An Open Letter to Bill Cosby

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August 1, 2015
Dear Mr. Cosby,
I hope this letter finds you. I am counting on social media and the six degrees of separation between every human being on earth, that someone who reads this knows you or knows someone who knows someone who knows you and can forward it on to you. My purpose for writing is to make you aware of the principles of restorative justice, and I hope that you and your legal team will consider this approach within the context of the allegations of rape against you.
However, before I write about restorative justice, I want to thank you for the more than fifty years of comedy, creativity, education, and philanthropy that you have given to this world. I know you are familiar with Shakespeare’s line in the play Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.” It seems that at this time, the public wants to bury the good that you have done while you still walk the earth. I have not forgotten.
Over the years, I have enjoyed all of your television shows. When I was a girl, I watched I Spy on television with my parents. We enjoyed the chemistry between you and Robert Culp. After reading Mark Whitaker’s biography of you – Cosby: His Life and Times – I have a new appreciation for the show. Black actors and singers such as Ivan Dixon, Cicely Tyson, Eartha Kitt, and Nancy Wilson received national exposure thanks to their appearances on the show. My children and I watched The Cosby Show together. They watched The Electric Company and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. It seemed that life had come full circle when as an adult I was again watching you on television – this time the show was Cosby – with parents who were then retired. You have been part of the family.

Beyond television, I consider you a comic genius. Art is truly great when it is memorable, and there are few comedians whose work brings a smile or a laugh long after the instant of the joke. You know that the Noah story is classic. I smile every time I think of your observations about grandparents because I saw my own parents turn into people I did not recognize when they became grandparents. I recently watched your Comedy Central special – “Bill Cosby: Far From Finished” – and you are still giving us memorable material. I will forever think of chess as a metaphor for marriage.
This June, my beloved friend and I visited the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art to see the collection you and your wife loaned to the institution. I learned about artists I did not know and saw images that gave me ideas for a project I am writing. The art helped me to see connections to other African peoples.
I reared my children in Philadelphia, and I earned my Ph.D. from Temple University. I have always been appreciative of your support both for the city of Philadelphia and for Temple.
I grieved with you when your son was killed. I know that as bad as this is now, it is nothing compared to that chapter of your life. Moreover, I agreed with you when you called for more personal responsibility in your so-called “Pound Cake” speech. The exhortation to personal responsibility, to respectability, to dignity, to work hard and save your money has been an important aspect of the African-American struggle since the first African set foot on American soil. This admonition in no way detracts from a critical analysis of systemic racism in the United States. Personally, I do not think we hear enough of the “do for self” message that was the foundation of the Nation of Islam and the teachings of both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Now we have arrived at the present moment at which allegations of rape obscure all the good you have done, and some of us are caught between our desire for justice for the women who have accused you and our respect and love for you. The magnitude of your stardom and the number of women who have accused you make this case unique. However, people face the same dilemma in microcosm every day. A beloved pastor or work colleague or teacher or military comrade or family member touches another member of the church, workplace, school, military unit, or family in an inappropriate way. Then we must either choose sides or find a way to restore and repair the brokenness so that the behavior stops, victims receive justice, and the perpetrator is restored to the community.
You may think that this notion of restoration makes you a perpetrator of offenses that you have denied. Some people may think that the idea of your restoration means that your accusers will not get justice. They want to banish you and your art to outer darkness. Regarding your art, I say we ought to separate the art from the artist. Comedian D. L. Hughley, who thinks you are guilty of rape, also says that we ought to separate the art from the artist. He says: “Cliff Huxtable is innocent of these charges.” He knows that the good and the bad can exist in the same individual.
However, much of your art is not individually produced. I think Whitaker is right to call our attention to the ensemble character of your television shows. They were successful not only because of your talent, but also because of the talent of other actors. To bury this work is not fair to the other actors in the ensemble. In the case of I Spy, Robert Culp wrote some of the episodes, and that work ought to continue to find an audience.
While it is true that Cliff Huxtable is innocent of these charges, what about you? What were you thinking? Some people point to your comedy routine about Spanish fly as proof that drugging women for sex is your modus operandi. I noticed that at the time that you talked about Spanish fly in your comedy, the audience laughed. There was no indication that it considered Spanish fly a prelude to rape. This is also true of a portion of your interview with Larry King during which you talk about Spanish fly. It does not seem that King thought you were talking about rape.
I do not think that you intended to rape women. I do not think you woke up on any given morning, looked at yourself in the mirror, and thought: “Who will I rape today?” I do think you thought about with whom you would have sex. You wanted casual sex outside your marriage with no long-term entanglements. As you said in your deposition, you obtained drugs with the intent of giving them to women in much the same way as you would give them a glass of wine.
I imagine your thinking is not too far from that of a character in the television show The Practice (Season Two’s “Sex, Lies, and Monkeys”). In this episode, Lindsay Dole, a young woman lawyer, is nauseous the morning after a date with an assistant district attorney who she had dated in college. After going to the doctor and taking a blood test, she learns that the test showed evidence of a date rape drug in her system. When she confronts her date about drugging her and making it known to him that what he did constituted rape, he says:

