Now that Bill Cosby has been sentenced to three to 10 years in prison for sexual assault, and a Senate hearing looms on sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, America is standing at the intersection of race, gender, and power.
Cosby, a black American entertainment icon, has been labeled a sexually violent predator. Now 81 years old, legally blind, and virtually unable to live without assistance, Cosby will spend the rest of his life receiving counseling and reporting his living arrangements to the court. He will also spend at least three years in state prison paying for his crimes.
But what of Kavanaugh?
Like Cosby, he faces decades-old accusations of sexual assault. Like Cosby, his accusers seem to multiply by the day. And though Kavanaugh is not accused of drugging and sexually assaulting women, which Cosby was convicted of doing in the case of Andrea Constand, Kavanaugh is accused of putting his genitals in the face of a woman incapacitated by alcohol.
But even with those similarities, I doubt that Kavanaugh will share Cosby's fate. That's because when it comes to race, gender, and power in America, white, wealthy men control the outcomes for the rest of us.
That's why a black man such as Cosby, who supported the black community through his philanthropy even as he openly criticized the poorest among us, could fall so spectacularly, but a black man such as Clarence Thomas, who faced an accusation of sexual harassment during his own 1991 Supreme Court confirmation process, became a Supreme Court justice.
At the intersection of race, gender, and power, Thomas stands firmly with the power structure. Despite his outward blackness, his career on the bench has served to affirm his commitment to a society in which rich, white men are firmly in charge.
As a younger man, I didn't understand that, so when Thomas painted himself as the victim of racism by decrying his contentious confirmation hearing as a high-tech lynching, I felt for him. But in the years that he has occupied the bench, siding with conservative majorities in numerous rulings, including the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, I've learned to see him differently.
I've learned that the old folks in my community are right when they say, "just because you're my color doesn't mean that you're my kind."
Which brings me back to Cosby. He is a man whose conviction has been met with split opinions among black folks. There are those who believe he is guilty of sexual assault, and should have been punished even more severely. Others believe he is the innocent victim of conniving women and a criminal justice system set up to destroy black men.
I believe Cosby's actions in drugging and sexually assaulting women were wrong. I also believe his fame and money allowed Cosby to believe that he could do the same things to women as white men around him may have done. Ultimately, the criminal justice system proved that he could not.
But at the intersection of race, gender and power, Cosby's standing was much different from Kavanaugh's.
That's why I don't think Kavanaugh will face the kind of reckoning that Cosby did. Accused by multiple women of alcohol-fueled incidents of sexual assault, Kavanaugh is the poster child of white male wealth and privilege. President Trump, himself a man accused of sexual assault, supports Kavanaugh despite the accusations. And in doing so, he is engaging in a scorched-earth campaign against Kavanaugh's accusers.
The vast majority of Republican senators also have backed Kavanaugh, despite a California professor named Christine Blasey Ford saying Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school, and another woman, Deborah Ramirez, saying Kavanaugh exposed himself to her while both were students at Yale.
And though a third accuser has been identified by high-profile lawyer Michael Avenatti, I doubt that Kavanaugh will ever face the same kind of justice that Cosby did.
That's because Kavanaugh, like Thomas before him, is poised to take a lifetime position that will help him to maintain the very system of white male power and privilege that allows men like him to abuse women.
Bill Cosby — an entertainer whose power was symbolic — will spend at least three years paying for his crimes. But if Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court, I think he will assume real power — the kind that makes women vulnerable to even more abuse.
That's the most dangerous outcome of all.