Phylicia Rashad is in the news for supporting Bill Cosby on Twitter. When he was suddenly released from prison a few days ago, she tweeted “FINALLY!!!! A terrible wrong is being righted- a miscarriage of justice is corrected!”
That tweet led to a lot of backlash. Rashad, who was appointed the dean of Howard University’s College of Fine Arts in May 2021, is now being pressured to resign from her job. Her response, so far, was to delete the offending tweet, then issue this apology “This week, I tweeted a statement that caused so much hurt in so many people — both broadly and inside the Howard community… I offer my most sincere apology.” As far as I know, she’s still got a job at Howard University. Regarding Rashad’s comments, Howard University has stated that “Personal positions of University leadership do not reflect Howard University’s policies.”
Many people, obviously upset that Phylicia Rashad would dare to publicly support her old friend, Bill Cosby, feel like her support of Cosby should equate to losing her job. It’s as if all of the great things Phylicia Rashad has done over her long career as an entertainer should be erased, simply because of a tweet supporting the man who was her co-star on a groundbreaking 80s era sitcom, as well as a 90s era show. This is obviously a complicated issue for Rashad, although I am surprised that she didn’t realize people would be up in arms over any public support for Bill Cosby.
Phylicia Rashad shared the experience of making The Cosby Show and, later, Cosby, with Bill Cosby. They’re obviously still dear friends. I don’t like the idea of punishing people who exercise their right to speak freely. Phylicia Rashad, to my knowledge, hasn’t sexually assaulted anyone. Moreover, she’s known Bill Cosby for many years. They have a long history together and she’s always supported him, no matter what. I don’t know what’s in Ms. Rashad’s head… and I think her first tweet was very ill advised and considered. I don’t know how a person can be a celebrity in this day and age and not realize that publicly supporting a sex offender is going to lead to being canceled by the public. Still, while I would have expected her to be savvier about voicing unpopular public opinions and backlash, I think her comments about Cosby are disappointing, but not particularly surprising.
On the other hand, Phylicia Rashad is human, and sometimes humans get carried away and do things that are ill-considered. In terms of her career, Rashad shouldn’t have tweeted. But as a friend to Cosby, obviously she felt moved to do so. Whether or not she should be friends with a convicted sex offender should be up to her. As much as some people think Bill Cosby should lose everything, the reality is, he won’t. There will always be people who will support him– family members and friends– and they aren’t going to be swayed by what the Internet thinks. There are few people in the world who are truly alone, especially people like Bill Cosby.
I kind of get the confusion, though. At one time, Bill Cosby could do no wrong. People my age grew up on his brand of family friendly television. I watched Bill Cosby on TV every week when I was growing up, having been introduced to him on 70s era shows like Fat Albert and his classic comedy film, Bill Cosby: Himself. But it wasn’t just his work on television sitcoms that made him so powerful and influential. Cosby had books, films, albums, and commercials. He had dozens of honorary doctorates and other awards. He made speeches and championed causes. He sermonized about being an involved father. He was called “America’s Dad”, and that persona transcended race. People of all colors and creeds looked up to him as “America’s Dad”. That’s probably why it took so long for him to fall out of favor with the public. Maybe if he hadn’t been “America’s Dad”, he would have been prosecuted when he was much younger and would have done a lot less harm. We probably shouldn’t be so quick to make the charismatic among us into heroes because almost all of us have clay feet.
In those heady days of the 1980s, Cosby seemed charming, intelligent, and funny. I noticed that he incorporated a lot of the routines from his film into plots on The Cosby Show; but they were still humorous, especially when performed by talented actors. The Cosby Show was very well written, family oriented, and high quality entertainment. Phylicia Rashad was a huge part of the reason why that show was so relevant in my youth– from the time I was 12 until I was 20. The Cosby Show opened doors and broke down barriers. It’s heartbreaking to realize that the character, Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, is not the same man as Bill Cosby is, even though Cosby’s real life comedy routines inspired the show. So many of us who grew up with him on TV have had a hard time separating Cosby from his kind and wise alter ego, Heathcliff Huxtable. Of course, now that we know more about Cosby as a man, it makes sense that Cliff Huxtable was an OB/GYN.
I never saw a single episode of Cosby’s next show with Rashad, entitled Cosby, as it aired at a time in my life when I was too busy for network TV. From 1996-2000, I was in the Peace Corps, working nights, or in graduate school. But Cosby lasted four years, and The Cosby Show was on for eight years, so that means Rashad worked with Cosby for twelve years. Incidentally, Bill Cosby also had another 90s era show called The Cosby Mysteries, and a 60s and 70s era show called The Bill Cosby Show… I think the fact that he’s had four series named after him is pretty telling about the massive size of his ego. And while he put a lot of Black actors on the map by giving them jobs, he also destroyed a lot of people– particularly the scores of women who were his victims. Meanwhile, he was hypocritically berating and chastising people like Eddie Murphy for using the f word, or Black people as a whole.