“The point is you liked it when I slipped a little something in the brownies. You were glad when I didn’t tell you about it. I am talking about you being incapable of enjoying sex without something to take away your inhibitions. I’m talking about how we both know you loved it more the night of and felt less guilty the day after if you could pretend you didn’t know I was loosening you up.”

Lindsay faces a dilemma about whether or not she will report her date to the police.
I may be wrong, but I think, in your mind, you were helping women relax and believed that your sexual encounters were consensual. The women say they did not and could not consent to sex because they were under the influence of drugs. This is where the encounter becomes rape, and the men I talked to tell me that this is rape and that you no doubt knew it to be so. This is not a conflict of interpretations of the moment.
So, who do we believe? So many women have been violated by powerful men, their pain unacknowledged and the perpetrators unpunished, that now our society is intentional about hearing their voices and giving credence to their stories. Social mores have shifted so that Spanish fly jokes are no longer funny, and Spanish fly itself is seen as a prelude to rape.
Enter restorative justice.
Restorative justice seeks to repair harm done to victims and to restore perpetrators to the community. There are four key values – encounter, amends, reintegration, and inclusion. To repair this damage, you ought to own your behavior and your part in the violation that these women say you perpetrated against them. You ought to meet with the women and hear their stories. Hear how they felt after you had sex with them and “moved on.” Learn about how their life progressed after they were no longer a part of your life. You ought to acknowledge their pain and apologize for your part in it.
To make amends you could use your training as an educator to teach about the problem of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and unimpaired consent. Whether you choose to write about it or lecture, you can use this experience to talk about these matters from the perspective of a person who has been caught in the empty space between one person thinking consent has been granted and the other thinking it has not. You know psychologists who could help you with this. Your reintegration into the community has to come with an effort to make certain that these kinds of misunderstandings do not continue to happen. Perhaps you could fund rape crisis centers or groups that help people who have suffered sexual violence to heal.
Include your accusers in helping you find ways to both help society learn more about the psychology of men who use drugs in their sexual encounters with women, and help women learn how to protect themselves in such situations.
Given these allegations, many people are pulling out the thesaurus to see how many words they can use to call you a sleaze-ball, a dirt-bag, a socio-psychopathic dirty-old-man rapist. I am not one of them. You are a man with a large sexual appetite who is willing to use women as a means to satisfy that appetite. To use people as an objective means to an end is immoral. Even so, I do not condemn you. Clearly you were not aware of the biblical wisdom that teaches: “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed nor hidden that will not be known.” (Luke 12:2).
The Proverbs teach: “But a man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself. Blows and disgrace are his lot and his shame will never be wiped away.” (Proverbs 6:32-35).
This is your pound cake moment. This is the time for you to own your actions, to take personal responsibility. This is a time for you to employ a principle of just peace and to acknowledge wrong-doing, seek forgiveness, and make amends. You started out wanting to be a teacher. The lessons you teach at this moment may be your greatest contribution to the world yet. There is always room for redemption.
I know there will be some people who do not want to hear another word you have to say on this or on any other subject. Just as in ancient Egypt, when a person had lost favor in society, his very name was erased from all buildings and records. This process has already begun. Some people will never forgive you. Consider this: Hannibal Buress did you a favor with his joke that lit the fuse leading to this explosion. As difficult as this must be for you and for you family, friends, and fans, you are still alive to speak, to respond, to tell your side of the story, and finally, to teach us how we can make certain that both men and women are clear about when consent for sex has or has not been given.
Mr. Cosby, I wish you nothing but the best. We keep you and your family and the women who have accused you in our prayers.
Yours in justice and peace,
Valerie Elverton Dixon