What does the former The Cosby Show actress Keshia Knight Pulliam have in common with Ivanka Trump? The men they choose to stand by.
I wonder if either has seen Wonder Woman. The film’s powerful feminist message and female strength and love for humanity is exactly the kind of aesthetic they love—but for them, it’s like putting a fresh coat of paint on an abandoned carousel in a haunted amusement park. Trump’s faux feminism has been long been decried as a mere gimmick to sell herself (and her elusive Nordstrom clothing brand) to young women, whereas it’s hard to find anything admirable in a woman who claims to support other women while standing by a father who has a history of bragging about sexual assault. Let’s call it The Ivanka Effect, which is being employed by Knight Pulliam to perfection. Striding into court with accused serial rapist Bill Cosby as he began his sexual assault trial today, she embraced the exact kind of ethically dubious complicity that Trump has throughout her father’s campaign and presidency.
As Cosby’s sexual assault trial began Monday in Norristown, Pennsylvania, Cosby was guided into the courtroom not by his wife Camille, but by his former television daughter Knight Pulliam. Knight Pulliam portrayed Rudy Huxtable on The Cosby Show from 1984 to 1992, cementing him as a father figure in her life since she was five years old. These are the actions of a woman who still publicly supports Cosby, when many of his former friends and co-workers have either turned against him or remained silent. Of Knight Pulliam’s presence, Cosby's spokesperson Andrew Wyatt said: “She’s not here to proclaim guilt or innocence. She’s here to finally hear the truth for herself in the courtroom. She wants people to stop listening to the sensationalism and come hear the truth.”
It’s rather ironic that a woman who herself has publicly accused the father of her child of owing back pay for child support (becoming a regular TMZ staple) would accuse anyone else of sensationalism, but Knight Pulliam is nothing if not full of contradictions. Last year, she had Amber Rose on her podcast Kandidly Keshia to promote Rose’s Slut Walk (an event designed to end slut-shaming) and bristled at Rose for bringing up Cosby’s accusations. “I feel you, and everyone’s entitled to their opinion, but we still live in a country where you’re innocent till proven guilty,” she told Rose. “And I understand everything that’s happened, and me being a feminist and believing women—no means no and I get that—but, just so you know, I did work with him for a really long time. I love him dearly still and that isn’t the man that I know.”
This is the usual party line when people defend the despicable people in their lives they’re unwilling to cut off, but it rings particularly hollow in the face of over 35 women who’ve accounted horror stories of being assaulted by Cosby, stemming from 1965 until 2008. I’m not particularly sure what kind of “truth” Knight Pulliam expects to hear in the confines of a courtroom that she hasn’t already had access to, but I do know that the first day in court involved prosecution witness Kelly Johnson viscerally describing her alleged rape: “I remember hearing sounds, grunting sounds behind me.” Either you believe these women’s stories or not, but it’s almost cowardly to accept the ruling of a court as your “truth.”
Knight Pulliam continues to insist she's a feminist, empathetic to the plight of those affected by sexual assault. After leaving the courthouse today, she told reporters: “Right now, it’s the jury’s decision, and it’s the jury’s job to decide guilt and innocence. It’s not mine or anyone else’s. As an advocate for women and with my nonprofit the Kamp Kizzy Foundation, which is all about empowerment, self-esteem for girls, I don’t take these charges lightly. I don’t condone sexual assault in any way shape or form.”
Sexual assault is often an act that occurs privately between two individuals. We make the choice whether to believe the words of multiple victims who have met nothing but humiliation, shame, and victim-blaming in their search for justice, or say we will wait to hear some intangible truth. Truth, which for the record, is never flawless, as it’s a truth decided by jurors and a judge who presumably are not Adrian Monk and Harriet the Spy—who possess the same deductive reasoning skills as Knight Pulliam herself.
She touts feminism while her accused television father quotes Gloria Steinem in convoluted claims that he’s being targeting because he's black. It’s not only a soulless invocation of feminist ideals to defend a rapist, but it’s also trading on race hustling fairs that call to mind the death of Emmett Till and his lying accuser, as if Cosby were an innocent child and not a multi-millionaire with unlimited access to drugs, liquor, and sleeping pills to quell his alleged victims. It’s black men like this who only want equality so they can live their lives as carefree white men do, not for a better quality of life for black Americans. After all, The Cosby Show was mired in the types of respectability politics that racist white people use to tell black people to be better in the face of racial discrimination. You can’t suddenly hate what’s become your bread and butter. And perhaps that is why Knight Pulliam, with legal woes of her own and little relevancy, has hitched her tugboat to Cosby’s ever-sinking ship. It’s going down fast, but you convince yourself you can pillage for jewels before the water hits.
But that’s in line with the Ivanka Effect of accepting the truth on your own terms. If the country elected your father as President, then he can’t possibly be guilty of those things that he was accused of during the campaign. Because in our courtrooms and our voting booths, we only provide justice. But as long as you’re doing it, make sure you call yourself a feminist so no one can question your allegiance to the female tribe. Perhaps Knight Pulliam has seen Wonder Woman and thinks that the courts often employ the Lasso of Truth to compel confessions. It’s a nice fantasy.