Dear Evin and Camille: I don’t know Bill Cosby

Evin Cosby, daughter of Bill Cosby, released a statement to Access Hollywood earlier this week, defending her father from the recently resurfaced (and some brand new) allegations of drugging and sexually assaulting numerous women over the course of decades. Her statement, in full, reads: “He is the FATHER you thought you knew. The Cosby Show was my today’s tv reality show. Thank you. That’s all I would like to say :).” 

This comes not too long after Camille Cosby, Bill’s wife, also released a statement defending her husband. She said, in part: “The man I met, and fell in love with, and whom I continue to love, is the man you all knew through his work. He is a kind man, a generous man, a funny man, and a wonderful husband, father and friend. He is the man you thought you knew.”

I understand Evin and Camille’s impulse to want to defend a loved one. However, to both of them, I respectfully say: yo, I don’t know that dude.

As far as I know, Bill Cosby is not my father. Neither is Heathcliff Huxtable. I’ve never smoked a cigar at the Playboy mansion with him. He never offered me a Jell-O pudding pop or confided in me the best place to buy sweaters. He’s never loaned me five dollars. Bill Cosby is not my friend.

I don’t know the man, I know his work. But I’m not naive enough to mistake knowing Bill Cosby’s talent for knowing his character. We should all know by now that immensely talented human beings can simultaneously be incredibly awful people. To deny that is to choose to be ignorant. Evin and Camille are asking us to choose to be ignorant.

They have a different relationship with Bill, one more intimate than any of us have, and it’s very difficult for them to square these allegations with the man that they know. I get it. But the rest of us don’t know him. All we have is the stories of the women he (very likely) abused.

We don’t know them, either. His accusers are as strangers to us just as much as Bill is. But we believe them anyway (maybe not all of us believed right away, but, slowly, more are coming around). For one, there are just so many of them — it’s difficult to keep your hands cupped over your ears to drown out the sound that grows ever louder. However, it’s not simply a matter of volume.

We believe them because, statistically speaking, we know that very few people lie about being sexually assaulted. We believe them because speaking up through the shame, guilt, and fear associated with that kind of trauma shouldn’t be met with more shame, guilt, and fear. We believe them because we recognize that we all live in a society that unquestioningly supports men and enables their worst behavior. We believe them because particularly rich and powerful men, like Cosby, are surrounded by people who rarely tell them “no.” We believe them because they are not alone.

Evin and Camille can choose to be ignorant to all those things, as is their right. They know Bill Cosby. The rest of us don’t. We know rape culture.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, as well as columnist for Feministing.com and Salon. As a freelance writer, social commentator, and mental health advocate his work has been seen online in outlets such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, Salon, Al Jazeera English, Gawker, The Guardian, Ebony.com, Huffington Post, The Root, and The Grio.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, as well as columnist for Feministing.com and Salon.

Read more about Mychal

Join the Conversation