Bill Cosby, the Confederate flag and America

Jul 8, 2015 by

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Many African Americans don’t want to acknowledge the apparent likelihood Bill Cosby is a serial rapist. Many whites don’t want acknowledge that racism and white supremacist ideas are inextricably linked to the Confederate flag. Many Americans don’t want to acknowledge the problems of our heritage. We would prefer to live in a world where evil people are always evil, and good people are always good. But the truth is always more complex.

Bill Cosby was one of my heroes. I know I’m not alone in that. The Cosby Show and its spinoff were the shows to depict African-American family and culture the way many of us see ourselves. The way many of us wish to be seen. The fact that it was not a minor bit show on some obscure cable channel, but was the biggest show on the biggest night in the biggest network, was an affirmation, maybe not that we had arrived, but that at least many of us were getting close. That’s a tremendous source of pride. The fact that Bill Cosby gave that positive image major time and publicity also endeared him to me and to a generation. No one wants to believe that someone who has done so much good can also simultaneously be responsible for so much evil. Yet to do justice we must be willing to see — to acknowledge and not deny the facts in front of our face.

I’m not white. I did not grow up in the south. Yet by empathy I can understand the difficulty of acknowledging ugliness contained within a heritage one is otherwise proud of. Who wants to believe the folks who loved and reared you, the folks who taught you to fear God and work hard have a shadow side? Immediately after the Civil War and continuing on to the present, we have been told pretty lies to conceal ugly truth. One either has to lie about the lack of humanity in the other, or acknowledge the lack of humanity in oneself in order to enslave and exploit. Beneath the veneer of states’ rights and gentility rested a privilege built on abuse and violence. The Confederate flag was their symbol. It’s hard to acknowledge. Yet justice requires it.

As proud Americans, we see ourselves as a city on a hill — a bright example for the world to see. We see ourselves as the guarantors of freedom. Some of us even see ourselves as God’s chosen on the Earth. Yet we are slow to acknowledge the role genocide, ethnic cleansing and economic exploitation have played in securing our comforts. We are slow to acknowledge how in the course of protecting our freedoms and privilege we have greatly curtailed the freedoms of people around the world. If we are to fulfill the promise embedded within our highest ideals we will need to see the whole truth. Justice demands it.

Horace McMillon is the “tent-making” pastor of Open Door Mennonite Church, in Jackson, Miss. He and his wife, Monique, have two children. He is a graduate of both Chicago Theological Seminary and Oberlin College and the author of No Mo’ Broke: Seven Keys to Financial Success from a Christian Perspective. He blogs at churchoftheweb.wordpress.com, where this first appeared. 


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