Like so many important black institutions, The Cosby Show – and Cosby himself – was a private concern entangled with broad, collective stakes.

It was a qualified defense of Cosby that still managed to neatly sum up some complicated context: Cosby had long encouraged the linking of his own fortunes with the condition of black folks more broadly.

As the dozens of rape and sexual assault accusations against Cosby have piled up, both he and his lawyers have tugged at that sense, trying to rally black support by suggesting that the claims are at least in part fueled by racism.

Even before his late-career turn as black America’s moral scold, Cosby had spent decades leaning into his popular image as a paternal figure to bolster his influence as a paternalistic one.

Yet t have been notably few high-profile defenses of Cosby; most of the statements from his former Cosby Show cast members have been along the lines of Knight-Pulliam’s; respectful to the man they still call “Mr. Cosby” but also cautious and tepid.

Central State University, a black school in southwest Ohio to whom Cosby had bestowed millions, removed his name from the building that housed its school of communications.

To the extent that folks have begun the knotty work of disentangling Cosby’s fate and cultural legacy from their own, it’s in part because t is no longer the same need for the sole figure anointed as a kind of racial emissary Cosby – a role Cosby once clearly reveled in playing.

No matter how his trial concludes, Cosby will live out his last years in an America in whose culture he has become far less essential, an obsolescence that he, ironically, helped usher into existence.

Bill Cosby