Jhally, Sut and Lewis, Justin:(Enlightened Racism, The Cosby Show,Audiences, and the Myth of the American Dream), Westview Press,Boulder: 1992
|ROBERT MILLER <ltrobmil@HOTMAIL.COM>||1. Enlightened Racism (Miller)|
|Clayton cobb <firstname.lastname@example.org>||2. Review: Enlightened Racism (Clayton Cobb)|
|"Ureatha Watkins, Illinois State University" <email@example.com>||3. Enlightened Racism (Watkins)|
|Joseph John Jezewski <firstname.lastname@example.org>||4. Enlightened Racism (Joe Jezewski)|
|ray briggs <email@example.com>||5. Enlightened Racism (Ray Briggs)|
|Maureen N Kaszonyi <firstname.lastname@example.org>||6. ENLIGHTENED RACISM: THE COSBY SHOW|
|Deidre Meyers <dlmeyer_98@YAHOO.COM>||7. Review of Enlightened Racism|
|Angel Heather Pickrell <ahpickr@ILSTU.EDU>||8. ENLIGHTENED RACISM, Reviewed by Jamie Cecil|
|Laurie Hartzell <ogrb@YAHOO.COM>||9. Laurie Beth's review of Liberal Racism|
|Jacqlyn Larson <jalarso@ILSTU.EDU>||10. Review of Enlightened Racism|
|Justin Mayo <jdmayo@ILSTU.EDU>||11. Enlightened Racism Review|
|Date:||Tue, 9 Feb 1999 19:51:32 CST|
|From:||ROBERT MILLER <ltrobmil@HOTMAIL.COM>|
|Subject:||Enlightened Racism (Miller)|
The book, Enlightened Racism, The Cosby Show, Audiences, and the Myth of the American Dream by Sut Jhally and Justin Lewis, asserts that the Cosby Show causes audiences to adopt racist attitudes. The book’s use of interviews, statistics, and their assumption that television is a "real world" to viewers gives the book’s thesis a foundation, which is not the pinnacle of strength.According to the authors there are two basic types of racism.
The first type of racism is known as institutional racism. In this type of racism, the various institutions of society have evolved to give preference to those individuals and groups of European descent. The second type of racism is rooted in the individual. It consists of beliefs and behaviors that seek to discriminate against those outside those of European descent, most commonly African Americans. It is Jhally’s and Lewis’s belief that the greatest emphasis for change focuses on the second type, assuming that the elimination of this type could correct society. (Jhally and Lewis, 72)
The authors believe that the Cosby Show gives individuals of European descent reason to believe that they are somehow superior to those of African descent due to African Americans’ relatively low socio-economic status. Jhally and Lewis further assert that the Cosby Show is racist and promotes racism in others by demonstrating that television falls in the first category.
As a point of reference, social institutions such as government would also fall into the first definition, and their activities aimed at alleviating the racial divide would fall under Jhally’s and Lewis’s blanket of racism.Attempts by government to clean society of racism and level the cultural playing field have met with resistance from both sides. Policies such as Affirmative Action, progressive tax structures, Welfare Programs, Public Housing, and other forms of income redistribution have met with this resistance. They simultaneously attempt to correct long term social problems, and tear down the motivation and self-esteem of program participants. Jhally and Lewis argue that the same is true of the Cosby Show.
According to Jhally and Lewis, the Cosby Show sets up an unachievable goal for African Americans. It sets them up for failure. They try to show that the odds are so great against African Americans successfully negotiating all of the obstacles between themselves and the American Dream that it might as well be impossible. The Cosby Show tells us quite the opposite. The show would have us believe that anyone, regardless of race, can achieve material success in the United States. Material success for the authors of the book is the key ingredient in the American Dream. According to them the Cosby Show is the consummate definition of the American Dream. The show depicts individuals, who under "normal" circumstances should not have achieved material success, achieving material success. It further sets them as an example of a strong family with the inclusion of the extended family. The Huxtables are what Americans should aspire to be. However, they are black.
The blackness of the Huxtables is the key for Jhally and Lewis. Their research has conclusively proven to them that simply being black is too much to overcome in America. Their book focuses on interviews and uses statistics to prove that the black experience in America is all but void of the successes that the Huxtables demonstrate. The authors believe that the success of the Huxtables in their achievement of the American Dream gives rise to an entirely new type of racism, enlightened racism.
The meaning of enlightened racism is comprised of a newly developed belief system. This new belief set relies on the misunderstanding of the "natural" condition of most African Americans in the United States.
It gives the budding bigot a new reason for his views. An enlightened racist will believe that anyone can make it in the U.S. because our system is a fair and just one, and it is only the fault of the individual for a lack of success. Enlightened racism, in the minds of the authors, is dissimilar to other forms of racism. Unlike institutional racism, which prevents minorities from succeeding due to institutional preferences, enlightened racism holds that no one is prevented from accomplishing anything. The other form of racism presented in the book is individual racism. This form consists of individual beliefs and activities that prevent minorities from succeeding.
The premise of the book gives the reader the impression that the Cosby Show promotes unfair expectations of minorities, which means that it contains elements of the second type of racism. The authors, however, also tie the show’s message to its medium, television.The fact that the message of the Cosby Show is presented on television is inseparable from its racist nature according to the authors. Their reasoning lies in the responses of their interviewees, who seemed to have some difficulty distinguishing between television and reality. For the interviewees, the Huxtables represent "real people", and for this reason the show insidiously promotes racism. The authors’ use of interviews is suspect, however, in this reviewer’s opinion.The validity, both external and internal, of this evaluation is what this reviewer believes is not up to standard. The interview technique used by Jhally and Lewis is the heart of the book’s analysis of the Cosby Show’s impact on audience’s beliefs. Jhally and Lewis first chose a show, which they considered representative of the Cosby Show in general.
They then chose their subjects to include a cross section of the population to try to eliminate selection bias in their survey. They then proceeded to have the interviewees watch the show, which was followed by a discussion of the show.These discussion sessions did not follow a specific pattern, however, introducing an external validity problem in the study.
Moreover, the use of the information gathered is not the most direct means of proving an argument. Since they did not use an identical set of questions on the interviewees, the possibility of digression in the conversations is likely. These digressions, led by the interviewer, who had an agenda, were useful in proving the book’s thesis.The book’s thesis was supported by the interviews mostly due to their use in the book.
Thus emerges the internal validity problem of their study. They took excerpts of interviews and placed them throughout the book to support their arguments as it suited the discourse. Instead of allowing the reader to sort through the interviews by including them at the end, or developing a tabular model of responses, they used quotes as previously mentioned. The specific type of validity threat introduced here is called instrumentation. The instrumentation threat occurs, when a study administrator changes the variable set, here the questions, posed to different subjects.
