Monday, August 4, 2008
YourBlackEducation: Alain Locke vs. W.E.B DuBois Applies To Black TV
By Chiderah A. Monde
W.E.B Du Bois and Alain Locke had contrasting ideas about how Black life should be portrayed by Black Art. In theatre, Du Bois’s plays depicted black life as it was: political propaganda, with struggling or less wealthy black families, self-taught intellectualism, and challenges of oppression. Locke’s plays reflected Black life as he thought it should be: successful and happy, with wealth, political equality and the triumphant black families.
Such views of Black life today have maintained similar contrasts, except now we’ve seen the same on television. Black sitcoms have made their way into the two categories that reflect Locke and DuBois’s contrasting beliefs.
For example, shows like “The Cosby Show”, “The Jeffersons”, “Family Matters”, and “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” portray Black life as we generally want it to be. The shows all have the successful and triumphant families aspect. There’s overall wealth and political equality (although sometimes there were episodes that showed the reality of racism), a tight-knit family that always worked through their problems, and most importantly, the stress of higher education for the shows with children- whether it is going to an Ivy League school or an HBC.
Shows like “Different Strokes”, “Living Single”, “All Of Us”, and now “House of Payne” portray Black life as it is in reality. There’s extended, multi-generational or broken families present in each sitcom, which reflects the truth that most Black families go beyond just the “nuclear” two parents and children model. There are also day-to-day (multi episode) struggles, lessons learned, and realizations of each character’s roles in the family and in society (like coming from a tough neighborhood or broken family). There isn’t necessarily a focus on the colleges that the characters go or went to, but more so a focus on the jobs they now hold.
It is no question that both televised ideas of Black life illustrate and reflect actual Black life. The ongoing argument of which one is more necessary can be satisfied by the successful ratings of both types of television sitcoms. I think both are very necessary, because there is factual support that shows like “The Cosby Show” increased enrollment in historically Black colleges and universities, and shows like “Living Single” (and later “Girlfriends”) have made it acceptable for Black women to be single and still successful.
Although these two theories of Black television summarize just about every Black sitcom, there are exceptions and characters of shows that fall into both categories. More importantly, as we move forward with the “life as it is” type of shows, there are still remnants of inferiority on television. There are now fewer shows that model Locke’s idea of “life as we want it to be” than there were in the 1970s and 1980s, and now most shows depict Du Bois’s “life as it is” with Black people having to teach themselves and their families how to get by and maintain values within society.
The lack of the “perfect” or Cosby-like Black family on today’s television could be related to the wake-up call that Black people are no longer living like this. “That’s So Raven” was cancelled, “Romeo” was cancelled, “Smart Guy”, “One on One” and “Sister, Sister” were cancelled, and so was almost every show that young Black children watched on Disney and Nickelodeon to see traces of happy families and wealthy Black people. The so-called “reality” show “Baldwin Hills” on BET is the closest we’re getting to seeing Black people live lavishly on television, and to be honest- it is not a good look. Is it better to have more black characters mixed happily into white television shows? Perhaps in our day and age we have to, since we apparently cannot combat the idea that Black people just don’t live happily, successfully, lavishly and with full families anymore.