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Posted under: Race & Identity News

Tarana Burke Wants Black Folks Defending Celebs Like Bill Cosby, R. Kelly To Wake Up: 'Evil Black People Do Exist'

"We have to recognize that while systematic oppression of black people is real and does exist, evil black people do exist."

As we continue to recover from last week's overload of troubling tweets, revelations and a precedent-setting jury verdict, #MeToo founder and activist Tarana Burke has already found the lesson in it all.

Amid the recent the Bill Cosby verdict, which found one of the pillars of early black family sitcoms guilty of sexual assault, and Kelis' revelation her former husband and hip-hop legend Nas was emotionally and physically abusive, fans of the two men were forced to weigh what they valued more: artistry or the well-being of our women. Sounds simplistic enough -- but for black Americans, it's become increasingly evident that such a choice isn't lacking in nuance.

In an interview with Blavity, Burke broke down why she believes black Americans have such a complex when faced with the dark realities of once beloved celebrities.

"We have to stop putting men like Bill Cosby on a pedestal because of their cultural contributions," Burke said in an interview Thursday, April 26, the same day Cosby's verdict was announced. "We're so desperate for a hero...that we will sacrifice the bodies and lives and livelihood and dignity of black women and girls to do this."

Despite the years of sexual assault allegations which followed Cosby and the plethora of women -- some of whom were black -- who've levied accusations against him, some may have found themselves hard-pressed to scroll through social media on Thursday without encountering a Cosby apologist.

Cosby's reputation among Hollywood insiders as a sex offender actually re-entered the limelight after black comedian Hannibal Buress mentioned it in one of his stand-up routines in 2014. 

Burke added that it's dangerous for black people to characterize ourselves in only one way and ignore the reality that our existence is just as varied as the rest of humankind.

"We have to recognize that while systematic oppression of black people is real and does exist, evil black people do exist," she said. 

But Cosby has not been the only cultural icon to let us down. In addition to having already watched Kanye West, the formerly pro-black son of a Black Panther, sport a "MAGA" hat only to be partly backed by his mentee Chance the Rapper last week, Kelis revealed her former husband, Nas, abused her throughout their marriage. 

"Everybody has a reckoning," Burke said.

She added these downfalls may serve a larger purpose. 

"The value of the public reckoning is not necessarily for just the people [involved], it's for the people watching, [thinking] if that can happen to her or him and they can get some semblance of justice, maybe I can too," she said. 

There's no better example of the value of celebrity reckoning than the #MeToo movement. 

Since EBONY reported Burke's movement was incidentally appropriated by actress Alyssa Milano following news of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Burke's been using her platform to ensure the voices of women of color who've survived sexual assault are being elevated. 

Cosby was the first Hollywood bigwig to be convicted during the era of #MeToo. Burke insists all of the instances in which these public figures are forced to be held accountable for their violence against women not be observed in vain. 

"We have to make sure [black] voices are heard and we're included in this moment," Burke added. "The culture of silence is killing our community slowly -- please don't let this moment happen without figuring out how to address it."

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Zahara is the Deputy Editor for Blavity.