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Feminism, sexual assault and ‘The Cosby Show’

Theo Huxtable was my first true love. I loved him through his haircut transitions (from close shave to full-out fade), his regrettable fashion statements, through his love life, his infected piercing, his youth.

If you are unfamiliar, Theo Huxtable is the son of Dr. Cliff Huxtable’s son in the NBC hit series “The Cosby Show.” The show focused on the Huxtables, an upper-middle-class black family based in Brooklyn. The show touched on sensitive topics like teen pregnancy and racism but was generally a humorous telling of family life. The show began and ended before I was born, but it was a fundamental part of my childhood. My mother would cook Sunday dinner as my brothers and I crowded around our TV. Cliff Huxtable would appear – wonderful, funny, personable, successful. He showed us and America that an upper-middle-class black family could exist, that black people could rise up and be upstanding members of our society. Dr. Huxtable and his lawyer wife were my heroes, their kids were my friends.

I grew up in an affluent, almost completely white town. The Huxtable family was really the only one we could relate to.

So when Bill Cosby’s sexual harassment charges came out, you can see why I cried. It’s hard to explain the denial. It’s hard to explain why I refused to believe it for so long. It’s hard to explain why I closed off my ears to the screams of the victims. I call myself a feminist with very little doubt in my mind – I have one of those “of course I’m a feminist” stickers from the Women’s Community Center. I hoist the label over my identity, daring anyone to question me. Yet when those women came forward and accused Bill Cosby, it felt like they were accusing me. Like they were accusing my family and my beliefs. Like they were delegitimizing the dream “The Cosby Show” made so real for me. So I told myself that they were exaggerating the truth, that they were liars. As more and more women kept stepping forward and the allegations were taken more and more seriously, it became hard to turn a blind eye. I couldn’t deal with the fact that Bill Cosby was such a big part of my life and that, clearly, women meant nothing to him.

It was hard coming to terms with the fact that my TV father was a serial sexual assaulter. It made me question my belief in him, my belief in what I’ve learned from him, my belief in the family he constructed. He tore me down, so I started again.

I’m not someone who tends to shy from the truth, but I wish I could pull my duvet over my head and block the sounds of people I looked up to becoming monsters. Louis CK, Harvey Weinstein, Michael Oreskes, Kevin Spacey. I find myself afraid that every man I’ve ever looked up to will be revealed as a sexual assaulter.

Louis CK recently publicly apologized for his sexual misconduct toward multiple women. The only image that ran through my head was his goofy character in “Parks and Recreation.” I think about how I rooted for him, how I bought his book, how I watched his stand-up comedy, how I laughed at his sexual jokes, how many times I professed my love for him, his characters, his humor.

It makes me feel sick.

I’m confused. I want to ask them why. If they ever meant the family ideals they wrote about. If they are actually sorry. If they believe it’s possible to be a good person and do those things. If I’m still a good person because I believed in their innocence.

I still love Theo Huxtable, but the thought of watching “The Cosby Show” again makes me physically sick. Maybe I just can’t handle the idea that my first love was created by a monster.

 

Contact Natachi Onwuamaegbu at natachi ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Natachi Onwuamaegbu

Natachi Onwuamaegbu

Natachi Onwuamaegbu is a freshman from Bethesda, Maryland. She is currently undecided but is leaning towards Political Science and English. Currently, Natachi is part of the Black Student Union and hopes to run a radio station on campus. When she's not wandering around campus, Natachi likes to sit in the sun, listen to music and overuse semi-colons.