’d be alright.
But the way white supremacy is set up….
Black liberation in America has often had a strain of "be respectable and white folks will respect you!" Only, that's not how it works.
— britni danielle (@BritniDWrites) October 15, 2015
Cosby himself preached respectability to an audience of Black folks hungry for solutions to the problems that plague our community–that have always plagued our community, by the way.
While Cosby warned of “people getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake,” and dissing people named “Shaniqua, Shaligua, and Mohammed,” he also admitted to having several extramarital affairs and drugging women for sex. Cosby’s morality was extremely compromised and yet he felt no qualms about shaming others into respectability for the purpose of being acceptable to white folks, something he built an entire career on.
The sad part? A lot of Black people agreed with him. Because of the insidiousness of systematic white supremacy, far too many of us have internalized the idea that respectability in the eyes of whites will save Black people from ourselves.
After slavery ended, Booker T. Washington argued Black Americans should forgo racial justice by any means necessary and instead “learn to dignify and glorify common labor” as to not anger, or scare, white people. Civil Rights protesters donned their Sunday’s Best to show they were upstanding citizens too, only to be beaten by police like dogs. And even today, many questioned the tactics of #BlackLivesMatter activists, calling them rude and combative for forcefully demanding justice.
Despite seeing time and time again that respectability won’t save Black folks from racism, many of our brothers and sisters cling to it so hard they’d rather trash EBONY than admit Bill Cosby let us down.
Like Mayo said, if we want to heal, we’ve got to tell the truth, confront ourselves, and dismantle the crutches that keep us bogged down.
But if we want to continue to elevate false heroes and ignore the pain they’ve inflicted on our community, then please, by all means, hold on to the Cos. He needs more people anyway.