I do believe the many women who have accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping them. Yes, Cosby got out of prison, but that does not make him innocent of the crimes that put him there. He got out of prison on a technicality. He’s even admitted to drugging women he was pursuing for sex. That is criminal behavior, and it was right for him to be punished. I agree that Cosby didn’t spend enough time behind bars, even though I doubt he will re-offend, given his age and fall from grace. I wish that he had been prosecuted years ago, much like I wish Donald Trump could be held accountable for his disgusting sexual attacks on women. I don’t know what it is about men who are destined to be powerful. So many of them turn out to be incredibly predatory when it comes to sex, money, and political power. And that hunger for sex, money, and power is often married to a charismatic exterior that fools many people. For years, I thought Cosby was one of the good guys. I can see that a lot of people still believe Trump is a good guy, despite so much evidence and actual proof to the contrary.
That being said, personally, I don’t like the “cancel” aspect of our culture, which has come about thanks to social media. In fact, I think it’s chilling that a person can make a statement on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube that leads to Internet mobbing and financial ruin, particularly when the vast majority of people don’t have a personal stake in whatever has them in a tizzy. Phylicia Rashad actually knows Bill Cosby as a person, not as someone she’s seen on TV. Most of the people who are maligning Rashad’s character don’t know her or Cosby, nor are they even among his victims. Unless, of course, they feel victimized because they fell for Cosby’s charm in the 1970s and 80s. I wonder how many people have sent Phylicia Rashad death threats over her tweet. I would not be surprised if she’s gotten a few threats… and perhaps her family members have gotten them as well. For some reason, many people think it’s okay to get so angry over what someone dares to communicate that they literally call for the offender’s head on a platter. I think that’s taking things a bit too far.
Today is July 4th. It’s a day when Americans celebrate liberty from British rule. I grew up very close to where the Revolutionary War was won, so all my life, I’ve heard about how special and wonderful the United States is, particularly because we have so much freedom. But clearly we don’t have that much freedom. While a person can say whatever they want to say and, generally speaking, don’t have to worry about the government jailing them, there’s a very good chance that if it’s not what people want to hear, and they are “big” enough, they will experience cancel culture. And so many people get riled up over these things. They think a person should suffer for the rest of their lives over their thoughts, deeds, and comments. No matter what, there’s always going to be someone who thinks that lives should be ruined, or even ended, over a tweet. Then, after the next news story breaks, they forget all about that person they felt should have their head on a platter. Meanwhile, that person is still living with the aftereffects of being canceled.
I honestly don’t know if Phylicia Rashad is qualified to be a dean at Howard University. It seems to me that she might have been hired because of her fame, accomplishments, connections, and ability to influence donors. She doesn’t appear to have the usual educational background that university deans typically have. It may turn out that by publicly supporting a sex offender, she’s permanently disgraced herself and Howard University. It could be that because of the tweet, she won’t be able to do her job. If that’s the situation, then yes, maybe she should be fired or resign. But I don’t think she should be fired simply for an ill advised tweet. She has personal feelings about Bill Cosby based on actual in person experiences with him that the vast majority of other people don’t have. Her personal feelings about Cosby are not so cut and dried.
Look at Governor Ralph Northam. In the 1980s, he posed in blackface for a medical school yearbook photo. When that photo was unearthed a couple of years ago, many people called for his resignation. He resisted, and has gone on to do marvelous things in Virginia. Or, at least I think he’s done marvelous things to make Virginia more liberal, which suits me fine. I know a lot of my Republican friends can’t stand him. The point is, I’m glad he didn’t resign over social media backlash and cancel culture. And I don’t think Phylicia Rashad should be forced to resign, unless it becomes clear that she can’t do her job. Ultimately, that will be for Howard University to decide, not the general public. It should be up to the students Rashad serves and her co-workers and bosses, not random people on Facebook. No matter what, people should not be sending her hate mail or death threats. People who send hate mail and death threats must think that would be alright for others to do to them, if at some point, they do something that society deems unacceptable.
Anyway… experience has taught me that these things can and do blow over eventually. Five years ago, Josh Duggar was outed for being a sex pest. One would think the Duggars would have been finished in 2015 over that revelation. But no, it’s taken six years and accusations that Josh Duggar was viewing child pornography to finally get the Duggar family canceled. Like it or not, some people will still like Bill Cosby. They’ll ignore what he’s done. I figure, Phylicia Rashad has as much right as anyone to support her friend, Bill Cosby, even though it may turn out that her public support of Cosby will make it impossible for her to do her job as a university dean. But not being able to do her job should be why she gets fired… not what she tweets on social media. At this point, it’s not yet clear if she’s now incapable of doing her job. I, for one, think Rashad should have the chance to redeem herself.