I’m one of the lucky ones! Having been born in the 80’s raised in the 90’s, I grew up with sitcoms. Weekly family-based comedies with live studio audiences and very special episodes. A time before reality shows dominated every channel, when the only reality television that existed was Real World (which was only available to cable subscribers).
Long before there was NeNe Leakes and the Atlanta Housewives, there was Claire Huxtable, and in much happier times before Stevie J and the men of Love & Hip Hop, there was James Evans.
I grew up watching Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Cosby Show, and thanks to re-runs and syndication, The Jeffersons, and Good Times. I along with thousands of others loved tuning into these couples and their families every week, but I connected with these shows far past being a viewer. The impact these shows had on Black audiences, specifically the Black family, is undeniable.
For thirty minutes to an hour every week, we got to see families who love each other and love other people, despite the media and the nightly news insisting that the loving Black family does not exist. It is normal and common to have two parents in one household, with loving grandparents who visit or live under the same roof. It is normal to see a Black businessman become successful and move his family into a new home, or take in his nephew to protect him from gang life. It was also perfectly normal to see families that struggle; the Evans family had very little but kept us laughing, which I think many will agree is a common thread amongst Black families.
I learned to cope with my father’s death through watching re-runs of Good Times, that iconic scene where Florida drops her glass and screams “Damn, Damn, Damn” after learning of James’ death taught me it was okay to cry. I knew I was going to college, because all of the Cosby kids did (shout out to A Different World). I wanted to be a lawyer because Uncle Phil was paid, and I valued my appearance because Claire Huxtable, Laura Winslow and Willona Evans, were so fly and I had to be the same.
I only wish youth growing up today can experience what I had. I saw myself on those screens being beautiful, successful, funny, and loving; an image so desperately needed today.
By Alexis R. Posey
M.S. Candidate in Urban Policy Analysis and Management, 2014