I, like many of you, grew up watching “The Cosby Show.” I was hooked on the sitcom from Day One, Episode One. The program ran for eight years, a lifetime in network television. It started in September 1984 and its final episode aired on April 30, 1992. The fact that the Cosby Show had a final episode says a lot. Most Black television shows launched during that same era as The Jeffersons for example, just ENDED. There was no grand exit replete with helicopters flying off into the distance leaving behind trails of tearful waves (MASH). Nor do Black audiences get treated to serene (albeit confusing) family discussions in the middle of a diner as a way to conclude a beloved series (The Sopranos).
Studio chiefs from the 1970s to the early 1990s had no regard for loyal Black fanbases who were often left scratching their afros or retying their high tops in bewilderment when their favorite shows vanished into TV heaven. The Cosby Show changed all of that. I watched the show from the time I was a pig-tailed and pleated eight-grader through my senior year of college when I had evolved into a sorority-pinned, preppy young professional. I owe part of that transformation to life lessons I witnessed on Cosby Show episodes.
I couldn’t get enough of Rudy, Vanessa, Theo, Denise, and their older sister whose name I always forgot and who never quite fit in with the rest of the “family” in my opinion. She was a slice of white bread to the rest of the Huxtable clan’s wheat toast. She always seemed out of place. Denise wasn’t far behind her, but she had a “fly” sense of fashion, so I gave her a pass. I saw Denise as an eclectic soul; she was the sesame-seed bun of the family.
But my FAVORITE characters of all were Mr. and Mrs. Huxtable as portrayed by real-life actors Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad. I was hard-pressed to tell you which one I liked best. They were equally yoked in my book. They were both college-educated. CHECK. They were a husband and wife who worked as a Doctor AND a Lawyer, respectively. CHECK. Devoted parents. CHECK. Good looking. CHECK. Professionals who put family first. CHECK. A double-income duo. CHECK. Pioneers who showed an entire planet what committed Black Love looked like up close and personal. CHECK. MATE.
But if forced to choose, I would have to say Claire Huxtable stole the show. Claire was two parts SASS, three parts CLASS, with a whole lot of DASH mixed in, particularly when it came to the SHARP outfits she always wore. She epitomized many a Black woman I admired, even if they didn’t share the same educational pedigree. Nonetheless, Claire and these queens had a lot in common. They each possessed sharp minds and unyielding tongues to match; the kind of sisters that could tell you to “go to hell” and have you thank them for the trip. Insert two finger snaps. Claire Huxtable was to her family what many of the Black women still are to theirs today—dream weavers for their children and rocket fuel for their mates.
I always wondered whether Mr. Cosby based aspects of Claire’s character on his real-life wife, Mrs. Camille Cosby. I always thought he had done so, even if just from an ideation perspective. My mind revisited those thoughts when I heard recent news of Mr. Cosby’s sentence as punishment for his sexual assault conviction. Regardless of your position on his innocence or guilt, I think we can all agree that Bill Cosby’s once spotless reputation is dead. Societal backlash combined with relentless media scrutiny has killed Bill.
What an extremely tragic situation. It’s tragic for the victims, who are emotionally torn women. It’s tragic for Bill Cosby and his legacy as an actor, comedian, philanthropist and parent, a man who spent a lifetime building a career that went from him being a revered comedian to a reviled convict. But it’s especially tragic for Mrs. Camille Cosby, the unspoken hero here. Mrs. Cosby has stood staunchly by her husband’s side, head held high and shoulders squared. She did so while simultaneously sweeping the fragmented pieces of a 50-plus year marriage and career, both of which she helped build, into the dustpan of life, a device she had neatly tucked inside its own Louis Vuitton case. Yes, even in times of peril, women like Camille still navigate with style and grace.
They don’t make many women like Camille Cosby or Claire Huxtable anymore. Strong women, who, no matter what life tosses their way, have the fortitude to face it head on, with sass, dash and a WHOLE LOT OF CLASS. I’m not sure what Claire Huxtable’s lawyer character would say to Bill Cosby right now, but I have a feeling I know what Camille Cosby is saying to HERSELF. “Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” Bill Cosby is going to be locked away, but its Camille Cosby who holds the key to his and the rest of their family’s passage through this devastating circumstance. It appears she is the only one equipped to weather the storm.
Shanita Baraka Akintonde is a tenured professor in the Communication Department at Columbia College Chicago. She is also a wife, mother, professional speaker, podcaster and published author propelled by love. Her latest book, The Heart of a Leader, was released in September 2018. If you want to be added to her email distribution list, reach out to her today at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow her on Twitter @SHAKINTONDE and connect with her on Linked In: http://www.linkedin.com/in/shanitaakintonde/.