These evaluation standards are taken from Ronald and Kathleen Sylvia’s and Elizabeth Dunn’s book, Program Planning and Evaluation for the Public Manager.These questionable uses of interview techniques are not the only examples questionable data sets. The authors of the book further use statistical information gathered from valid sources to support their arguments.
One example of a questionable statistic, in this reviewer’s opinion, can be found on page 63 of the book. Here the authors state that, "The number of black men between the ages of 20 and 29 in prison is greater than the number of all black men in college." While this may indeed be a revealing statistic, it is hardly a fair comparison. For instance, the average college uses a four year graduation program, two years for junior/technical colleges. However the span used in this comparison is ten years for the prison statistic, obviously biasing it in favor of prison.
Further, it is most likely that individuals in the 20 - 29 age group will be incarcerated. They might have used an identical age group comparison adjusted for those beyond 22 who are still in college. Without having gathered the statistics, it is this reviewer’s opinion that these objections are fair enough to argue that this choice of statistical usage is less than empirical.
Though the authors’ use of supporting information is questionable, their argument is relatively sound. The Cosby Show does seem to give the segments of society, who are above the average African American family, reasons to believe that African Americans can achieve the goal of the American Dream. A key point in Jhally’s and Lewis’s argument, as mentioned earlier, is that the average television viewer is unable to distinguish reality from fantasy.
This reviewer feels that that may be an overstatement. Television portrays the most economically viable programming in the hope of attracting advertising, Cosby was an exceptional money maker for the network. This may be a narrow way of describing television programming, but the absence of racial conflict on a show that featured an all black cast was quite likely an attempt to make the show more palatable to the general audience. By making the show as racially neutral as possible the producers of Cosby were able to grab the widest audience possible.
It seems to be, therefore, benign even to the interviewees whose interviews were butchered but clear enough to gather from them that they believed that they could distinguish TV from reality.The Cosby Show was an example of a black family, which seemed to beat the odds that racism presented. The Huxtables are, however, fiction, and this book does not make its case very strongly that the show had much of a negative impact. Had their study been more methodical and their use of information been more credible, their argument may have had a greater impact.
|Date:||Wed, 10 Feb 1999 10:16:58 -0600|
|From:||Clayton cobb <email@example.com>|
|Subject:||Review: Enlightened Racism (Clayton Cobb)|
In reading this book review from a Black perspective it is important for the reader to realize that the Black way of life is a way that aims at preserving knowledge of who we are, knowledge of the best way we have found to relate each to each, each to all, ourselves to other peoples, and all to our surroundings. Our way is reciprocity that ends in wholeness.
One must realize the lifestyle of a Black family may differ greatly from that of a "typical" family structure in our society. Times are changing in America and it is very apparent in today's racial environment in the wake of many turbulent and modifying events. One can look at the decapitation and murder of a Black man in Jasper, Texas; the coerced confession and implication of two black children in the murder of a friend; and the emergence of hip hop music into mainstream society shows that racial lines are once again divided in our racist and race infatuated society.20
In looking at the book, Enlightened Racism, Sut Jhally and Justin Lewis were hired by Billy Cosby to conduct a study of the Cosby Show. Their biased study took the approach to see how television influences the way we think and what America thinks about race after the Civil Rights Movement.
After their research was conducted the authors take the stance that the Cosby Show is responsible for producing another type of racism which they call enlightened, which is repressed due to the fact of the characteristics of the family shown in the television series. Because the Huxtable family's status, culture, and economic achievement shows White America a differing view of Black life, that this family is alien to the experience of most Black people. Therefore, White America is left to conclude that if this family works hard enough to achieve the American dream, then all Blacks can therefore achieve the same if they are willing to work hard enough, and racial barriers no longer exist.
The authors' beliefs also perpetuate the myth of White supremacy because of the socio-economic status of most Black Americans. Jhally and Lewis' definition of the American Dream is that anyone regardless of circumstance or background can make it if they try. This pattern allows the American society to dismiss the inequities that plaque our communities. Because most white people have little direct conscious experience of20 racism, the recent proliferation of successful black characters on20 television would appear to signal a move from a racist to a non-racist20 society. The success of the Huxtables and other fictional black characters suggests, in the absence of class analysis, a new era of equal20 opportunity (p. 87).
In my opinion the authors neglect to prove this point because of their neglect to look at the structure that power and privilege play in the construct of racism.It is useful to distinguish between the two types of racism. The first, is20 Based upon the operation of social structures in which privilege based on race is firmly inscribed (through a barrier ridden class system). The second85is based not on the functioning of social institutions but upon the behavior of individuals (p. 72).
Jhally and Lewis, as well the American television public, saw Cliff and Claire Huxtable as unrealistic because of their occupations, being that they were both highly educated professionals. Cliff Huxtable was a second-generation college student who imposed the importance of education to his family. Because the parents in the Huxtable family were able to reach economic success and live a upper-middle class lifestyle they have been denounced as being in essence not "Black."
Because they have an appreciation of culture, which includes listening to differing types of music, and liking "high" art. This belief reinforces the misunderstanding that being 'Black" is not surrounding oneself with Black objects, but being conscious to the social issues within the community and maintaining an identity in ones community.
Which I believe the Cosby Show accomplished with high regard, the Huxtables were very family oriented, inclusive of their extended family; religious, and had a great deal of respect for their elders which are all characteristics of Black family life. The music and art that was displayed on the show was created by Black artists and many lessons on the show dealt with the history of Black Americans, for example, during an episode of the show for an observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday the family is seen viewing a video of his famous, I Have a Dream speech.
This section of the book was the authors attempt to show how class has influenced American society rather than race to believe again in the myth of the American Dream. They show how middle class Whites and lower class Blacks view and identify the show differently based on their respective class differences. The authors concept of enlightened racism is thrust upon the reader based on the interviews they conduct with a cross section of the American television-viewing public.
The people they chose to interview have a hard time separating reality from television and is the only time I see reinforcing their concept of enlightened racism due to the fact that most of the White respondents stated they could relate to the Huxtable family because of their respective class status, which proved to be opposite with the Black respondents. If I were to agree with the authors definition of the enlightened racism and that there is a television show guilty of perpetuating this I would say their argument should have been made with the television show, The Jeffersons. Because George Jefferson was a self made man, whereas, Cliff Huxtable was again a second-generation college graduate. Which reinforces the concept of how privilege, power and opportunity play in the role of racism.
I view the show, and more importantly Bill Cosby, as a progressive and aggressive attempt to show the American society a new and differing view of Black life in America. Bill Cosby should be credited for the movement he made with the push towards racial equality on television. The Huxtable family and Bill, by means of their altering portrayals, were fighting the cultural norms of Black family life that was perceived by non-Black people of racial stereotyping.
