Take a minute to absorb that truth for a minute: Bill Cosby doesn’t deserve your sadness.
It’s a bit jarring, admittedly, to see that Bill Cosby is actually going to spend time behind bars. There are a few reasons for the surrealism of it all. First, the obvious: Bill Cosby was one of America’s most beloved figures for decades. We grew up with him and seeing him go to jail is something we never thought we’d see when we were kids. Second, there’s the fact that these allegations of sexual assault have followed Cosby for so long that it seemed like he’d never actually go to jail.
It’s that second point that you need to remember. Because no matter your affinity for Cosby and his cultural contributions over the decades, he is still a man who has been accused of dozens of instances of sexual assault and, as of today, is a convicted sex offender headed to prison. So, as disorienting as it is to see Cosby in handcuffs, just remember that his confirmed and alleged victims say they have experienced worse. Save your compassion for those women.
Don’t get me wrong: this whole situation is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy for sexual assault survivors who had to wear their pain in secret, sure that no matter what they said, the man who assaulted them would never face any punishment. It’s a tragedy for the women whose lives and careers were ruined because of the damage—physical, emotional, professional and otherwise—Cosby caused them. It’s a tragedy for a society that allows a culture in which someone like Cosby is able to thrive while having committed the crimes he’s been convicted of today. Yes, this is a tragedy. But not for Cosby.
There’s another reason not to feel any sadness for Cosby: He wouldn’t feel any for you if you were on the wrong end of handcuffs like he was today, no matter the reason you were in cuffs in the first place.
Bill Cosby has spent most of the 21st century chastising the most vulnerable Black Americans among us. His infamous 2004 “Pound Cake speech” for the NAACP—full of false information and fake news about things like unemployment, dropout rates, incarceration rates and single parenthood—was the rallying cry for respectability politics.
Cosby loved picking on poor Black people for the way they made him look in front of white people. His chiding of Black Americans, demanding that they pull their pants up, became inextricably linked to his legacy. And now, the same man who wagged his finger at incarcerated people will now spend his next few years surrounded by them.
It’s important to remember that Cosby never sagged his pants. He never said the “N” word. He came from a two-parent household. He’s well-educated. And he’s a jailed sexual assaulter.
I’d like to think that we can learn lessons from all of this. That this is the final nail in the coffin for respectability politics. That those cell doors closing in front of Cosby also signal the closure of ideas that involve Black people needing to dress a certain way to avoid jail or that “Black on Black” crime is a reflection of anything more than proximity. That the era of “pull your pants up” pseudo-activism is replaced by a culture of compassion where we try to empathize for those in jail or unfortunate life situations because we understand the larger factors that put those people in those positions. The ideas that Cosby have championed should go away with him.
I also hope that we learn that this wasn’t a victory for victims of sexual assault; that needing dozens of accusations of sexual assault and two trials before sending a man in his 80s to jail decades after he’s allegedly committed the acts isn’t a blueprint for true justice. Victory isn’t eventual jail for sexual assault. Victory is a society that doesn’t allow people to feel like they can commit acts of sexual violence without recourse in the first place. Victory isn’t jail. Victory is sexual assault not happening in the first place.
So pardon me if I don’t feel any sadness for Bill Cosby. Excuse me if I don’t have any remorse for the perpetrator of heinous crimes. Bill Cosby doesn’t deserve your tears. He never will.