Ebony magazine's 'Cosby Show' cover rattles readers

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Many took issue with the November cover of Ebony, a magazine created to shed a positive light on African-Americans.

DON'T BE MAD at Ebony magazine for its November issue.

It's not the editors' fault that the image of the fictional TV family known as the Huxtables on "The Cosby Show" is fractured like a broken window pane.

They didn't do it. Their job is to be responsible journalists, not to sugarcoat reality.

Guilty or not, we'll never think of the Cos in the same way. That's over. Although he's never been charged with a crime, more than 50 women have stepped forward to accuse the funnyman once known as America's Favorite Dad of sexual assault in encounters dating back decades.

As a result, his legacy and that of his namesake show are forever fractured, just as that shattered glass on the magazine cover illustrates.

The glass is cracked right over the beaming face of Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, portrayed by Cosby, and splinters out over the rest of the cast members who played his wife and children. The headline reads: The Family Issue(s): Cosby vs. Cliff.

It's a powerful cover. But seeing it on Ebony, of all magazines, is just too much for some readers, who've been crying foul, saying it smears the entire cast of the show.

"Mainstream racists hate seeing positive images of Black people on TV or in the White House, especially Black Families. Huxtables, Obamas, it doesn't matter," South Jersey-born lawyer Helen Higginbotham wrote on my Facebook page last week. "With this cover, Ebony is the spook by the door who gives them cover for discrediting Cosby's work and denying future generations the positive influence and image of the Huxtable family that inspired so many."

She added, "Ebony should be more astute. They've been at this game for a long time.... Shame#."

Harsh criticism - but her sentiments are shared by many who were equally disappointed that Ebony, a publication created to promote positive depictions of African-Americans, would stand in judgment of one the icons it helped create.

Critics rightfully argue that we need to separate Cosby from Cliff, the show's patriarch. The reality, though, is that we don't always. I know I shouldn't, but when I see Cosby, I also remember fondly the beloved dad in "The Cosby Show."

That show - the reruns of which have been pulled off the air - was something really special. When "The Cosby Show" hit the airwaves back in 1984, it was the first U.S. program about an upper-middle-class black family. Dr. Huxtable was an obstetrician-gynecologist; Clair Huxtable, played by Phylicia Rashad, a lawyer.

It was once must-see TV. They had five kids, just as my parents did. And they were normal people like us. "The Cosby Show" taught America about black family life, and some say it even helped prepare America for its first black first family in the White House.

"The legacy can't help but be tarnished," said one of the show's co-stars, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who portrayed the son. " 'The Cosby Show' was part of the fiber of American culture, so to see that, to see that the show doesn't necessarily have the same sheen that it once did, is definitely a downer."

That's the point that Ebony was trying to make, and did so brilliantly with its shattered-glass cover. We shouldn't be in denial just because we don't want to believe the worst.

Yes, it stinks that Ebony, the upholder of all things positive in black America, has to pile on. African-Americans have counted on the magazine to highlight positive aspects of black American life.

So many mainstream lifestyle publications routinely ignore blacks, or get the story wrong the way that Cosmopolitan magazine does on the cover of its November issue, where it declares the Kardashians "America's First Family" instead of the one in the White House.

Newly appointed Ebony editor in chief Kierna Mayo told CNN that she was so fearful of reader backlash that she didn't sleep in the days leading up to the magazine's publication.

"We are simply asking African-Americans to have a very passionate, a very honest and a very forthright conversation about what this means," Mayo told the network.

My parents usually had an Ebony subscription. Even when they didn't, we always seemed to have back issues lying around, often in a place of honor on the coffee table. I've never had my own subscription, mainly because its relevance had slipped for me.

I'm rethinking that.

On Twitter: @JeniceArmstrong

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