Family Matters, Fresh Prince, The Cosby Show & Other African American Sitcoms [Saturday Flashback]
Whatever happened to all-brown sitcoms? Before anyone chimes in with, “Isn’t it just as racist to have only Black people on a show?” No, it’s not racist, it’s reality. Almost every show focuses on a cast of mostly, usually all, White casts or White families. Well, you know, there are African American, Latin, Pacific Asian and South Asian families out there. They’re a part of America too, so there is nothing unusual or exclusionary about a sitcom that focuses on another ethnicity for a change. In the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s we weren’t afraid of this. Remember Good Times, The Jeffersons, Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Cosby Show, A Different World, Sister Sister, Smart Guy, Parenthood and, I would even include, Different Strokes? These shows weren’t featured on UPN or BET they were on all different kinds of networks.
They were important because they gave young people of color positive role models and families they could identify with, more than that they made the “Black experience” something everyone could identify with. They were just regular families, with regular family issues, maybe some having to do with race but at the end of the day the shows were about family. Family and unity is an idea that crosses racial boundaries and it can make people of all different cultures and ethnicities empathetic toward one another. I remember being a kid and learning about Passover from Rugrats! These shows do a lot for society and can change how we view different races and lifestyles. It was groundbreaking, sadly but true, it was groundbreaking for an African American family to have a father who was a doctor and a mother who was a lawyer when The Cosby Show aired.
Not only did shows with African American casts help break racial barriers and create empathy they also employed a lot of great Black actors. Let’s face it, brown characters are usually few and far between and reduced to less significant characters on most shows. How many shows on television have people of color, any color, as the lead? It seemed that in the new millenium we left behind the all-ethnic cast. Why? I would love to see a show (in good taste) about an all-Chinese or Indian family. I’d love to see more family shows that explored other cultures and could help to employ actors of color who would otherwise be unemployed.
We keep saying over and over again that race doesn’t matter, that racism is over, yet the face of television still doesn’t reflect the diversity of the American population. No, I don’t wish to see the all-White cast disappear, I just wish television was more balanced and more integrated. We used to do it during times when our culture was considered “more racist” yet it seems as though since we decided that because “racism is over” we no longer feel like it’s necessary to be more inclusive to other races and cultures. It’s just kind of a bummer.