The New Yorker recently covered the Bill Cosby rape controversy. The piece, which has since gone viral, features the testimonies of 35 women accusing Bill Cosby of sexual assault.

If you haven’t read the piece, please do! [read HERE] It will leave you puzzled, saddened, and angry.

A couple of days ago, Teju Cole reacted to the New Yorker piece on Facebook.

His comments, pasted below, draws our attention to the fact that the deadly mixture of rape culture and silence exists to perpetuate a culture where men benefit from violence done to women.

This is not the first time that Cole is speaking against this issue.

For those of you who have read his first novel, Open City, you’d recall that the novel ends with Julius—the main character of the novel— being accused of raping a family friend. The worst part is that Julius seems to have forgotten about it until the girl reminds him many years later.

A culture where men like Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, Julius do things to the bodies of women and can still somehow command our respect and admiration is what Cole powerfully speaks against.

Kudos to Cole for telling it like it is.


Last night, reading the accounts by women who had been assaulted by Cosby, I was overcome with sorrow.

Tricky to say anything about this, but silence is simply not an option. This is everybody’s business. But I’ll say some things to the men who are reading.

We men benefit, all of us men benefit, from rape culture. We benefit from the pain it causes women because we sprint ahead obliviously; we benefit from the way it knocks them off circuit and opens space for us; we benefitfrom the way it dehumanizes them so that our own humanity can shine more greatly; and we benefit from the aura of power it gives us as perpetrators or as beneficiaries. And because we benefit, explicitly or implicitly, we are not vociferous enough in our opposition to it.

(This is why, even after everything we know, it is still possible for the New Yorker to put up a long article praising Woody Allen, as they did last week—”The Existential Genius of Late Woody Allen”—praising him from beginning to end, in every line, as though none of that other stuff were relevant, as though it were somehow gauche to acknowledge what he’d done. That’s rape culture for you, at the highest levels: not mere silence, but you have to come out and sing hosannas to the guy.)

We must fight rape culture, even in its allegedly mild manifestations, we must be grieved with the grief of those who commit the crime and those who benefit from a world built on such crimes, we must oppose men who wade in with stupid explanations and caveats and distractions, we must surrender the poisonous sentimentality that makes us believe a “great artist” over a less well-known woman. Indeed, we must be willing to let anyone go—think of any man you admire, any man at all, alive or in history, close to you or far away, and think to yourself that you must be willing to let him go—if such things are true of him too. And understand that such things can be true of any of them, of any of us.

We must be allies in this, in a subsidiary but vital role, to the generations of women who have been fighting it since forever. Why should it be easy? It can’t be. We will have to face even the complication of confronting those few women who are themselves invested in perpetuating rape culture. It will cause us extreme discomfort, but our discomfort will be nothing compared to the pain of being a victim of rape or assault or harassment.

And above all we must listen, to women, and to the significant but vastly smaller number of men who have also been assaulted. So that, gradually, we can collectively begin to slough off this wretched state of affairs in which the first thing someone who has been assaulted thinks is “no one will believe me.”

That’s to men.

And to women: I believe you. And I’m heartbroken about the many ways in which I fail to live up to that belief.

—- This note has since been posted on The New Inquiry.



Image by Kate Haskell via Flickr

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I'm finishing up a phd at Duke University where I study African novels, which I believe are some of the loveliest things ever written. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

3 Responses to “We Must Fight Rape Culture | Teju Cole Reacts to the Bill Cosby Controversy” Subscribe

  1. obatomi Abubakar 2015/07/29 at 2:23 am #

    If U wudnt mind a little help in terms of ideas, fables and context-kindly reach me by mail on ht2cld@gmail.com

  2. Zaynab Quadri 2015/08/06 at 1:49 am #

    35 women? and they went ahead to do a photoshoot? I mean who does that?

    I smell something here, this doesn’t just feel right. Also, the idea that anyone who is black must speak out and condemn Bill Cosby is stupid and absurd.

    Even Bill Cosby secretary said he had never made a move on her and just so you know all this women consented to using drugs.

    I don’t support Bill Cosby but i just feel we should not always jump on the bandwagon, what if he is really innocent and this was all media propaganda because he is black.

    We should always encourage intellectual discussions not witch hunting.


  1. Uncomfortable truths | African Phoenix - 2015/08/02

    […] http://brittlepaper.com/2015/07/fight-rape-culture-teju-cole-reacts-bill-cosby-controversy/ […]

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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