People tend to view reality through the lens of their personal experience or biases, even when completely irrelevant to a particular issue or incident. Yet, sometimes one’s personal experience and knowledge – with investigation – can bring relevant insight or contemplation to a given situation. I raise this inspired by increasingly disturbing developments in the Bill Cosby rape scandal. Particularly since Black former model Beverly Johnson darkened (with her complexion) the bevy of still mostly white female Cosby rape accusers. After watching Johnson’s recent interview about an alleged drugging and attempted rape by Cosby, something about it appeared contrived and opportunistic to me. It was difficult for me to believe her. Concerned about my reaction, amidst an accusation as horrible as attempted rape, I was led to evaluate myself and check what my reaction might be about.
At 17 years old, during my first venture onto a college campus – Cal State Long Beach, to be exact – I heard about the Men Against Rape movement. I resonated with its mission to raise awareness among males about the problem of rape, in an effort to reduce incidences and potential rape tendencies in men; and, to influence more respect and protection of women and girls at-risk. For reasons relevant to my personal development and related horrors witnessed as a child, I have been actively against rape, and concerned about the lack of focus on this epidemic in media and society at-large. Rape, including recent acknowledgements that boys and young men also face high levels of rape and molestation is a frequent and still relatively under-addressed societal scourge.
While still in my teens, I began a stint in the entertainment business, witnessing first-hand how powerful and manipulative celebrities can be over an often naive, gullible and unfortunately star-struck society. I thought about this when Cosby accusers explained their alleged initial silence. I would also learn and experience (as I still do) how effortlessly simple it can be to defame a Black man’s reputation. We live in a society that makes it extremely easy for Black men to endure what I call Guilty Until Proven Guilty’ syndrome. The killings of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, Michael Brown and so many Black males, undeniably indicates how deadly and pervasive that syndrome is. The top five accusations that stick to Black males like glue, without interrogation or proof needed, are, “He raped, robbed, physically assaulted or lied to someone and generally cannot be trusted.” After a Black male, especially dark-skinned, is accused of one of these, a response of “It figures” can be much more rampant than “Let me check this out for myself.”
I personally have been successfully accused of all five, when all five were completely untrue. In most cases, like with Bill Cosby, more than one person was willing to repeat the same accusation. That’s the power of rumor, racism, including internalized racism, in the U.S. After the accusation was made, almost no one cared to look into it, or address me directly. The dye was simply caste. I am still shaking off damaging misinformation and lies. Finally, I have also directly witnessed people among Black people whose life experiences and influences resulted in them having great contempt for Black people, and being ambitiously opportunistic – to points of being diabolical – to receive White favor and attention. This came to mind regarding Beverly Johnson. I’m not saying it’s true. Again, that it came to mind.
These experiences and phenomena emerged as I reviewed what was possibly informing my reactions to Beverly Johnson, and other Bill Cosby accusers.
The “Guilty Until Proven Guilty” killings of a slew of Black males has moved millions of U.S. citizens into the streets to protest. But, has this taught us the importance of not judging a book by its cover, even if it has multiple accusers? Of course people do commit crimes, including Black males. Yet, most others get to be innocent until proven guilty. Comparatively, most whites, Asians and others get to walk away from an accusation, reportedly, even when there is probable guilt. Darren Wilson, George Zimmerman and Daniel Pantaleo did. Another example, and this one involves Beverly Johnson, is Peter Nygard, a white, billionaire fashion designer who lives in the Bahamas. Nygard has been implicated in rape, harassment, conspiracy, human trafficking, human rights abuses, unlawful confinement and essentially “slavery.” The same Beverly Johnson, who just accused Bill Cosby of drugging and attempting to rape her, dates Nygard. Nygard is still free, lives basically lawlessly, with “a devil may care” reputation, his image unflawed.
The next frontier against racism that should result in protest even larger than today’s, is the media. The all-white run, popular media canvas, world-wide, has created mindsets, leading to the destruction of more Black people than officers Darren Wilson or Daniel Pantaleo could ever compare. More importantly, U.S. citizens must self-evaluate to recognize within us, if our judgments about people, even after being accused, are based on what we feel, think or know. If you don’t know, you really don’t know. No one should be “Guilty Until Proven Guilty.” More often than not, it is racist, destructive and has proven to be deadly.
Editor’s note: Cleo Manago is a political consultant, behaviorist, and film documentarian. Currently, a regular commentator on TVOne’s NewsOne Now with Roland Martin, Manago is community faculty at Charles Drew University of Science and Medicine in Los Angeles and a former doctoral student at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-695-0636.