Ever since television began in 1939, African Americans have been portrayed asmaids, servants or clowns. These negative perceptions started to appear in sitcomssuch as in Amos and Andy, who were the stereotypical backs who never took thingsseriously. All those views changed during the 1970’s when black sitcoms werebecoming more reality based.
Although blacks have been, and often still, portrayed in anegative way on TV, there has been some improvement of stereotypical images ofAfrican Americans on television. There were five stereotypical roles of blacks between 1940-1970; the Tom,Coon, Mammie, Tragic Mulatto, and the Buck (Gray “Recognizing”). The tom wasalways insulted, but kept the faith and remained generous and kind. The coon (mostused image) was always lazy, unreliable and constantly butchered his speech. Themammie was more distinguished than the coon only because of her sex. She wasusually big and plump and full of heart.
The tragic mulatto was fair-skinned, trying topass for white. Always well-liked and believed that their lives could have been better ifthey were not biracial. The last stereotype was the buck. He was the big, oversexedblack man (Gray “Recognizing”).
In the late 1960’s, there were shows like I Spy and The Flip Wilson Show thathad blacks starring in it. After, starting in 1971, shows were popping everywhere withblack casts (“Changing Image” 76). Sanford and Son appeared on NBC in January 14,Alba 21972, to replace another show (Booth 26). The show took place in South CentralCalifornia, where Fred Sanford and his son Lamont lived and owned a junk yard. Fredwas satisfied with his little business .
However, Lamont, wanted something bigger andbetter. Fred would do anything to keep his son from abandon him and the business. Every time Lamont threatened to leave, Fred would do his famous act and fake a heartattack and start moaning to his late wife, I’m coming, Elizabeth, I’m coming. Lamontnever fooled by his father’s scheme, but he did love him and, despite what he saidabout his future, really wouldn’t have leave him (“Network and Cable”). They wererated the 6th most popular show during the 1971-72 season, and 10th during the1976-77 season. The stereotype was still there, but realistic views were appearing onthe show of realistic lives of black men.
After Sanford and Son cam on air, others followed. Good Times appeared on1974 (Ingram ?Good Times”) Florida and James Evans were lower middle-classblacks, with their three children in a high-rise ghetto on the south side of Chicago. J. J.
,an amateur painter, was the oldest, Thelma was a year younger than he, and Michaelwas five years younger than she. James, who was always in and out of jobs, madetheir lives difficult at times, but there was always plenty of love in the family. Thefamous catch phrase from J. J ,Dy-No-Mite became very popular in the mid 1970s(Ingram “Good Times”).
During the first season, Good Times was the 17th mostpopular show (“20 Most”). Many black families related to them. This was the firstblack show that had controversial issues such as gun control, murder, and drug use(“Network and Cable”). These were topics previously unexplored on television. Goodtimes was one of the most original shows on television its time. Alba 3The Jeffersons were seen often on All in the Family from 1972-1975.
TheJeffersons was an extremely popular TV show from the 70s and 80s. It was about ablack family making it to the top in New York City. George Jefferson, was a successfuldry-cleaner, with seven stores. He and his wife Louise, or “Weezy”, started out withnothing, living with George’s mother. They moved to a house in Queens once George’sbusiness hit big.
As he became more successful, they moved, with their son Lionel, intothe famous dee-luxe apartment in the sky,. They decided they needed a maid, andhired a black maid. Her wise-cracking humor made the show that much better. Thebest friends of the Jeffersons were the Willises, an interracial couple (“Network andCable”). The Jeffersons had in its show what no other show had. Many other showshad a few episodes with interracial relationships, yet, The Jeffersons had a interracialcouple as supporting actors on the show.
There were funny episodes, light episodes,and ones that almost made you cry. The Jeffersons wasn’t just a comedy. It was ashow that taught America, and especially blacks, that if the tried, they could achieveanything. The Jeffersons were in the top 20 for seven years (“20 Most”). Now that the eighties were entering, there was a new stereotype of blacks. They were no longer the “croons”, but now, people were viewing blacks aslower-class, yet still happy people (“Adjusting” 2).
