Heathcliff Huxtable was the father of my dreams. As a child, I would imagine myself as one of Rudy’s friends, sitting on his knee with my arms outstretched and palms upward, while he jostled me about making airplane sounds and cheering me on. I still smile thinking about it, even today.
I grew up in a two-parent household. My parents were present, of course, but they were two hard-working immigrants primarily focused on ensuring my siblings and I were fed and clothed. They were not the most patient, however, and they most certainly did not entertain us with tickles and zerberts.
Indeed, for many of us, the Huxtables were more than a TV family. They were our family, creating for us an unbreakable image of the quintessential black family. We grew up with them. We learned from them. We love them. As a result, we are fiercely protective of them, and rightfully so. The legacy of The Cosby Show is undeniable. The Huxtable family represented black culture and identity during a time when the idea of black excellence was under attack on every front:
“The Cosby Show debuted during the Reagan era, when the plagues of crack, AIDS and spiraling homicide were ravaging African-Americans,” says author Jelani Cobb, associate professor of history and director of the Africana Studies Institute at the University of Connecticut. “[The show was] huge among Black people because it was a counterpoint to the stream of negativity that we heard and saw about ourselves so frequently during those years”
At the center of the success of the Cosby show is Bill Cosby himself. As the show’s creator, executive producer and mastermind, much of what we know and love about The Cosby show is owed to him. It will always be owed him. Even this is owed to him:
This image is painful, almost gut-wrenching, with shards of broken glass spreading even to little Rudy’s face. No one is spared, not even us.
This cover is taken from Ebony Magazine’s November issue, wherein readers are asked to confront the conflict of Bill Cosby vs. Healthcliff Huxtable. Bill Cosby stands accused of sexually assaulting at least 50 women, using quaaludes to incapacitate them prior to the assault. Readers are also asked to interrogate the idea that Bill Cosby, much like his character, firmly believed that the black condition in America is chiefly tied to moral decay within the black community rather than external forces:
Looking at the incarcerated, these are not political criminals. These are people going around stealing Coca-Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake! And then we all run out and are outraged, ‘The cops shouldn’t have shot him.’ What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand?…People putting their clothes on backward: Isn’t that a sign of something gone wrong? People with their hats on backward, pants down around the crack, isn’t that a sign of something? …With names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail…Brown or black versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person’s problem…We have got to take the neighborhood back…We as black folks have to do a better job. We cannot blame the white people any longer.
-Bill Cosby Address at the NAACP’ on the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, 2004
Cosby’s address sparked controversy over 10 years ago, and today it only further complicates the matter of being able to separate Cosby from Huxtable. Cosby’s admission of using drugs to sexually assault women doesn’t seem to be making matters any more clear, as many fans and Ebony readers publicly declared their continued support via the comment section:
“How rude of you to make him the target when he’s clearly goin through enough. This made me want to burn every ebony magazine my family has ever purchased from you. Did you see Cosmo posting the Subway guy?? You guys have crossed every line. Ashamed of you.”
“How rude of you to assume to know for a fact that he did this. You, nor the women can show any evidence. My grandchild will have the entire DVD set of this show because it has value!”
“This magazine cover was done in very poor taste. Not only is it defacing Bill Cosby, but the shattered glass is also reflecting off of his cast members who had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH his allegations. Terrible. Do better Ebony Magazine.”
The reality is that Heathcliff Huxtable was an amazing character, a work of art, even. But he isn’t real. As much as I wanted him to be my Dad, he isn’t my Dad. Dr. Huxtable is, undeniably a part of our collective memory and experience. We can love the character Cosby played with all the fierce loyalty owed to such a groundbreaking portrayal, but we must decide that we cannot continue to trust and celebrate a man who committed terrible crimes. We cannot continue to love someone who violated women and treated them with such contempt.
What are your thoughts on the new Ebony cover?