The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

During my winter break, regardless of which home I visited or for how long I stayed, I was asked in some form or another, “What do you think about Bill Cosby?” I was challenged and debated while I formed my own opinion and listen to others’. What I found interesting is that, through it all, there was one common factor — each individual struggled with the issue of legacy.

“He did all of those great things, and now this is all he’ll be remembered for.”

“Why did all of those women come forth now, all these years later?”

“Why knock a great man down?”

However, when considering Blacks or any minority entertainer, it’s different. The difference is that, both the halo effect and tokenism come into play. It is the aspect of tokenism, the rarity that their presence and accomplishments represent, that causes this difference.

So, in this light, when a Black public figure does something distasteful, illegal, etc., it calls into question the actions of every person that is associated with their race because of the lack of company.

In doing so, Blacks are oftentimes pressured to pick one side, or lens, when considering multifaceted situations.

In this case of Cosby:

A) Support Cosby and his legacy — which means you don’t support women affected by sexual violence.

B) Support the women — which means you don’t support influential Black leaders nor their legacies.

It’s difficult to comprehend situations like this. It’s even more difficult, though, I believe, because you don’t have another Cosby.

Despite Mark Wahlberg’s request for a pardon for his racially motivated assault in 1988, today the population is not up in arms because there are other white actors of Mark Wahlberg’s stature — Matt Damon, Seth MacFarlane, Christian Bale, etc.

You don’t have another Cosby.

Of course, there are phenomenal Black actors, comedians and directors. But none come to mind when taking Cosby’s career and legacy into consideration. The impact Cosby made is undeniable, but it’s a challenge to separate Cosby the entertainer from Cosby the man.

In order to do so, you must separate the art from the artist.

Art is production — the tangible evidence of an accomplishment or talent.

The artist is the creator — the one who led it to “be.”

At what point must you differentiate the two? Is it possible?

It was done with Martin Luther King Jr.

Despite accusations that he cheated on his wife, Coretta Scott King, an entire day is dedicated to him and his legacy.

When positive things happen, there’s no question of the response or who is responsible. Getting an award, for example. If a person received an award for playing a character, which they rightfully earned — why should their “real-life” character matter?

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What if the extent to which you can differentiate the art from the artist depends on how efficiently you can remove halos?