Thursday, July 29, 2010

What Happened to the Cosby's? - Accountability in Narrative

Friday night, mid-march, 1991; do you know where your child was? Of course you do; chances are you probably know where you were as well. In what us 80's babies like to refer to as 'the good old days', we were all sitting in front of the television waiting eagerly for the phenomenon that was ABC's "T.G.I.F.". For years ABC controlled the cable audience with their Friday night sitcoms, and dominated the water cooler and lunch-line discussions on Monday.

Tuesday night, however, belonged to a man named Cliff Huxtable, his wife Clair, and their children Sandra, Denise, Vanessa, Theo, and Rudy. The Huxtable's, an upper-middle class Black family that lived in a Brownstone in New York City, were a staple for successful family programming. The household was headed by successful, college-educated parents, who were raising a colorful spectrum of children in front of our eyes. "The Cosby Show" was a beacon of positivity for the Black community. It did not harp on the race of the characters, nor did it ignore the cultural importance of several African American customs. We were welcomed into the home of the Huxtables, not as observers of a cache ritual-like black upbringing, but as guests in an All-American home. The show enjoyed a wide and diverse audience because every one could relate to the stories presented.

Now, some people may argue that 'The Cosby Show' was anything but radical in its approach to Black visibility, but noting the cultural atmosphere at the height of the show's popularity, and compared to the (excuse me) shit that we allow on TV today, one could argue that the Huxtables were the epitome of "Black Power".

"The Cosby Show" did more than entertain us, it brought black people into white homes, on a weekly basis. It showed America that we weren't all crack fiends and welfare mothers. It placed the idea into young black minds that they could grow up to become doctors and lawyers. It showed every family that we all encounter the same things in life, and made us laugh as an extra incentive. Even in times when sensitive issues needed to be addressed, it tackled them so eloquently with a sprinkle of humor, and always delivered a happy ending. The show's success paved the way for other families to enter our living room, families like the Banks's, the Cooper's, and the Winslow's.

I believe that these TV families have fallen into a similar abyss as did the leverage gained from the civil rights movement; once more black folks started to become the Cosby's, we forgot why they were needed in the first place. We have fallen into a complacency, the severity of which may signal the evanescence of our culture as we know it. Forgive me for the alarmist syntax, but by not acknowledging our own narrative, we are allowing the absorption of our culture and community into an appropriated mainstream caricature of who we used to be. The civil rights movement, the Cosby's, and Black Power are becoming afterthoughts, antiquated manifestations of things we "used to need" but no longer require because we are so "accepted and evolved". It is similar to the ideas described in my earlier blog, "The Ebb", we are getting our forty acres and moving them right to suburbia. We are too busy maintaining our status and outward appearances that we're missing what's going on around us.

An examination of the causes behind this cultural deterioration can be traced all the way back to slavery. Because we were stripped of our or customs, languages, and families, the foundation of Black culture is a wayward hybrid of slave-owner indoctrination and piecemeal African tradition. Like other cultures, we suffer the ills of the "-isms" as well as intra-cultural stigmatization based on things like skin tone or hair texture. Therefore, it would seem that the natural progression of Black culture would be that of the mainstream ideal. It is that progression that has contributed to our decline.

Black people are ultimately responsible for structuring our own narrative. I liken my argument to an analogy I call "the neighborhood garden". In a neighborhood garden, every individual is responsible for his own crop, but everyone is responsible for the whole garden's welfare. The soil may not be the most fertile, the bugs and animals may nibble away at the leaves, the rain may not come and the sun may not shine, but if the crops do not grow, the people will go hungry. They cannot change the soil, so they surround their crops with better fertilizer. They cannot stop the bugs from flying over or animals from prowling around, so they arm their crops with repellent. They cannot control the rain but they can water when conditions aren't favorable, and they can't control when the sun will shine but they can provide their own light and warmth in the darkness. Since everyone's crop is important, letting one suffer will undoubtedly jeopardize the whole supply. If one neighbor is missing the tools with which to successfully cultivate his crop, his neighbor provides those tools, and shows him how to use them. Operating in this capacity yields abundance and satiety for all.

The Black community, our community, is that garden, only we are starving. Our crops are held to the ground with shallow roots, grasping for a small notion of wholesome fertilizer, and shriveled up in the artificial lights. We care more about our own crop than our neighbors, we water it with impurities, fixating on it so that we don't account for the welfare of the rest of the garden, and thus, we all go hungry.

So where is the Miracle Grow solution, you say? It's not that simple. Like a smart young man suggested in his blog earlier this week, we have to acknowledge and become accountable for the existence of structural inequalities in our society. We have to define our own narrative by digging our hands in the dirt, planting worthwhile seeds and facilitating their healthy cultivation. We must stop accepting cheap, mediocre, and often insulting images of ourselves in the media. We need more "Cosby Show" and less "Meet the Browns", more Talib Kweli and less Soulja Boy. We need to take responsibility for our own actions and lives. If the welfare system is one of entrapment for our community, we must help our neighbors out of it. The status quo will perpetuate unless we challenge it. We need to address the stigmas that prevent our culture from flourishing and that starts with encouraging the revival of the Black family unit. We need to reexamine the time when there were mothers and fathers instead of baby mamas and baby daddies. We need to demand the right to an education and if we cannot obtain it we must teach ourselves.

Our ancestors taught themselves to read in a time where it was punishable by death; because of their collective bravery, we have access to free education and many other incredible opportunities. It's like we have the tools, the water, a hot lamp, and a bag of fertilizer and we still can't seem to grow a plant.

In its inception, the solution is simple: until we start digging, we will continue to go hungry.

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