Back in the Day…
I’m proud to be a true 90s kid, a millennial by birth year (1985, to be exact). I think all 90s kids will agree when I say that the 90s were amazing. From good music to legendary TV shows, the 90s had it all. Great Saturday morning cartoons, SNICK and TGIF…ah, the good old days. I believe in my heart that the 1990s was the Golden Era of not only modern TV, but black television as a whole. I think about how black people are mostly portrayed on TV nowadays and frankly, I’m disappointed. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy shows like Empire and Black Ink Crew, but there are some shows that make me wonder if are we losing the image of intact and successful black families on TV that was prevalent in the 1990s.
Reality Can Shape Perception…
As a young, successful black man, I feel for this generation of black youth, especially my two little girls. More times than not, black men and women are shown at their worse, particularly on reality TV. Seriously, how often do you turn on the TV to see gorgeous black women throwing wine at each other and fighting over something that happened 2 years ago? How about those same shows that make black men look like womanizers, chasing after countless women? Even the reality shows that have successful black people on them, in my opinion, tend to show more negative situations than positive. I guess the argument is that it makes for great TV, but I can picture white Americans who don’t interact with many black Americans for whatever reason, flipping through the TV and letting that imagery give them a false perception of all black people.
When Melanated Excellence Ruled the Airwaves
I grew up on shows like The Cosby Show, A Different World and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air just to name a few. For many black people in my generation, these shows were the only time they saw a successful and intact black family. For a good decade or more, you could tune into multiple major TV networks, from Fox to NBC, and see melanated excellence all over the place. Sure, these shows had, and thanks to syndication, still maintain the entertainment factor with captivating storylines, famous lead characters and comedic elements. More importantly though, they showed America that black people can be portrayed as corporate professionals, lawyers, doctors, college professors and judges with families at home. Although we are well into 2017, it is clear that a sizeable portion of Americans still view black people negatively and these reality shows don’t help. It seems that the Golden Era of intact and successful black TV families has suffered a setback. Furthermore, recent legal events have dealt a major blow to the legacy of the gold standard of black TV dads.
Syndicated Punishment, Not Fair and Impartial
From the mid 80s to the early 90s, Bill Cosby was “America’s Dad”. Not just black America, but a considerable number of American viewers from all walks of life tuned in weekly to watch The Huxtables. Yet, The Cosby Show was pulled from TV syndication and streaming services at the height of sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby, none of which he has been convicted, by the way. Now let’s look at Stephen Collins who portrayed Rev. Eric Camden on 7th Heaven, a successful family-oriented show from the late 90s and early 2000s. He confessed…wait…let me repeat, he confessed to molesting a young girl in 1972 and exposing himself to 2 other children, but 7th Heaven still has a hefty syndication presence across the country. Fair? I don’t think so. Let me be clear… if Bill Cosby is guilty of those assaults, he absolutely deserves whatever the law throws at him. However, the fact that Stephan Collins admitted to his bad behavior and his show continues to have a widespread syndication presence baffles me. Here’s my point with these examples…bring back The Cosby Show in mass syndication so that black youth today, like my daughters, can see an intact and successful black family on TV. The other option is to remove 7th Heaven from it’s heavily syndicated rotation, just like what was done to The Cosby Show. Honestly, I’d rather not see this happen because, despite Stephen Collins’ disgusting transgressions, I think 7th Heaven is a good show.
The good news is that it’s not all bad. Shows like ABC’s Blackish portrays an intact, successful and multi-generational black family navigating said success in a predominantly white suburb of Los Angeles. Blackish hits on the comedic elements of its predecessors, with a modern twist, but also tackles serious issues that affect black America. Other shows, like OWN’s For Peete’s Sake and TV One’s The Manns, show intact, famous black families in a reality TV format and how they handle life situations, some serious and some very funny. Bottom line, there is some positivity, but it is often overshadowed by shows that insist on showing more negative images of black people.
…But Perception is Not Always Reality
Here is my advice to America, regardless of race, regarding this TV issue. Watch whatever you want to watch, but do not let the subset of reality shows that profit from showing black people in a bad light shape your opinion of all black people. For every fight shown on reality TV, there is a black lawyer somewhere that just made partner in her law firm or a young black businessman that just closed a lucrative deal for his company. Even if the images of successful and intact black TV families are dwindling, real successful black people do exist and are increasing in numbers. Still, I think it would help for it to be portrayed on the TV screen more, especially for those young black kids that are not always exposed to the possibilities of the excellence they can achieve.