Commentary: What Should My Black Family Do With 'The Cosby Show'?

Sep 3, 2015

My daughter knows nothing about the scandal surrounding Bill Cosby and the recent news of his decade-old deposition where he admits to drugging women. All she knows is that it’s been a while since we last watched the Huxtables.

Patrice Gopo

I introduced my daughter to The Cosby Show several years ago because despite our diverse world, mainstream media is saturated with subtle messages that celebrate features like fair skin and straight hair. And while television shows are not as homogenous as they were thirty years ago, it’s still unusual for my daughter to see her brown skin and black braids reflected in characters. The Cosby Show was one tool I used to help my daughter see children like herself on the screen.

I was sure my daughter would love seeing Rudy with her braids and brown skin. She was always my favorite. She looked like me and was about my age. She did many of the same things I did.

In the months that followed, our family spent many nights watching episodes of The Cosby Show. From the moment she saw Rudy, my daughter’s smile grew.

Then last fall when the accusations of sexual assault against Cosby surfaced, I questioned whether we should continue watching our DVDs. I put the DVDs aside, hoping for more information that might help us make a permanent choice.

This summer I feel that information has arrived. And while I’m horrified by Bill Cosby’s actions, I find that I’m still not sure what to do with The Cosby Show.

Sadly I’m raising my daughter in a world where women are treated in deplorable ways. They are often seen as a means to make money or a tool to satisfy another person’s desires. I hate the idea of knowingly supporting the work of a powerful man who treated women with such disregard. I want my daughter to know that women should not be taken advantage of or used for the purposes of another person’s wants. If my family watches Cosby’s work, I feel I’m promoting a positive legacy for a man opposed to the very things I’m teaching my daughter. 

However, I still think of all the good Cosby accomplished through The Cosby Show. His show gave first me and later my daughter an opportunity to see a character like us. Beyond my personal anecdotes, the show opened doors for more sitcoms featuring black people. The impact of the show even extended across the Atlantic Ocean. In the book Starring Mandela and Cosby: Media and the End(s) of Apartheid, Professor Ron Krabill credits The Cosby Show with bringing positive change to apartheid-era South Africa.

While my family hasn’t watched the Huxtables in months, I keep the DVDs because of this tension that exists between the actions of a man and his show’s impact on society. Perhaps somewhere in the future I will find a way to reconcile these two things. At least for now, the DVDs continue to gather dust.