Yvonne Abraham

Congratulations, Bill Cosby, of a sort

FILE - In this Feb. 27, 2017, file photo, Bill Cosby departs after a pretrial hearing in his sexual assault case at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa. Jury selection in Bill Cosby's criminal sex assault case is set to get underway May 22 in Pittsburgh. But the trial will be held nearly 300 miles away in suburban Philadelphia, with opening statements to start June 5. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
Associated Press/File
Jury selection begins Monday in Bill Cosby’s trial on charges of incapacitating then attacking Andrea Constand at his home in 2004.

Do tell, Bill Cosby.

Now you understand how racism can ruin black men’s lives? Now that you’re about to go on trial for drugging and sexually assaulting one of the scores of women who have accused you of drugging and sexually assaulting them over the decades, you acknowledge how America and its justice system often treat African-Americans unfairly?

Jury selection begins Monday in your trial on charges of incapacitating then attacking Andrea Constand at your home in 2004. So, as part of the PR blitz you have launched in obvious desperation, you and others have suggested that you are the victim here — not only of the many women who tell startlingly similar stories (“piling on,” as you put it) of your assaults, but also of racial bias.


We’ll get to your case in a bit.

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But first, let me congratulate you, because this is really progress. Not so long ago, you would have scoffed at claims that racism can intrude when black men meet the justice system. Remember your famous “pound cake” speech, the one you gave at an NAACP event four months after Constand says you immobilized and assaulted her? You grew up in segregated Philadelphia, but your sermon on how younger generations of African-Americans should stop blaming the system for their problems and accept personal responsibility turned you into a darling of conservatives. In it, you painted a stereotype-packed picture of urban black dysfunction that our president (we’ll come back to him, too) would be proud of.

“Looking at the incarcerated, these are not political criminals,” you said. “People getting shot in the head over a piece of pound cake! Then we . . . are outraged, ‘The cops shouldn’t have shot him.’ What the hell was he doing with the pound cake in his hand?”

Right. Death to pound-cake stealers, and prison for those you deem bad parents. As you saw it, the problems of which younger African-Americans complain — yawning inequities in education, massively disproportionate prison sentences, pervasive poverty — weren’t because of racism, but because of the breakdown of the black family, and because young men wore their hats backwards and their pants too low.

Everything was so much simpler in 2004 when you gave that speech. But then all of those accusers started coming forward, and your view of the world grew more . . . nuanced.


The world is, in fact, more nuanced. Racism is still real, and becoming more so. This nation just elected a president — himself accused of being a sexual predator — in part because he empowered racists as nobody has for decades. His attorney general seems set to guarantee black men will continue to crowd our prisons and bear the brunt of unrestrained police power.

Is your current predicament of a piece with all of this misery? There’s no question the justice system, and public opinion, is inclined to be harder on a black man than a white one. But did the racism get you here?

“My father is being punished by a society that still believes black men rape white women, but passes off as ‘boys will be boys’ when white men are accused,” your daughter said.

She’s right about the fact that society is more forgiving of white men’s transgressions. But the world can be messed up, and you can still have done awful things.

What you’re accused of is awful. Your victims — white and black — tell stories so strikingly congruous that it’s impossible to dismiss them. One after another, they say they felt powerless to do anything about your attacks, that nobody would believe their word against that of a famous actor who became the epitome of a decent family man — or played one on TV.


If what they say is true, your wealth and status insulated you for decades from the consequences of your actions. And you were saved from the personal responsibility you demanded of others.

Now you’re trying to skate by cynically deploying an argument you once mocked, using this country’s original sin to mask your own.

What an insult to the women who suffered at your hands. And to the victims of the racism you long refused to recognize.

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.