What will you tell the little black girl who asks “Who is Bill Cosby?” In Response to #BWBCosbyWatch: Not Holding Abusive Black Men Accountable Will Not End RacismA Written Statement by Black Women’s Blueprint Staff and Community
It has now been six days and 52 hours and news reports say the jury in the Bill Cosby Rape Trial was deadlocked and the judge declares a mistrial. Despite what played out in the courtroom, in the court of public opinion for those of us outside of the courtroom, the deadlock began when the first accuser said "I was raped".
To date, Bill Cosby has been accused of drugging and sexually assaulting over sixty survivors, many of whom have come forward and denounced Bill Cosby's rapes and abuses against them.
Black Women’s Blueprint is committed to ending rape and to affirming all survivors, including any survivor whether or not she has come forward in the Bill Cosby case. A trial against any person who rapes creates the critical space needed for public reckoning in all communities, in our siloed movements and in relationships fueled by a persistent competition between race-based and gender-based violence where Black folks are concerned. When survivors speak their truths they create that space of listening and affirmation that violence is violence is violence. When survivors speak, they create a much needed space for everyone to speak, even if in a whisper to themselves that they too endured sexual assault. To the survivors involved with the Bill Cosby case, no matter who you are, no matter your background, your past or your social standing, we see and acknowledge your tremendous courage.
This case and sexual assault cuts across all communities, all races, however we are at this moment gravely concerned with our Black communities for which acknowledging rape as unacceptable and non-negotiable is a problem which must be addressed. Our experiences reveal that Black women in particular have been forced to be the perfect victim or keep their mouths shut, choose race over gender, think and say what is most popular in such cases like the Cosby rape trial, the case of our sister-survivor Anita Hill vs. Clarence Thomas, and comparably the multiple assaults committed by singer/rapper R.Kelly. Black Women’s Blueprint reaffirms that believing survivors is what we owe each other and ourselves as survivors of multi-generational sexual trauma stemming from the slave-trade, Antebellum South and Jim Crow. Whether rape is committed by one in our midst under a patriarchal system which says our bodies are to be drugged, beaten, deceived and molested, or by a white supremacist upholding a racist system that says Black bodies are property, a rape is a rape.
We can't partition race from our other identities or social class status. For survivors, these identities live together, and for harm-doers class also matters, celebrity matters, gender matters, as does race.
In her recent blog post “#BWBCosbyWatch: Not Holding Abusive Black Men Accountable Will Not End Racism,”Black Women’s Blueprint intern Kiana Mickles notes the predominant argument that has been tearing Black communities apart in relation to the Cosby Trial. She writes “ Race has become a critical component of the public’s perception of the trial, since both Cosby’s family and devoted fans alike have pointed a finger at racism as the primary incentive behind the allegations. However, sexual assault cases such as Cosby’s transcend issues of racist double standards, and the lack of accountability members of the Black community have entitled him merely serves to deflect the public’s focus from his heinous sex crimes.” While we maintain that this is a popular argument being spouted by many members of the Black community, this argument is not new and not survivor centered, nor can it continue to be used against survivors.
When sister-survivor Anita Hill testified against Clarence Thomas in 1991, Thomas declared the trial a “high-tech lynching.” The aforementioned article similarly refers to Cosby’s trial as the “public lynching” of a popular Black male figure. While we understand the racial politics involved in sexual assault and rape cases across the country as well as the generational trauma linked to the stereotypes of Black men, we condemn any and all tactics that would detract from the truthful issue at hand ---survivors have come forward, shared their stories, and must be seen as full and rightful humans.
This trial dishonors the legacies of survivor-resistance, yes it becomes a moment for survivors and survivor-allies to deeply reflect on a practice of communal honesty, communal accountability, and communal care. We must address the silence around this case but also hold those accountable who have been in defense of Bill Cosby. Whoopi Goldberg, Jill Scott, and Azealia Banks have all expressed alliance with Cosby in public statements and remarks.
That Bill Cosby’s case has gotten so little coverage, both from mainstream publications and Black platforms (even Black feminist platforms) is demonstrative of this ever-encroaching divide that pits Black women and men against one another. Black women do not have to choose which identity, race or gender, supersedes the other.
Survivors should never have to suppress their stories, testimonies or truth-telling. We can hold the complexity, duality, and multiple jeopardy of race-gender-sexuality issues. We as survivors should never face reprimand or ridicule from our own communities when we are brave and bold in our own truth telling. Let go of the myth of the perfect victim who may or may not withdraw from public life, may or may not maintain communication with someone whose violation they endured, may or may not remain friends with the person who raped them, may or may not forgive a harm-doer, or may or may not carry the scars of rape as we would expect to see it.
Black feminist heroes have fought with their words, analysis, and scholarship to carve out space for Black women to own not only our blackness but also our womanhood in the ongoing battle against patriarchy. They have written books like The Color Purple, Gender Talk: The Struggle for Women’s Equality in African American Communities, and Words of Fire. We have given speeches like “Ain’t I a Woman,” and faced backlash for saying that we are Black and woman, and other identities at the same time. These texts have made it possible to be fearless and bold in responding to the sexist, misogynist and racist assaults that we as survivors are confronted with. This attempt to stifle survivors’ wisdom-sharing and strategizing must end now.
For the survivors who have come forward, and those who have yet to surface and tell their stories, we affirm that this seemingly never-ending storm will end in healing and justice. For the sisters who have been on a journey of truth seeking and truth telling, Alice Walker reminds us, “Healing begins where the wound was made.”