No, Phylicia Rashad, we should not “forget” survivors of sexual assault


(Photo credit: Washington Post)

I kinda knew this day was coming.

Someone had to ask Phylicia Rashad about Bill Cosby. And then we would know her thoughts. It was bound to be disappointing. 

“Forget these women,” Rashad told Showbiz 411’s Roger Friedman, “What you’re seeing is the destruction of a legacy. And I think it’s orchestrated. I don’t know why or who’s doing it, but it’s the legacy. And it’s a legacy that is so important to the culture.”


And honestly, I don’t have much interest in ripping apart any more Cosby defenses. His friends and family will defend his legacy and dismiss the accusations of two dozen women who have come forward to say that he drugged and raped them. That’s their lot in life. Let them choose their place in history.

What’s maddening about Rashad’s defense is her saying “forget these women.” I realize in the context of how this statement came about (it was a at luncheon for Selma and Rashad told Friedman she didn’t “want to become part of the public debate”) she was likely being a little more casual with her word choice had it been an official sitdown interview. She also didn’t mean, literally, “forget” these women. Her point was about what she sees as a larger, more orchestrated attempt at tarnishing the legacy of Cosby as comedian, actor, philanthropist, and public figure. “Someone is determined to keep Bill Cosby off TV,” she said, not clear who this “someone” is, but they’re doing it so “that new generations will only remember him by this scandal,” as Friedman worded it. It’s the “they’re trying to bring down a powerful black man” defense retread.

But she still said “forget these women,” and I just…We can’t. We cannot forget these women. That’s exactly why we’re in this situation now.

We’ve always forgotten “these women.” We have chosen to always ignore “these women.” “These women,” assaulted and victimized, left with the trauma of someone else’s actions, are always the ones we forget, while going to great lengths to protect the men responsible.

And even if you don’t believe the accusations against Cosby (which…COME THE FUCK ON), to “forget these women” only serves to silence any other women who would come forward to tell their story. Who wants to be forgotten? Who wants to face a hostile public, already prone to believing some women aren’t capable of being raped, while the ones who are likely invited it upon themselves, only to then be forgotten?

No one. No one wants that. It’s not just a disservice to survivors/victims that we forget, it’s an additional assault on their psyche. To turn our collective backs and tell them “We will forget you. We will not learn anything from you. We will continue destroying people just like you,” is a type of violence we should all find unacceptable. Except, we can’t even get to the point where we see rape and sexual assault as such.

There can be no more forgetting. We’ve done enough to fail “these women.” They deserve better than our willful amnesia. They deserve a just world.

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