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NPR Arts & Life

'Ebony Magazine' Explores 'The Cosby Show's' Tainted Legacy


Next month's Ebony magazine is the family issue, and the cover features a portrait of what used to be one of America's favorite TV families, the Huxtable's from "The Cosby Show." The portrait is behind glass, but then it looks like someone threw something at Bill Cosby's face and shattered the glass. Inside the magazine, writer Goldie Taylor asks how allegations that "The Cosby Show's" star and creator raped and sexually assaulted women will the fact that the legacy of the show. And Goldie Taylor joins us now. Thanks for being with us today.

GOLDIE TAYLOR: Thanks for having me.

MCEVERS: First, let's think back to the environment that this show created. It was - you know, it started in 1984 this very positive portrayal of an upper-middle-class black family. And the show was really popular, especially with white people. I mean, why?

TAYLOR: Well, there were a number of reasons why the show was popular. And it was popular among African-Americans and white Americans for similar reasons. For African-Americans, it presented a positive view of black life, and that's something that, as a people, we tend to crave. "The Cosby Show" displayed what we believe was the best in us. On the other hand, for white Americans, it said implicitly that the American dream was alive and that it was available to everyone who worked for it, who played by the rules.

MCEVERS: And so now, with these allegations of rape and sexual assault against Bill Cosby - I mean, we're at around 50 women now who have come forward - people's relationship with this show is more complicated, right?

TAYLOR: Well, it depends on who the people are that we're talking about. The release of this Ebony magazine article certainly proved to me that there is still a very strong contention of largely African-American people who are defending Bill Cosby against these allegations. And any notion that we would question the legacy of "The Cosby Show" itself, to them, is blasphemy. Dr. James Peterson told me - he is a professor at Lehigh University. He said to me his mother still doesn't believe the allegations. And by the way, neither does mine.

MCEVERS: How do you talk to your mother about that?

TAYLOR: We don't, and that is fairly common. And so I cannot foresee that there will come a time when my mother and I will have a heart-to-heart discussion about Bill Cosby.

MCEVERS: Do you think it's difficult for people, even now, to separate Cliff Huxtable from Bill Cosby?

TAYLOR: Absolutely. And that was done by Bill Cosby himself. He built the character, built the entire narrative around this persona, Heathcliff Huxtable. And he married himself and Heathcliff together with the values that he has shown off the screen. The message was black America wasn't educating itself, black America was not attempting to mainstream itself through the use of good King's English, good language. It wasn't dressing well. It wasn't pulling its pants up. And so black America was under indictment by Bill Cosby. And he embodied that indictment in the form of a 30-minute comedic show each week.

MCEVERS: And so now, since these allegations have come out, you know, are people saying, wait a second, you shouldn't have been the one telling us how to live?

TAYLOR: There are an awful lot of people who are looking back at the show and, yes, they are calling hypocrisy. But there are just as many people who say to me "The Bill Cosby Show," "The Cosby Show" itself inspired me to do more with my life, more with my family. And the two-parent model, the nuclear-family model, that works. Bill Cosby was right, and that's my blueprint.

MCEVERS: Goldie Taylor is a journalist. She wrote the cover story, "Cosby Versus Cliff," in next month's Ebony magazine. Thanks so much for your time today.

TAYLOR: Thanks for having me, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.