The stereotyping of Blacks on television shows portrayed Blacks as maids, custodians, buffoons, comical, and unintelligent. Instead of focusing on the concept of discovering a new form of racism, the authors should take note that Cosby's intentions (since the show was based on his own personal family life) was to denounce the stereotype (negative portrayals) and archetype (right kind of Black) roles in television and everyday life Blacks are thrust into to produce an antitype which is the struggle to diversify the previous type. The previous two types are the narrow notions and definitions Blacks have been characterized into, while the antitype welcomes the complexity of our Black identity, and welcomes the diversity within our communities.
|Date:||Wed, 10 Feb 1999 14:57:16 -0600|
|From:||"Ureatha Watkins, Illinois State University" <firstname.lastname@example.org>|
|Subject:||Fwd: Enlightened Racism (Watkins)|
Reviewed by Ureatha Watkins
This book is the focus point of Jhally and Lewis' perceptions and interviewed position of the 1980's comedy The Cosby Show. The title "Enlightened Racism" itself reflects the position of its authors. Enlightened Racism according to the authors is to subtlety perpetuate racism by not showing the realities of a black family, which in turn gives its viewers a false sense of what things are like for a black upper class family.
The authors take information, scenarios (examples of specific episodes), "statistics," and analysis of interviews to come to its conclusion that the show perpetuated racism. The authors also believe that this show gives black Americans a false sense of achieving the American dream in a society that they are clearly not prepared to be successful in, or a society that does not want them to be successful. They also believe that by the show not showing a more "realistic" view of black life (gangs, drugs, sex), that it, it turn enlightens racism.
I personally had problem with the book, being a black woman in a higher institution of education. I found that the author's findings are unfounded. For example, when the author compares the number of black men to those enrolled in college, they use age ranges from 20-26. I found this to be most disturbing because the "normal" age range of college enrollment is between 17-25.
The authors made it appear as though there were more black men in prison than there are in college. I don't know what the actual numbers are for either, but I can tell you that the authors should have done accurate, logical research before submitting their book proposal to the editors and the editors shouldn't have published it without it. I believe that unless it is a novel, or an autobiography it is the publishers responsibility to submit accurate information in the books that they publish.
I had problems with the interviews that were conducted. I fully understood the purpose of having interviews with those of the same race and/or class in order for those participants to feel more comfortable in their assessing of the show. However, I felt as though the authors didn't insert information that didn't support their notion because there would have been no reason for writing the book. While conducting their interviews, a white participant had a problem with "Theo not being involved with gangs or drugs."
I found this statement to be "funny." I think that people (black or white, there are individuals in our society that hate their own race) with this philosophy are close-minded, uneducated individuals. I laughed at that statement because that was just "dumb." I understand why the author inserted that opinion in the book. It was inserted because it aided in supporting their theory of the show.
Another respondent, this time black, stated that he had a problem with "Clair Huxtable" not representing a typical black woman, and his logic behind that is because she didn't wear jeans. Now, how ludicrous is that? I also found that statement to be extremely funny, again "dumb." Not all black women wear jeans all the time. We tend to dress according to our lifestyle, income, and profession. In reading this book, I felt that the authors we consistent.
They continued to display their point of view and set out to specifically collect only that type of information. I felt as though they did a good job, as far as their writing ability, spelling, grammar, things of that nature. I did feel as though they lacked culture, experience, and common sense. I felt as though this book was written by two individuals who had no actual insight of blackness, who and what black people are, what they represent to themselves, as well as society, and what we actually do with themselves.
I feel this way only because of the shoes that I have walked in, and the things that I have seen and experienced. As a young, black, educated woman in American society I feel as though I am very open minded to all issues, opinions, etc. I did understand all points of view, even though I may have called them "dumb," that is how I personally felt about their statements. I understand why they said what they said, I just thought they were "dumb" because it didn't appear as though it was from someone who had culture. Not just their own culture, but a mixture of all.
When you have a mixture of culture (others beliefs, views, opinions, backgrounds, opinions, etc.) you tend to understand why they think and feel a certain way. With this experience comes a willingness to be open and honest with you, first, then with others.
The authors maintain in their conclusion that this is still a racially divided nation and black upward mobility cannot rest completely on the shoulders of Bill Cosby (Bill and Camille Cosby financed the study, which most of the book is based). I found it funny that they would criticize Bill's efforts of displaying a strong, black upper class family and turn around and say "oh yeah, thanks for the money for the book, without your money it wouldn't have been possible." I somewhat understand the Cosby's reasons for financially supporting the book.
I assume they did this to show that they are open-minded individuals who welcome constructive criticism. But, this book wasn't constructive criticism, in my opinion. This book represented re-building that wall of stereotypes that minorities had worked so hard at attempting to destroy. I can only assume that the Cosby's knew that it wouldn't be on the best seller's list.
|Date:||Fri, 12 Feb 1999 11:22:47 -0600|
|From:||Joseph John Jezewski <email@example.com>|
|Subject:||Enlightened Racism (Joe Jezewski)|
Reviewed by: Joe Jezewski
Have you ever thought about The Cosby Show in a racial sense or thought how it would affect millions of people who watched it everyday? Jhally and Lewis try to show that blacks can make it in society only if they try, through their idea of enlightened racism.
This book's views are relatively very simple to understand and the author does a decent job outlining his ideas in the book. He gives you a brief introduction of what the Cosby Show was about. For those of you who have never seen it, its about a upper-middle class family living in New Jersey or New York, and it goes through their daily routine and making comic relief out of it. He touches on some main points that he believes the show tries to portray. He gives his idea of what enlightened racism means, he talks about the types of audiences that watch the show, and he gives you a notion of what he thinks the American dream might be about. These are the major ideas that I saw in the book, but I will also talk about things such as class and some of the statistics that he likes to give.
From what I understood from the authors, their idea of "enlightened racism" could mean a number of things. First, the idea that the Cosby Show used itself as a means to get across a racial point to the world, seemed like they were looking too deep into what they were trying to accomplish. The Cosby Show used subtle implications to possibly enlighten our ideas of racism. For example, the two twins that were born to Sandra were named Winnie and Nelson after the Mandelas. This is something that can be looked at in a racial sense, as the book suggests, or it can be seen as the show, instead of bringing up this big argument about the Mandela's, simply giving a plug for the Mandela's. The Cosby Show tried to center on reaching out to the widest array of people to get the biggest boost in ratings. Another idea they are trying to get across about enlightened racism is the fact that whites today do not see the members of the Cosby Show and their way of life as the norm in this society. In a sense I agree with him that, in general, today's whites have a tough time realizing the fact of blacks moving into the upper-middle class of today's society.
However, I also believe that the show was merely trying to show that there is a black upper-middle class, and not trying to stir up some sort of racial conflict between the whites and blacks of this country. The only other shows we had to look at were the "Jefferson's," "Good Times," and "Sanford and Son" where they followed the stereotypes that have been given throughout the years. This show was a change of pace and it showed that all blacks weren't born and raised in the ghetto, and in some sense that this is or could be the norm in society.
