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. There are some shows that make me wonder if we are losing the image of intact and successful black families on TV that was more prevalent in the 1990s.
Reality Can Shape Perception…
I consider myself a conscious and successful young black man but when it comes to positive TV images of black people, I feel for this generation of black youth, especially my two little girls. More times than not, black men and black women are shown at their worse, especially 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, aimlessly 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 know some people may read this and argue that it’s just entertainment, but a lot of black people live their lives based on what they see on TV. They are not able to separate the so-called entertainment factor from reality. I guess another argument is that it makes for great ratings, but the people in charge at these networks don’t care that they are making millions of dollars at the expense of the reputation of the black race. Black people are being perceived negatively worldwide, largely because of what is shown on the TV screen.
When Melanated Excellence Ruled the Airwaves
I remember shows like The Cosby Show, A Different World and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. These shows were great because 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 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 are successful professionals, lawyers, doctors, college professors and judges with families at home. It is abundantly 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 committed those assaults, he absolutely deserves to be punished. 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…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. Yes, there are some networks that have slowly started to show the Cosby Show in syndication again, but it is not like it was before these allegations.
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 people. 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 real 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
To black people I say don’t let these shows dictate how you should carry yourself. For every fight shown on reality TV, there is a young black woman building a successful and profitable business. For every scene showing a black man at a strip club “making it rain”, there is a black man sitting at home with his wife, helping his kids do homework. Even if the images of successful and intact black TV families are decreasing, real and intellectual black people do exist and more are becoming “woke” every day. Black people watch more TV than any other demographic, so I think it will help for black people to be portrayed positively 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.