There was a new image blacks hadto confront and defeat. In the late 70s to the early 80s, there was a famous icon and saying that cameform one Pint-sized little boy. The boy was from an interracial show named Dif’rentStrokes. 8-year-old Arnold with his famous, “Whatchu talkin about Willis”, and his12-year-old brother Willis were two black kids from Harlem who found themselvessuddenly in the lap of luxury. Their dying mother, a housekeeper for wealthy PhilipDrummond, had taken from her employer the promise that he would look after herAlba 4boys when she passed away.
It didn’t matter that there were endless double takes whenthe rich, white Philip Drummond, president of the huge corporation Trans Allied, Inc. introduced the two spunky black kids as his sons. . Also in the household wasKimberly, his 13-year-old daughter and the new, scatterbrained housekeeper, Mrs. Garret. There was always plenty of love around.
Everybody learned little lessons aboutwhat was right and wrong in each episode. The show also tackled serious issues suchas child abuse and the dangers of hitch-hiking (“Network and Cable”). There was ahuge controversy over the interracial relationships between the two boys and Philip. Critics protested that the show wasn’t realistic enough. But in a study performed byUS News and World Report , revealed that there was an increase of interracialadoption up 20% (57).
Other Shows followed Dif’rent Strokes such as Webster. In 1984, The Cosby Show appeared on NBC. The Huxtable residence, in NewYork City, where Cliff (an obstetrician) also maintained his office. He and his wifeClair, a legal aid attorney, had five children.
Sondra, the oldest daughter was a seniorat Princeton University during the first season; Denise and Theo were the know-it-allteenagers; Venessa the rambunctious 8-year old; and Rudy the adorable andmischievous little girl (“Network and Cable”). The family held values and were proudto show their ethnic and social backgrounds. There was a positive approach to familylife, values and standards (“Changing Image” 80). The Cosby Show has been watchedby more people than any other situation comedy in the history of television. Havingwon countless awards and enjoying record-breaking success, the program has beenranked number one more times than any other TV series since its premiere (Crenshaw”Cosby”).
Alba 5People argued that The Cosby Show was attempting to break the “traditional”way of black lives, and that it didn’t reflect the typical black family (“Adjusting” 4). However, the show’s main goal was to abolish those exact stereotypes (Crenshaw”Cosby”). It was true that the show didn’t copy the repetitious images people saw onthe news, but it did show the common black middle-class family of the 80s. Inactuality, the show represented many black professionals in America (Crenshaw”Cosby”). Not only did they make an effort to eliminate the stereotypes people saw ofblacks, but purposely created positive roles of blacks.
The 90s perspective was different from how it was in the 60s. The Cosby Showchanged the stereotypical view of the black family on television. It introduced realAfrican American on TV. Other shows cam along the 90s that were affected by TheCosby Show. The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air premiered on NBC on September 10, 1990 (“20Most”). The series is about a young man named Will from Philadelphia who gets sentby his mother to live with his aunt and her family in Bel Air, California.
Will has toadjust to a totally different lifestyle and to having new relatives around. He now has anaunt, uncle, and three cousins (“Network and Cable”). Having a black family inupper-class but still humble was a huge sensation. Fresh Prince had many similaritiesof the Cosby Show. Both were of well-to-do families that were proud of their heritage. Fresh Prince had episods where you couldnt stop laughing, and some episodes thathad you on teh verge of yout seats.
They delt with things that happened to everydaypeople from trying to make the cheer squad to buglury. It was number 10 on the “Top20 shows in the 70s, 80s and 90s” in 1992-1993 season, and number 6 in 1993-1994season. Family Matters showed focus on a middle-class black family living inAlba 6Chicago. The family included a blustery father, Carl, a Chicago cop; Harriette, hissharp-tongued wife and Eddie, Laura and Judy, their loud and crazy children. Hangingaround is Grandma Winslow, Carl’s and Harriette’s recently widowed sister, Rachel,who moved in with her infant son, Richie. The real star of the show emerged halfwaythrough the first season.
Steve Urkel, the ultimate nerd, was a neighborhood kid with aserious crush on an uninterested Laura. With his oversized glasses, hiked-up pants andhigh-pitched voice (“Network and Cable”). They were portraying the average blackfamily. Today, many black roles avoid much of the racial stereotyping that wascharacteristic of shows. There is a definite change in American’s view of the”typical” black family, and widely opened the doors for other shows that came alongafter the 1970s. Although there still are stereotyping on minorities (especially blacks),there has been improvements that will help the next decade to take away stereotypicalimages bit by bit.
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