Another area that the authors tried to elaborate on was the myth of the American dream. They say, and I quote, " The American dream is insidious, not innocent. It is part of a belief system that allows people in the United States to disregard the in equities that generate the nation's appalling record on poverty, crime, health, homelessness, and education." They also say that the American dream is sustained by its presence in popular culture. They are basically saying that the American dream is a generalization for all people and that there is only one dream that everybody shoots for. I completely disagree with him because I believe that everybody has a different idea of what the American dream is. Most people do see the American dream as making a lot of money, starting a family, and living in a house with a white picket fence. However, for some people, such as immigrants, their idea might to just become a citizen and live a better life than their parents did. In talking about the American dream, the authors made reference to class, and this was repeated throughout the book.
It seemed to me that they were focusing more on what the different class distinctions were, than they were on the racism issue. I believe in a sense that they do go hand-in-hand, but there has to be a distinction between the both of them. I see class in a more economical sense, that the people are arranged or sorted by the amount of money they make and the capital they own. The authors sort of combine both of them and make it seem that they are just one concept. I see the American dream as anything that makes you happy in life, and that it has to be different for everybody. I think that they're trying to show that the Cosby's American dream could be and should the American dream for every black family in America. I don't think that every black family in America wants to be like the Cosby's, it seems like a good idea but not everybody can make it to that level.
The other main ideas that the author's talk about is what type of audiences watch the Cosby Show. I basically agree with them on their ideas of the types of audiences. They say, "The white audience must be able to look at the Huxtables not simply as a black family but as an "Every family". I believe that this is the reason why the Cosby Show did so well is because they attracted the white audience to watch the show. The writers basically assumed that the black community would watch it, but their main concern was how the white community would react to it. I think they purposely left out the stereotypes that we saw in other shows and focused on what they thought was the American dream. They say this about the black audience, " The series wants to provide a mirror that does not reflect the prejudices and stereotypes of white perception but instead shows black people as they would like to recognize themselves - strong, independent, intelligent - a mirror that shows the dignity of black American life." I think that this is a pill that's hard to swallow. I think the show in a sense was trying to portray a different type of black sitcom besides all of the stereotypes of the past, but I still think that this show was made for entertainment and for the ratings game, and I believe that it did its job.
There is also another problem that I have with this book. They talk about all of these statistics and how they effect society. They all seem to be taken over too broad of a spectrum of people and they don't seem to make much sense. For example, they tried comparing the percentage of black males in college to black males in prison. They used a smaller range of black males in college, 20-29, than they did with black males in prison, 18-49, there are going to be more black males, and males in general, in prison in that age group than there is in college.
The authors interviewed many people in writing this book, and they put certain excerpts from their interviews in the book. The problem I have with this is that they only selected the certain parts that helped back up their point. The person could've said something completely different during the rest of the interview but you'll never know it because they didn't put it in there.
Overall this book seemed to read like stereo instructions, because the authors never seemed to take a firm stance on what they believed in. During the book they put down part of the Cosby Show then later at the end they seemed to kiss up to Bill Cosby because he was paying them to write this book. They used too many generalizations and tried to support them by using outlandish statistics that made no sense at all. This book is good for someone who likes to look too deep into something and drag out some meaningless junk from it to start a fight. ·
|Thu, 4 Mar 1999 15:45:32 +0000|
|From:||ray briggs <firstname.lastname@example.org>|
|Subject:||Enlightened Racism (Ray Briggs)|
Reviewed by Ray Briggs
During the 1980s one of the most popular and well-liked sitcoms on television was The Cosby Show. It was a program that was groundbreaking in its presentation of a upper middle class family with one twist, the family portrayed was black. This had never been seen in the make believe world of prime time entertainment where blacks had always been shown in an unfair light. Although not the first show to have an all black cast, shows like Good Times and The Jefferson92s had preceded it by many years, it gave us a glimpse of a un-stereotypical black family who had reached a high level of esteem and success in the community.
Unlike the other shows mentioned The Cosby Show has received a large amount of criticism. Many claim that the show gives an unrealistic portrayal of black life in America. Critics feel that the show gives white viewers a sense that this is the typical black family and that it does not accurately describe the hardships that minorities face in our society. Prompted by these criticisms Bill Cosby, the main force behind the show, funded research that has become the basis of the book 93Enlightened Racism94. In this analysis of the racial themes present in the show the authors Sut Jhally and Justin Lewis interview those exposed to the show and interpret the feedback that was given.
This interpretation is meant to answer the central question 93Is The Cosby Show racist?94 and 93If The Cosby Show is racist, by what means is that racism conveyed?94. The authors are quick to explain the various cases for and against the show. Many who are in support of the program feel that it is a big step forward in the representation of blacks in the mainstream entertainment industry. Those who take this position offer the earlier examples of blacks on television as being racist and stereotypical. They feel that the show gives viewers a sense about how blacks can reach a high level of success in a white dominated society. Contrary to that view is the feelings of other critics who feel that show represents a step backward for blacks in popular culture.
These critics feel that the success of the black family detailed in the program is only available to a small minority of blacks. Also, although the Huxtables are successful the social conditions that actually exist at the time are worse for blacks then they had ever been. Although these are two completely different and separate viewpoints they are mixed throughout the book by the authors who tend to combine the opposing positions to form a medium. The authors main focus of research is the analysis of viewers comments after they watch a selected episode.
The viewers are taken from a cross-section of the community of Springfield, Massachusetts. The writers felt that this was the most ideal location to perform this study due to the varied classes and races which are present in Springfield. They selected random individuals to watch the show and then interviewed them to what meaning they could bring forth from the show. The individual comments on the show are then selected for their impact and divided among the chapters and subjects that they best fit in.
The authors discover a mix of emotions and reactions to the program that the viewers are shown. Many of those interviewed mix reality with fantasy when talking about the show. These viewers find The Cosby Sho was not the intended dose of situation comedy that it is, but they see it as almost a documentary on how most black people live their daily lives. Some of these viewers are found to mix the TV and private characteristics of those on the show together. Some of those interviewed related people in their own lives to the characters on the show, regardless of color.
It is the general sentiment of the whites that are interviewed that this is the ideal black family, rather than what they see on other television representations of blacks. This leads the authors to find that most white viewers see the show as the actual state of black people in America rather than the uphill battle that it is for most blacks. A small portion of the white viewers point out that the show is unrealistic, and that problems which they consider prominently black (drugs, crime, etc85) are not portrayed accurately on the show.
Black responses to the show were very different. Most of the comments were directed at the fact that it was not a very accurate presentation of black life. The economic class of most of the black viewers was significantly lower than the family on the show. Those questioned felt that real black problems were not addressed enough on the show and that the Huxtables did not receive the same kind of treatment from whites that the viewers had. A good number of the comments were directed a how the family interacts with one another. These comments stated that real families get in arguments and everything is not perfect like it is on the show. From all of this the authors come to the conclusion that The Cosby Show does foster a form of racism. This racism takes the form of what the authors call "enlightened racism."
