If you ever happen to walk down U Street in Northwest DC going East, at one point, you'll see something notable on the side of a building that houses Ben's Chili Bowl, the landmark DC restaurant: it's Bill Cosby's face, five feet tall, peering out at you.
Now that over thirty women have come forward (by Larry Wilmore's count—start watching the Nightly Show if you haven't already), it is undeniable at this point that Cosby is a serial rapist. And this presents a problem: what do you do when there's a giant celebratory portrait of a rapist in your city?
I just came across this article in the Washingtonian about the mural, and it made me wonder what kind of discussion is (or isn't) being had about this thing.
I fucking hate that Cosby's face is up there. I don't mind the rest of the mural, it's quite nice, actually (there are three other people pictured: Obama is next to Cosby, and further down the wall are Chuck Brown and Donnie Simpson), but Cosby's face is the one most visible from the street.
But it's complicated. Here I am, a white woman, complaining about being subjected (in a gentrifying area of the city, no less) to the image of a black man—one who, rape allegations aside (they are so easy to set aside, aren't they?), is still deeply important to a lot of people, and significant as someone who has helped to change the way that White America views people of color. And how many monuments to famous rapist Thomas Jefferson and genocidal Andrew Jackson are there in this city that nobody makes much of a fuss about? The fact that Cosby's crimes are more recent, and the fact that one mural is more easily removed than, say, the face on every U.S. $20 bill, are not the only factors here—we're also talking about a black public figure being honored at a moment when our country's problem with racism is at the forefront of the public consciousness.
Part of the reason it's on the side of that particular building is that Cosby is a special figure specifically for Ben's Chili Bowl (he and Obama are officially the only people allowed to eat free at Ben's). Ben's is entitled to run their restaurant in whatever way they see fit, and I can't do anything about whatever monuments to Cosby they want to maintain inside their restaurant.
But this thing is outside. It doesn't give people passing by a choice about whether to see it. It's a reminder to every woman who walks by who has been a victim of sexual assault that her suffering is entirely discountable if the person who assaulted her is sufficiently respected in the wider community. (And remember, it's not like rape is the only bad thing Cosby's done—remember when he was going around shaking his finger at unwed mothers and telling young black men to pull up their pants?)
I really want it to go away.
I wish they would paint over Cosby's face, and put someone else up there. Eleanor Holmes Norton, perhaps? I could get behind that.