When the Ebony magazine’s November “Family” issue floated down my Facebook feed last week, it took only a few seconds for the significance of this cultural moment to sink in…and a few more seconds for me to head over to Twitter. (Sorry, Facebook Friends, but I need instant and colorful insight from all over the world in 140 characters or less. I promise I’ll come back and read your unpublished think-pieces when time permits.)
The now-viral cover image features the iconic Cosby Show photo of the fictional Huxtable family, overlaid with shattered glass. Indeed, Bill Cosby, as the subject of dozens of sexual assault allegations, has shattered the wholesome image of his Heathcliff Huxtable character and–depending on who you ask–the legacy of the show itself.
I turned to Twitter to see what folks whose thinking I admire had to say about the cover. I was also curious about reactions from the people they re-tweeted, either out of agreement or sheer wtf.
Then I went straight into the belly of the beast… @Ebonymag’ s mentions.
As I suspected, there was a mix of praise for the cover and despair over it. I found the lengths that people will go to disparage women, because they have the audacity to accuse a powerful, revered man of sexual assault, disappointing, and in some cases, downright disgusting. And I was angered by the venom directed at the Ebony editors for intentionally shining a light on the subject.
Here then are the 13 Most Infuriating Reactions to Ebony Magazine’s Shattered Cosby Show Cover:
1. Ebony made a tabloid move, defaming black people to boost sales and stay relevant. Pure sensationalism.
With some folks canceling their Ebony subscriptions because of the cover, and others buying and subscribing for the first time in years, if ever, Ebony really took a gamble, if increased sales was the goal. I’m more inclined to believe Editor-in-Chief Kierna Mayo when she says that the motivation behind the cover was to confront “notions of [Black family] perfection that are so burdensome to us that we are willing to hide our imperfection, that we’re willing to not do the work to heal, in order to keep the illusion.”
2. Ebony is just cooning for corporate. This is some house-slave, bedwarmer shit.
In 2011, JP Morgan Chase bought a substantial minority stake in Johnson Publishing Company which publishes Ebony and Jet magazines. So with “corporate” as code for “white people,” the implication here is that the cover serves white interests in taking down Cosby…As if Cosby doesn’t have White defenders. As if Black people are all aligned in support of him.
And the reference to the female editors of Ebony as “bedwarmers” (enslaved Black women who were raped by plantation owners) is galling, doubly so in this particular context. Sadly, there wasn’t just one such reference to the editors; they were also called “Negro bed wenches” and “bitter Black bitches” for daring to start a dialogue about concepts of family, shame, and sexual violence.
The abovementioned responses took pot-shots at Ebony without any real commentary on The Cosby Show, Cosby, or the allegations he faces. So I read on…
3. There’s more to the story.
This reaction is light on details, but clear that the Ebony cover is problematic because of an unspecified conspiracy against Bill Cosby. I wish these conspiracy theorists would give us something to work with. At least with Jay Z, we know it’s the Illuminati.
4. Ebony is playing judge and jury here, and that’s not fair to Bill Cosby. He’s not in jail.
And neither is George Zimmerman.
Bill Cosby has had and will have his day(s) in court. The court of public opinion, however, is not beholden to the same rules as our legal system. Thanks for playing, though.
5. Some/all/most/a few of Cosby’s accusers are lying, so Ebony should not bolster the credibility of this unspecified white supremacist conspiracy against Bill Cosby.
There’s so much going on here, I don’t know where to start. I’ll just stick with the fact that fearing no one will believe you is a common reason for not reporting a sexual assault. Saying that the accusers are lying can silence not only them, but others in unrelated cases who may also consider reporting. A false accusation of rape has serious consequences…so does denying valid accusations.
6. Some of Cosby’s accusers have shady backgrounds including arrests and illegal drug use.
…which makes them immune to rape? Must be some kind of super-power I’ve never heard of before.
7. This Ebony cover, not Bill Cosby, has killed the show’s legacy. And you have ruined my childhood.
It’s undeniable that The Cosby Show was groundbreaking. And for many kids–and not just Black kids–its positive portrayal of a Black family was eye-opening and affirming. But the show’s legacy was put into play once the allegations against Cosby surfaced, and it would have remained in jeopardy even if Ebony hadn’t issued this cover. It’s easy to believe that all of this nastiness would go away if only… But for Cosby’s defenders, that “if only…” never seems to be “if only Bill Cosby hadn’t done the things he’s accused of doing.” It’s always someone else’s fault that he’s accused of assaulting more than 50 women.
8. Innocent Cosby Show cast members are going to lose residuals.
9. It’s a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The Ebony cover actually hurts the Black family more than anything Cosby might have done.
In this case, the baby being a beloved TV sitcom and its positive portrayal of Black family life, and the bathwater being the filthy allegations against the show’s star. But the Ebony cover reveals that the baby-bathwater comparison doesn’t hold in this situation. The baby remains dirty even after you throw out the bathwater. Tainted by association. An association that led Spelman College to terminate a professorship endowed by Bill Cosby. An association that has led a dozen universities to rescind or consider rescinding Cosby’s honorary degrees.
The TV show, by contrast, cannot disentangle itself from Cosby. And worse, Cosby’s reputation as “America’s Favorite Dad” may have protected him for decades from fully facing the consequences of the allegations against him. Surely, Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable wouldn’t do these things.
And the idea that sparking a conversation about sexual assault and Black folks’ historical reluctance to air dirty laundry is more damaging than actual sexual assault proves just how necessary and overdue this conversation is.
I expected Twitter responses like the preceding ones because they have been the mantra of Cosby’s defenders ever since the story broke. But I was totally unprepared for reactions like the following from people who probably should not be allowed to operate heavy machinery:
10. The Cosby Show was an unrealistic, sell-out depiction of Black family life, anyway. I live in the ‘hood, so I know these things.
Yeah, hi. The early ‘90s called; they’d like their faux deep cultural commentary back.
11. Nice try, Ebony. But nobody’s going to buy that issue.
Because if my friends and I don’t like it, no one will. We are the tastemakers.
12. Ebony should be trying to get more Black history taught in schools, instead of bashing Bill Cosby.
I think it’s safe to say this person cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.
13. Ebony is being hypocritical. Cosby’s only on the cover because he didn’t buy ads the way Subway did to keep them from making a shattered image cover of child rapist Jared Fogle.
I’m just going to let this last one sink in, without comment.