This can be described as the idea that the show presents for both whites and minorities a scenario which is highly unrealistic. This theme allows whites to become tolerant and accepting of the form of black life presented in the show while not giving them the most realistic form of that culture. The authors feel that the show gives blacks a misrepresentation of what the majority of them can achieve despite the social forces working against them.
The authors feel that this idea of easy social mobility is something that the majority of blacks will never see. Although it is not essentially like racism in the traditional sense in that it does not foster hate it gives viewers something to look for that is not there in terms of black and white. The debate still goes on about The Cosby Show. I feel that to many critics have seen the show as a great indicator of social change whether good or bad while not looking at the fact that it is just a television show.
Like all prime time shows it was brought to life with the main intent of getting good ratings in order to draw advertisers to buying air time. The purpose was not to introduce topics which would inspire debate but to make money for the network. It is going to be as unrealistic as any other television show. Those who see the show as a platform for major social change are putting to much faith in the medium of television. The data used by the authors is highly unreliable. The authors chose the town of Springfield, Massachusetts as the pool from which to draw viewers for the sample. Feeling that this town best represented a cross section of the country they failed to take into account the differences of opinion and thought which vary from region to region in this country.
White viewers from the northeast are going to have different perceptions than those from the southwest. Black viewers from a suburban area are going to have different opinions on the show then those from the inner-city. The authors fail to recognize this and instead pick and chose from the comments that they received in the interviews. They then organized these ideas to best conform to their study. At the end of the book the authors state that what is needed is more reality based television. White viewers have determined that shows with successful, middle-class blacks will be popular and that they do not want to see working-class blacks with realistic problems surrounded by the current social problems of the day.
Jhally and Lewis feel that if a more realistic view of blacks was to be shown then it would help the white majority understand what they are up against. In my opinion the authors fail to take into account the idea of television as being a release from the constraints of reality. When the average viewer turns on the television they want to see a situation or lifestyle that they would want to be a part of, a fantasy. Giving viewers a sense of realism might make them turn the channel, and this would be the worst consequence for black programming.
|Date:||Thu, 13 May 1999 12:07:06 -0500|
|From:||Maureen N Kaszonyi <email@example.com>|
|Subject:||ENLIGHTENED RACISM: THE COSBY SHOW|
By Maureen N Kaszonyi
"I know I'll go from rags to riches," or so the popular song goes. Around the turn of the century Horatio Algers wrote Rags to Riches whose theme has been engrained in the American psyche: poor kid 'makes good' through hard work. His story articulated the power of the American dream and gave hope to countless Americans that provided if they were willing to work hard; the opportunity to succeed was real.
Nearly a century later, Americans are left to debate if Algers theme was reality or fairy tale. Can a poor kid really make good in America or are the structural inequalities simply insurmountable? Jhally and Lewis argue in, Enlightened Racism, that the American dream is just that. They propose that even though the American Dream concedes that different people start with different inds of resources it remains mythology because it holds that the playing field is level. To them, Algers' ideal falsely asserts a person's background does not limit their chance at success.
The authors refute the notion of equal opportunity on three fronts. First, the consideration of intergenerational transmission of wealth which clearly advantages those born wealthy and disadvantages those born poor. Second, the transmission (from parent to child) of the capacity to command income which includes, but is not limited to, the ability of the parents to ensure the highest possible education available for their child. And, third, the idea of "Cultural Capital" which pertains to the abilities, such as independence, and mannerisms wealthier parents cultivate in their children which increase their children's chance at wealth and success (69).
Jhally and Lewis believe the preceding factors are serious and restrictive to achievement for the majority of poor Americans. They take issue with the media whom they believe turns the 'exception' into the rule. They find the Cosby show particularly disturbing because they conclude it distorts viewers perceptions in such a way that they are led to think there are no more class or race barriers in America. That anyone who is not 'making it' has no where to place blame but on themselves.
The authors worry that if the American public buys into the Cosby family as real, or possible, they are buying into the notion that a true meritocracy exists. Data are used from the late eighties and early nineties to explore the actual picture of black America during the time of The Cosby Show. Indeed, the Reagan era marked a substantial decline in the economic situation of most black Americans. The book indicates, during the Cosby years, black income declined from 61% to only 56% of that of whites, there was a significant jump in black poverty and 33% of blacks lived below the poverty level (61). The obvious problem is, if America is truly a meritocracy with equal opportunities available for every American, to what can the actuality of the majority of black Americans' situations be ascribed?
It is argued that the dissonance between what viewers of the Cosby show see on TV and what they know about the relative socio-economic position of most black Americans is reconciled by "enlightened racism." Enlightened racism is the overt acceptance of certain black people as likeable, and even equal, accompanied by distaste for blackness. The author's explain: [Enlightened racists] are able to discriminate between black people, some of whom have succeeded, some of whom have not. However, they quietly retain the association of blackness as an indicator of cultural inferiority, albeit one from which African Americans, if they are talented enough or hard working enough, can escape (98).
Enlightened racists are not cast by the authors as evil people; they are simply people who have bought into the notion of a meritocratic America. They believe, in America, class barriers can be transcended. This is where The Cosby Show comes in. Enlightened racists reason, if Claire could become a lawyer and Cliff a Doctor why can't other black Americans? Further, noting the fact that black doctors and lawyers do exist de-legitimizes complaints of an unjust class/race system. The importance that the Huxtables place on education is also seen by the authors as promulgating the idea of blackness as culturally inferior. It helps white people ascribe the 'failure' of many blacks to the lower priority of education in their lives (95).
Evidence for the state of the enlightened racism comes from interviews with various groups regarding the Cosby show. Jhally and Lewis cite statements that reveal acceptance of the Huxtables as well as the superiority of the white culture. Reflecting on the awareness of the Cosby's race stated, "What they're trying to do here is portray a black family in a white family atmosphere" (100). To be upper middle class and educated is equated, by enlightened racists, as being white.
Bill Cosby was in a catch 22 situation when creating his sitcom. For any family sitcom, black or white, to be palatable to the majority of American viewers it was necessary to portray a middle or upper middle class family. Yet, in portraying an upper middle class black family he was denying the realities of most black people and possibly promoting racist ideas. For the purpose of popularity, it was necessary for Cliff and Claire to be culturally 'white' professionals' not working class chauffeurs and maids as was originally intentioned (36).
Jhally and Lewis believe that this non-realistic portrayal of black Americans lives on television is so harmful that we should ignore market forces and simply put shows on television that reveal a less equitable more realistic look at class structure and race relations. They write: "Our culture teaches us to ignore class structure in a naive obsession with individual endeavor. US television fiction is directly culpable for this mass incomprehension. It has helped to create a world that shifts the class boundaries upwards so the definition of what's normal no longer includes the working class.
