This week, Bill Cosby went on trial in a Norristown, Pennsylvania courtroom to face charges of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand at his home in 2004. The 79-year-old faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault. If found guilty, the former all-American television dad, could spend up to 10 years behind bars.
The long-awaited trial did not begin without fanfare. His The Cosby Show daughter Keshia Knight Pulliam walked into the courtroom with him amid reports that he would also be joined by TV wife Phylicia Rashad, who actually spent the day in New York City preparing for the Public Theater’s presentation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which opens July 11 in Central Park, according to reports.
It is striking that Cosby’s trial commences during the presidency of Donald Trump. As I have written previously, “Trump is an alleged child rapist, a harasser of women’s bodies and autonomies, and the contemporary manifestation of the Thomas Jeffersons, Klansmen, and white vigilante rapists of our American past and present. When he speaks, he conjures the sadistic imaginaries of racial-sexual terrorists and he lambasts survivors and marginalized folks with both boldness and might.”
During Trump’s presidential campaign, The Washington Post unearthed a 2005 video of him bragging to Billy Bush, then the host of Access Hollywood, about “making sexual advances toward a married woman, aggressively kissing and groping other women, and boasting that ‘when you’re a star they let you do it.’”
Trump’s ex-wife Ivana Trump once accused him of rape, but she later recanted the accusation. And the list goes on, including several former teen pageant contestants who accused Trump, who owned the Miss Teen USA pageant along with Miss USA and Miss Universe from 1996 until 2015, of walking in on them while they were naked or partially dressed.
Trump, however, is not on trial. Cosby is. And though Cosby should rightfully be scrutinized and held accountable by the same state to which he has pledged and sought an alliance with, White men like Trump who should not get a free pass.
Meanwhile, Cosby will stand before judge and jury and will be made accountable for the accusations that have been lodged against him. So many Black men like Cosby have been in this position. Though many of those Black men have historically and historiographically been innocent and falsely accused, I do not believe that we are dealing with a White racist campaign to smear Cosby’s legacy.
Instead, I think we are bearing witness to what happens to Black men who drink the wine of White America, rhetorically dismember and shame the Black poor and working class, dance with more White women than Black women, and situate themselves as sexist and sexually terroristic patriarchs for fame and fortune.
Cosby’s chickens are coming home to roost. And they are roosting loudly because the most protected person in America, in the White patriarchal, paternalistic sense, is the White woman, and when you harm over 30 White women, this White world listens and continues to silence Black women and other women of color.
In the midst of this fraught political moment, there seems to be more of a focus on harm doers like Cosby and Trump with less focus on those harmed. As White nationalistic policies are enacted on Capitol Hill and as Cosby stands in the courtroom of our White nation, survivors of sexual violence, especially children, women of color and LGBTQ persons, are continuously invisibilized, re-victimized and harmed over and over again. The remembrances of sexual assault permeate minds and spirits as physical bodies are brutalized by men committed to power and patriarchy. In order to survive these times, we must listen to what survivors of racial-sexual violence are saying and turn off our televisions and Twitter feeds from the sadistic machinations of racists and rapists alike. Our collective energy and survival depends on how well we preserve ourselves and each other amidst those who seek to steal our joy, kill our spirits, and destroy our lives.
Rape is a crime of war. And we must take seriously the call from Black Women’s Blueprint, the Just Beginnings Collaborative, Girls for Gender Equity, the African American Policy Forum and other organizations working against sexual violence to stand firm and wage far on the racist-rapists who bomb and molest children in the same breath, and who also sexually assault and hold captive women and femmes across global economic contexts. Trump and Cosby represent complementary strivings towards White male patriarchy in a neoliberal culture, and we must reckon with the racial politics undergirding each of their respective strivings. Our liberation depends on it, even as the courts hold one accountable and not the other.
Ahmad Greene-Hayes is a doctoral student in the Departments of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University. He also currently serves as an inaugural cohort fellow of the Just Beginnings Collaborative (2016-2018), where his project, Children of Combahee works to eradicate child sexual abuse in Black churches. Follow him @_BrothaG.