Afriancan American’s Role Of Television The roles African Americans play on television are not satisfactory. Though the roles have changed during the development of television, the current relationship is not representative of true African American people or their lifestyles. The question is how do the past roles African Americans play in television sitcoms compare to the current roles? How does this affect society’s perception of the African American in American culture? Throughout the history of television the roles and the representation of African Americans has developed with the changing cultural conditions. However, the representation of African American’s has not fully simulated into today’s society. What the average citizen views on his or her television does not accurately portray the African American’s influence on America.
The early days of television held great optimism and hope for this new form of media as an avenue for African Americans to assimilate into white American culture. However, a pattern became evident, a pattern of type casting African Americans in roles which did not accurately and wholly portray the individual. A misrepresentation of African Americans became the common image on television. Variety shows initially promoted the new media as an opportunity for equal representation and communication between the races. However, a trend developed with African Americans often being “portrayed as custodians, maids, servants, clowns, or buffoons” (Crenshaw). The negative image, which was developed by these stereotypes, was perpetuated in the Amos and Andy Show.
This television show began as a radio show featuring two white men 1 portraying two comedic black men. When the show was transferred to television, two African American men were cast in the roles, acting as buffoons. The popularity of the show was overwhelming. This was the initial image of African Americans in television, which reached mainstreams Caucasian America and was the foundation for which future stereotypes were created. A new image of African American families was presented in the eighty’s with the Cosby Show. The Huxtable’s were a successful African American family with a life similar to the accepted and established Caucasian mainstream.
This show was not accepted fully because it failed to represent the full cultural scope of African Americans. The current trend of television shows in the ninety’s is a divide between the programs and audiences watching them. Caucasians tend to watch programs with primarily Caucasian casts, and African Americans tend to watch programs with primarily African American casts. Television has the power to influence American culture in many ways. For example, the images, which are presented on television, become what individuals expect in the real world.
As negative images, or images misrepresenting African Americans are projected; the mass culture has a greater tendency to accept the false images as the truth. It is important for Americans to examine the basis of the expectations they have from television sitcoms and be careful in accepting its relation to the real world. The conclusions Americans of all races draw from this are important in lowering the stereotypes on television and the interaction between all individuals. With the 1980’s came a new portrayal of African American’s on television. Shows such as The Cosby Show depicted African American’s with middle-class lifestyles.
Characters were seen as successful doctors, nurses, and lawyers. This idea was not readily accepted. In fact, ABC originally turned down the idea of The Cosby Show because they did not believe America would be able to handle the idea of an average, middle-class African American family. (Johnson, 59) The Cosby Show was completely different from any previous African American show. Before The Cosby Show, African Americans on television were most commonly characterized as singers, dancers, maids, servants, and buffoons.
The Cosby Show was different. African Americans were viewed with average jobs and average lifestyles. The African Americans on this show talked intelligently and about important issues. An article in Ebony magazine titled “The Huxtables: Fact or Fantasy” stated, “The Cosby Show presents a high level of positive images which are far ahead of other Black sitcoms.” The show continued to allude to famous African American art, authors, and universities. The intelligent African American was constantly depicted on the show through things such as the anti-apartheid poster on Theo’s door and the naming of Sondra’s children (Winnie and Nelson) after Winnie and Nelson Mandela. Bill Cosby tried very hard to eliminate all stereotypes of African Americans in his show.
In fact, Cosby even hired someone specifically take out any stereotypes or racial jokes he found in the scripts. He wanted his show to view African Americans in a positive light in order to change America’s concept of them. (Racial Stereotypes Persist, 12) However, he was criticized for this very thing. Many popular critiques said the problem with The Cosby Show and others like it is the characters were acting white. John Killens asserts, The Black folk [on these shows] are full of understanding and wisdom, sympathetic all the way.
No basic problems between the races. All men are brothers, right? An undramatic, middle-classish situation, which hardly has anything to do with the Black experience. (Torres, 71) Many found The Cosby Show to be unrealistic, saying their world was too perfect, but The Cosby Show, in actuality, did a great job of portraying the middle-class African American. Its depiction of the African American family was not too perfect; it was just a dramatic change from what the American people were used to. The Cosby Show quite realistically portrayed the middle-class African American family, and in doing so helped to change America’s perception of African Americans. During the eighties it seemed as though African Americans had gotten past the point of there being blaxploitation on television. With shows like, The Cosby Show and A Different World African Americans were portrayed in a way, which was never shown on television before.
They were portrayed in a way in which Caucasians were usually portrayed on television, as upper class and intelligent. For some reason these types of shows did not last very long. During the 90’s began a trend of African Americans once again being portrayed in and buffoonish and unintelligent light. With shows like The Wayans Brothers and Martin African Americans were once again shown as being able to be funny, but not being able to be serious. These sitcoms show African American males in particular in a buffoonish way.
In both shows they do not seem to have any serious careers or goals in life. In Martin the character Martin is a disk jockey who does not seem very successful in his career because he is always aggravating his boss by acting foolish. In The Wayans Brothers, Sean is an amateur actor who goes to an audition for a job and …