Logically, Jhally and Lewis' thesis works but I disagree with some of their fundamental premises. First, I believe Jhally and Lewis went wrong by grossly overstating the role of television in distorting class issues. The idea that TV is responsible for the distortion of class in America is vital to their argument against the medium as well as The Cosby Show's influence. I believe, television simply reflects the dearly held values, wrong, as they may be, that this country happened to be founded on.
When America first rejected the idea of a King and aristocracy they embraced the notion that there could be a society where class could be unimportant. When we wrote, "all men are created equal" we rejected classical notions. In addition, when "an ordinary girl from Arkansas" sues the president, we reinforce this perception of a classless society.
Later, during the industrialization of America, the archetype of the 'rugged individualist' was promoted as well Social Darwinism and the "rags to riches" stories. These ideas were promulgated to ensure that people bought into a capitalist structured economy. Although we know there is great inequality in peoples' lives, for Capitalism to succeed, Americans have to believe in equality of opportunity.
Cosby, and the rest of the affluent television families, are simply part of a legacy that exalts capitalistic assumptions (i.e. disadvantage can be overcome if only you are willing to work) they are not responsible for them. I also believe that the authors overstate the fuzziness of the boundary television viewers have between fantasy and reality.
Second, Based on an interviewee response in chapter two Jhally and Lewis write, "…the ability to construct a critical view of televisual realism does not immunize us from confusing television with reality" (30). This is important to their resolution because if people can clearly distinguish between TV and reality, its effects are greatly diminished.
Aside from television news broadcasts, I strongly disagree with this premise. The evidence cited was very weak. For instance, a subject comments on the fact that a Dr. and lawyer must have had domestic help to raise children and get through professional school. They use this example of character time regression to allege there is some confusion between real and non-real.
They also cite as testimony to this confusion a discussion in which subjects use the name of the character and the actor they were portraying interchangeably (29). The former example, I believe is a natural cognitive function. In an attempt to gain cohesion, when we are presented with a story, we often wonder how the characters found themselves in their current situation and where they will end up. It does not exemplify 'confusion' about the terms of reality or that we think believe those characters are 'real.' I believe the latter example is a form of a mental or linguistic short-cut people often use. Just because a person deletes the phrase "character" after an actor's name, as the subject does, it does not prove they are not distinguishing between the two.
Third, I think the authors also give television undue credit when they accuse it of being responsible for contradictory ideas held by viewers. This is important to their conclusion because it is fundamental to enlightened racism. I do not think people hold contradictory ideas because they are "seduced" into them by television. Rather because people are, by nature, complex and influenced by a number of different internal motives and external factors at different times. Humans like to see themselves as rational yet act irrationally time and again. We are contradictory because the principles we espouse usually do not guide our actions. Our attitudes follow our behaviors. I agree that many people in our society practice an enlightened form of racism.
Acceptance of certain "accomplished" minority people as "white" while casting dispersion on the overall culturally constructed race of that person as "black" certainly happens and is most certainly is wrong. However, I do not think this can be heavily ascribed to The Cosby Show. I also agree that the American Dream is, largely, a myth and that structural opportunity cannot be said to exist for many Americans. Yet, I do not believe Jhally and Lewis prove that The Cosby Show is a major factor in the promotion of this myth. Rather, it is a small, yet interesting example, of an overarching cultural belief. A belief that is cherished by almost all Americans yet has been realized by only the tiniest fraction of any-regardless of race.
|Date:||Mon, 06 Mar 2000 01:38:13 -0800|
|From:||Deidre Meyers <dlmeyer_98@YAHOO.COM>|
|Subject:||Review of Enlightened Racism|
The Cosby show, a means by which racial barriers are broken through comic relief, or a misrepresentation of real life? The preceding question is one of the questions Sut Jhally and Justin Lewis try to answer within their book ENLIGHTENED RACISM. ENLIGHTENED RACISM is based on an in-depth study of the Cosby show, and viewers perceptions.
Jhally and Lewis assembled 52 small focus groups, and interviewed them to observe their reactions to the show. The demographics of the groups were as follows; 23 African-Americans, 3 Hispanics and 26 Caucasian-Americans. The African-Americans and Caucasian-Americans interviewees were subdivided according to the socioeconomic backgrounds(10). The African-American respondents were interviewed by African-Americans and the Caucasian-American respondents were interviewed by Caucasian-Americans.
The interviews were performed in this fashion to allow respondents to respond however they wanted, without fear of offending others from different ethnic groups. In order to qualify for the study, respondents had to be either "frequent or occasional viewers of the Cosby show"(10). The respondents were then shown an episode of the Cosby show and asked to comment on it.
Some questions Jhally and Lewis try to answer within their book are why does the Cosby Show appeal to both middle and working class alike, and is the Cosby show a depiction of real life? The authors praise the Cosby show for its lack of stereotypes which plaque African-Americans, while also criticizing the it for perpetuating the myth of the "American dream."
In critiquing the book, I found it to be inadequate because the authors contradict themselves. Also the authors disregard the plight of African-Americans who aspire to advance from their socioeconomic backgrounds. Also I feel the authors over analyzed the Cosby Show.
As I stated before, the authors believe the Cosby show reinforces the myth of the "American Dream." One interpretation of the American Dream is that with hard work one can accomplish whatever they want. It is exactly hard work that is needed to achieve a nice home and a safe environment in which to raise your children; as illustrated by the Cosby show.
Jhally and Lewis believe the Cosby show to be misleading to the working class, because the characters are all upper middle class. I agree that a vast majority of the working class will not advance to the status of upper middle class, but what about the small percentage who do. The authors fail to acknowledge the possibility for social mobility.
According to the Jhally and Lewis, The Huxtables’ achievements ultimately lend creditability to the idea that "anyone can make it," the comforting assumption of the American Dream, "which is a myth that sustains a conservative political ideology blind to the inequalities hindering persons born on the mean streets and privileging persons born on easy street. . . .
Cliff is himself an ad, implicitly proclaiming the fairness of the America system Look he shows us. "even I can have all this."This mythology is made all the more powerful ( Jhally, 7-8). The authors then go on to write, "It [the American dream] offers wealthier citizens the comfort and satisfaction of feeling included but forces poorer people to denigrate their own lot, and ultimately denigrate themselves for having failed (Jhally, 75-76)."
Unlike some societies, the United States does not have a rigid caste system, which restricts all individuals from a lower economic status from advancing. Although some individuals don’t have as many opportunities as others for advancement, for some social mobility is possible. I must question the authors judgment to praise the show for not perpetuating African-American stereotypes, while discrediting it for portraying a African-American family positively.
Regardless of the families racial and economic background, the show still portrayed an upper middle class family. Would the authors be as hard on the show if the characters were Caucasian? My interpretation of the authors’ argument, was that it is okay to dispel the negative stereotypes of the African-American family, as long as the characters are not too affluent. This brings me to my next criticism, my belief that the authors over analyze the Cosby show.
