Unmasking Dr. Huxtable

Bill Cosby is a small, flawed man hiding behind a big television screen.

Like many African-American women, when I heard about the sexual assault accusations against comedian Bill Cosby I was shocked and disappointed. I had difficulty separating my memories of Bill Cosby and his popular '80s sitcom with the new picture that was emerging of a predator whose victims claimed that he betrayed their trust.

In the '80s, I graduated from college and law school and started my career. "The Cosby Show" gave me an opportunity to see a family on TV that looked like my family and embraced success, hard work, education and family values. I knew these families existed. I saw them in my community every day, but rarely on television. I was happy and excited that Mr. Cosby audaciously and proudly presented this image to America.

I would tune in each week to watch the intelligent, funny, caring Dr. Huxtable and his TV family deliver uplifting messages about love, family and success in half hour episodes interrupted only by the sound of a canned laugh track. I found a piece of myself in "The Cosby Show" that I wanted to take out and admire each week like a precious treasure lost and then found.

But before I could salve the pain of my own personal loss of innocence, the scandal surrounding Bill Cosby gained momentum. The voices of the women reached a resounding crescendo that could not be silenced. The women repeated the same familiar allegations of being drugged by the famous comedian and forced to engage in sexual behavior without their knowledge or consent.

Some of the women confessed that they had confided their secret to friends and relatives who admonished that their allegations of sexual assault against the famous comedian would not be believed and that it would be best for them to remain silent. But still, the women came forward to tell their truth.

Mr. Cosby through his lawyers implied that the women were liars, unstable, opportunists and worse. In the media, opinion writers and Mr. Cosby's supporters aggressively questioned the women about their reasons for coming forward, like it made logical sense that these women should agree to live in victimized silence forever.

But the women kept coming forward to scream, shout and tell the world what they believe Mr. Cosby did to them in hotel rooms and elegant brownstone homes across the country. The women were white, black, famous and not so famous; some were old, middle-aged and younger. Each woman told about her remembered pain, and with each telling they all became stronger until their collective voices roared like a magnificent, fighting lion demanding that we arise from the valley of dry bones to hear the word.

In the latest media revelation in a deposition given in a civil sexual assault case that was settled in 2006, Mr. Cosby admitted that he purchased drugs in the '70s to give to young women he wanted to have sex with. In light of this revelation, some former supporters now say they can no longer argue that Mr. Cosby is innocent of the crimes alleged against him.

We need to face facts: Dr. Cliff Huxtable is a fictional character created by good writers, cameras, lighting and a seasoned actor who could deliver a line with expert timing. He only exists in TV land, where the laugh track plays 24 hours a day.

Like Dorothy stranded in the Land of Oz we must recognize that Mr. Cosby the great and powerful wizard is a small, flawed man hiding behind a big television screen.

It is time for us to embrace the women and assure them that we don't condone the kind of actions Mr. Cosby is alleged to have committed, and that we will not offer safe haven to him because we are blinded by his celebrity. We owe this to our mothers, sisters and daughters. We need to let them know that women's lives matter too.

Debra A. Smith is a writer and practicing attorney who lives in Maryland and specializes in administrative law. Her email is debwrite47@yahoo.com.

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