No, this will not
be a defense of Bill Cosby, nor will I be trying to litigate his current
situation in this post. However, it is
because of that situation, that The Cosby Show is currently not being shown on
television. I won’t defend Dr. Cosby,
but I’m here to speak up for Heathcliff Huxtable. The
Cosby Show closed its curtain twenty years ago and its groundbreaking
spin-off, A Different World, left
shortly after. Those shows became the
first version of “Must See TV.” Households
all over the country tuned in every Thursday night to see the Huxtables live
normal lives with normal family situations.
There wasn’t the constant hardship and despair found in shows like Good Times in the 1970’s. This was a
family that I actually saw around me growing up in Eastern North Carolina. We weren’t upper Middle Class like the
Huxtables, but I saw plenty of Black doctors and lawyers in my childhood. Just not on television.
relationship with film and television has been a frustrating one. More often than not our characters were seen
as buffoonish, uneducated or dripping with tired stereotypes and tropes that
belied a true depiction of the richness of our experience. With few exceptions, we didn’t see positive
images of ourselves on the screen….if we saw images of us at all. Here comes Cliff and Claire Huxtable. Critics called the idea of a Black doctor
married to a Black lawyer “over the top” and “heavy-handed.” We saw people we could aspire to be. We saw well-adjusted kids in a safe and
nurturing environment. That show would
be the topic of lunch table and water cooler discussions every Friday
morning. The episode with the family
serenading Cliff’s parents with a Ray Charles classic is a watershed moment in
television history that everyone remembers fondly. Plus my kids love it.
This brings me to
my cause for Dr. Huxtable. Who do my
children see when they watch television?
The reason why they are familiar with The Cosby Show and A
Different World is because my wife and I felt so strongly about what those
shows taught us. The Cosby Show pushed little Black children to think about becoming
doctors and lawyers. A Different World gave insight to the
Black College experience and convinced more than a few teenagers to enroll in
higher education. Now before you say,
“It’s the parents’ responsibility to instill those ideas in their children,”
let me remind you that every situation is different and studies have shown the
impact that positive images have on young children. The last twenty years have seen some decent
shows depicting Black families come and go.
However, our recent images have been problematic examples of the worst
aspects of our perceived culture. The push for higher ratings compels people to
act in ways that only serve to reinforce stereotypes, that Black people have
fought to destroy for centuries.
top rated shows on the tube now have major black characters. Scandal,
How to Get Away with Murder and Empire
are blockbuster hits. However, I can’t
let my nine and six year olds watch any of those shows because of the subject
matter. Blackish (despite the controversy around the name) is a welcomed
addition and does provide the representation that is currently lacking, but it
is only one show, when it seemed not too long ago, there were several. I can only hope that the success of those
shows will lead to a renaissance of positive images for not only Black people,
but all other groups that are sorely missing from the landscape. America is much more diverse than broadcast
television and award shows (*cough* The
Oscars *cough*) would have us believe.
It saddens me
that my daughters don’t have the luxury of seeing characters like Theo, Rudy
and Vanessa grow up with them. They can’t root for Denise to succeed in school
and see how people struggle to find their way to adulthood. I would love for a character to come along
like Whitley Gilbert for my kids to see mature from a spoiled brat to a capable
strong woman. I want my girls to see how
Claire Huxtable juggled the practice of law and rearing children with style and
grace. I have NO problem admitting that
I still have a crush on Claire. Don’t judge me. Fortunately, I have my very own
“Claire,” complete with style and class, (also a law degree) as my better half.
Of course we have
to create those examples for our children, but man, it sure made us feel good
to watch those shows and look at those characters like family members. That is missing right now and it stinks. I know why The Cosby Show is not on television right now. However, until the next Huxtable clan comes
along, my kids need Cliff and Claire around.
Maybe I do too.
By Ahmad Ward,
BCRI Head of Education and Exhibitions