During the course of the study, the authors tried to uncover why the show was appealing to both the middle class and working class alike. They hypothesized that the show was appealing to the middle class because the middle class could identify with the Huxtables lifestyle.
However they found the show was also appealing to the working class. African-American respondents repeatedly made comments on how they could identify with the situations from the show, despite socioeconomic background. I believe viewers could identify with the family values present within the show regardless of their social class. Contrary to popular thought, the family is a fixated central unit within the working class.
The family provides support during hard times and bonds together to celebrate good times, just as the family does on the Cosby show. Despite the Huxtables being an upper middles class family, the operative word is they are representative of a close-knit FAMILY. The authors try to discredit the overwhelming identification on the behalf of the respondents.
The authors draw attention to the fact that the respondents confuse fictional characters with reality, therefore blurring the line between fantasy and reality. In my opinion, the viewers associate their real life situations with that of the shows’ because the show presents real life situations.
Situations which include everything from a mother discovering pornographic magazines in her sons room to children rebelling against their parents wishes. After all let us not forget that the format of the show was based on Bill Cosby’s actual experiences with his family. This brings me to my last criticisms of the book Enlightened Racism; the authors accusation of Cosby show being unrealistic.
According to the authors, "Some have argued that the Huxtables’s charmed life is so aliened to the experience of most black people that they are no longer black" (Jhally, 2-3). I must raise the question, what constitutes being Black? The authors mention the fact that the show incorporates different elements that deal with African-Americans such as art work on the set, music and political issues the characters discuss.
Just because the show does not tackle the monotonous issue of discrimination does not mean it is unrealistic. It is my belief that the authors wanted Bill Cosby to be extremely militant in his quest to speak out against racism, in order for the show to be realistic. Whereas Bill Cosby was more subtle in his approach to attack racism.
The book mentions how Bill Cosby had to fight the network producers to keep an anti-apartheid sign, on one of the door ways of the set. Every since then Bill Cosby has had to be subtle in his approach, one such example is the naming of his grand children after Winnie and Nelson Mandela. People tune in to watch the Cosby show to be entertained, not to be overwhelmed by the harsh reality of racism.
African-Americans do not need to be reminded of racism, they deal with often, if not on a daily basis. Similarly Caucasian-Americans do not want to be bombarded with constant reminders of racism in America. Ifthe Cosby show dealt with the issue of racism the way in which the authors would have wanted, the show would not have lasted longer than one season.
The Cosby show slowly awakened our subconscious to racism in America, while we laughed a long the way.In referring back to the authors comment, of the Huxtables’ lives being charmed, I must raise some intricate questions.
Aside for the fact that a vast majority of African-Americans do not live the same lifestyle as that portrayed by the Huxtables’, the authors make it seem as no African-Americans could possibly lead their lifestyle. Myself being a habitual viewer of the show, I can recall when the show goes into background detail of how the Huxtables’ came to live the lifestyle they do. The authors want us as readers to believed that the Huxtables’ lifestyle was handed to them on a silver platter, when in all actuality, it supposedly came about through years of hard work and sacrifice.
The authors also want you to believe that it is overly coincidental that the parents are both professionals. Albeit not all heads of African-American families are professionals, but in two parent homes, where one parent is a professional, generally the other one is also. One generally tends to marry within there own socioeconomic background. If an individual has a college degree, they generally marry others with the same credentials.
Now that being said, why is it so hard for the authors to comprehend the possibility of this being a realistic family? Finally the last question I must raise is, what are the problems plaguing African-Americans that he authors feels the show should have addressed? Is it because there is not a drug dealer, or that their daughters are not teenage mothers, that the show cannot be considered realistic? Aren’t the two preceding stereotypes two of the typical stereotypes they praise the show for refusing to perpetuate? Which scenario would the authors prefer realistic or uplifting? My vote would be for the latter.
|Date:||Mon, 06 Mar 2000 23:04:46 -0600|
|From:||Angel Heather Pickrell <ahpickr@ILSTU.EDU>|
|Subject:||ENLIGHTENED RACISM, Reviewed by Jamie Cecil|
The authors of ENLIGHTENED RACISM, Sut Jhally and Justin Lewis, explore two main areas in this book how television influences the way we think and how American society thinks of race since the Civil Rights era. The authors examine these areas through a study conducted on a popular sitcom about a middle-class black family called the Cosby Show. They organized 52 focus groups 23 black, 26 white and 3 Hispanic. The black and white people were subdivided by social class. Jhally and Lewis showed the interviewees an episode of the Cosby Show and then the interviewees discussed it, both in groups and individually, with an interviewer.
These interviews show that the days of watching television for entertainment have passed us by. You may say that everyone knows that sitcoms are fiction and they are not a source for information, but this does not seem to be true. The "study suggests that the line between the TV world and the world beyond the screen has, for most people, become exceedingly hazy" (p. 133). People are looking at the Cosby Show as if the Huxtables are a real family.
At times during the interviews the respondents referred to Bill Huxtable; combining Bill Cosby, the actor, and Cliff Huxtable, the character.It would be okay if the influence of television only caused confusion between actors and their characters, but it doesn’t stop there. Television influences the way we think of different cultures and races, the ideas of social mobility, racism and how viewers feel about themselves. For example, the authors comment on how the Cosby show takes the pressure off of the white people. The white people like to see the black, middle-class family on television because they don’t have to feel guilty for the position of black people or face the fact that there is a need for social change.
Although the Cosby Show has made the gap between blacks and whites smaller by showing white viewers that black people are no different from them, it also makes them think blacks have broken the racial and social barriers and those that are not succeeding have themselves to blame. They think because Bill Cosby and the Huxtables can make a success of their lives, then anyone can. Derrick Bell, author of FACES FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL, would agree with this idea. Bell feels that whites only allow blacks to succeed when it benefits them. Bell would say the Cosby Show is only allowed to be on TV because whites are benefiting by having their conscience and guilt eased.
Jhally and Lewis recognize that two types of racism exist. The first type is based on social issues. It is "based upon the operation of social structures in which privilege based on race is firmly inscribed (through a barrier-ridden class system)" (p. 72). The second type is based on the behavior of the individuals.
The study conducted on the Cosby Show is an example that television shows people that the barriers of the class system can be overcome if you try hard enough. It expresses the idea of the "American Dream". This idea of "the American Dream" that is portrayed on the Cosby Show can be seen as a role model for individuals to try to break the class barriers or it can be seen to promote failure in those who try and can’t make it because of the racism that is caused by the barrier-ridden class system.
Jhally and Lewis say the racism of today is "enlightened" compared to the times before the Civil Rights era. Today racism comes across in more simpler and subtle ways. It appears to be more economically and class based than color. According to enlightened racism, white people are not saying that black people in general are different but they are saying working-class blacks are different. This book focuses on this fact that racism affects poor differently than the middle class. The white respondents would be happy to have the Huxtables over for dinner but not a working-class black family. They feel like the Huxtables are more like them because they are in the same or higher social class. The ideas is that "color difference is okay, cultural difference is not" (p. 110).
The authors suggest that racism is going to continue in our society unless we get beyond socioeconomic classes as barriers in advancement. ENLIGHTENED RACISM makes some very interesting points about television and the programs we watch. Until reading this book I never really thought about how these shows affect the way we think . I never paid close enough attention to the details and the meaning behind them.
For example, many times during the interviews individuals responded to the fact that Claire doesn’t wear jeans very often. They say that they would connect to her better if she wore jeans more often like they did. Although I think that Jhally and Lewis conducted a good study, I had some concerns with it. I don’t think that the interviewees gained an accurate picture of the Cosby Show just from one episode. For example, many of the respondents have the idea that Cliff and Claire don’t work very much because they are always home. As an avid fan of this show I can say this is not accurate. I can name many episodes in which they are working or are coming home from work.
The respondents, also, don’t have an accurate picture of Cliff and Claire before they made their money. It does not inform the interviewees that they lived in a one-room dump when they first got married. I feel that by exposing the interviewees to more episodes would probably change some of the statements they made.I understand that the Cobsy Show was chosen for this study because of the many issues that it can raise for discussion.
However, I don’t think that this show demonstrates any more or less stereotyping than any other program on the air. No show is going to collectively represent one race or social class, and you can’t expect it to because every person is different.
|Date:||Mon, 06 Mar 2000 21:10:15 -0800|
|From:||Laurie Hartzell <ogrb@YAHOO.COM>|
|Subject:||Laurie Beth's review of Liberal Racism|
Jim sleeper’s Liberal Racism is a harsh critique of the liberal doctrines prevailing at the turn of this century. Written from a politically motivated perspective, his academic style critiques the liberal fixation on race, holding the notion that this is the source of their greatest failure. Sleeper justifies his attacks on liberals by stating that he expects more of them, mentioning that he was once an active member of the civil rights movement himself.
While Liberal racism is not directly defined in the text, it is generally regarded by Sleeper as the negative result of liberals’ fixation on race. The term "racialism" is used to refer to the liberal assumption that racial differences are essential to our understandings of ourselves and society. Sleeper argues that this fixation with race prevents us from recognizing and promoting the values which all Americans share, simultaneously reinforcing assumptions about race which result in liberal racist thinking. Sleeper’s analysis of this mindset thus traces through an argument that liberals have lost faith in minorities, and let down their fellow citizens of color. He argues that civic balance is the solution to reclaiming public life and undoing the damage liberals have caused.
The essential downfall of liberal’s fixation on race is that they have lost faith in non-whites, assuming that they are not capable of succeeding in our society. Sleeper states "Liberal racism patronizes non-whites by expecting (and getting) less of them than they are fully capable of achieving. Intending to turn the tables on racist double standards that set the bar much higher for nonwhites, liberal racism ends up perpetuating double standards by setting the bar so much lower for its intended beneficiaries that it denies them the satisfactions of equal accomplishment and opportunity".
He goes on to discuss the recent trend of liberal attacks on our criminal justice system. Andrew Hacker’s Two Nations Separate, Hostile, and Unequal claims that whites are more deeply racist than they think they are. White contempt for black encourages us to blame the victims of black on black crime, according to Hacker. Furthermore, the victims are likely to blame themselves as well, resulting from a self-full-filling prophecy internalized by black youth. Sleeper argues that this mindset denies blacks a larger measure of both credit and responsibility for their own liberation. It is this type of thinking which demonstrates the liberal tendency to assume that nonwhites are not capable of improving their own situation, thus acting in a condescending and seemingly racist manner.
Sleeper mentions the Voting Rights Act of 1965, holding that the racial gerrymandering which later stemmed from this act is another prime example of liberal racism. The fixation on race led many liberals to assume that voting districts would need to be distributed along racial lines to insure the election of minorities. The eventual outcomes of this act demonstrated that such distribution was not necessary and may have helped out conservatives more than the liberals who backed this policy so emphatically.
The media is guilty of liberal racism as well, according to Sleeper. He offers the example of media coverage of two men’s movements of the late 90’s ; the Million Man March, and the Promise Keeper’s conventions. Coverage of these events illustrated this double standard by noting the focus on black leaders of the march, virtually ignoring the leaders of the Promise Keeper’s leaders of the march. Simultaneously, they attacked the "machismo" expressed by the Promise Keeper’s , while ignoring the notions of masculinity being expressed by the million man marchers. Sleeper states that the liberal racism of these reporters determined what they could bring themselves to observe and report.
Because sleeper holds that the racial, ethnic, and religious differences of our country are becoming more complex than the mere practice of "racialism", liberals should be focusing on shared American principles and bonds that can strengthen our nationalism and democracy. He critiques the emphasis on diversity in Time’s coverage by stating that "To insist that such differences govern "how we see each other and how we see the news" is to encourage vulnerable people of all colors view one another through ever-narrowing eyes".
Sleeper calls for a civic balance where emphasis is placed on autonomous individuals and their achievements, as opposed to race. He traces the life of W.E.B. DuBois a black intellectual, who was raised in a civic culture which liberated him from racial and religious stereotypes. He states that "When liberals view civil and cultural authority as inherently racist, they only reinforce the expectation that blacks will live outside of civil society’s structures and rewards".
Essentially, Sleeper cries out for a new civil society which emphasizes shared American values with complete racelessness. Sleeper’s attacks on the liberal notions of diversity, multiculturalism, and focus on the obvious racial elements of capitalism, our criminal justice system, civil society, media, and politics in general seem to draw out an argument with assimilation and denial as consequence.
His mockery of Back to Africa "Roots" tours seems to have us in a condition of proscription. Forgetting the colorful fabric of a nation of immigrants seems foolish and unhealthy. Sleeper’s proposal of a "colorless nation" would be able to battle the permanent racism discussed by others such as Derrick Bell in his Faces At The Bottom of the Well ,by assuming that the racial separation Bell proposes is the essential fault of his plan. However, Sleeper’s solutions do not seem to appreciate the differences which make America so eclectic and essentially democratic. He fails to accept the complexity of our current situation, not even drawing on the differences illuminated by gender, sexuality, and religion.
Sleeper does not deny that racism exists, nor does he deny its power and irrationality. He simply assumes that it will gradually disappear if we stop acknowledging it. Sensitivity to racism is harmful according to Sleeper, the true solution would be a rejuvenated civil society which ignores our differences and emphasizes shared values. Heading into the next political election with a focus on the candidates standpoint on race and affirmative action is not moving in the direction Sleeper hopes for. This book was a much needed challenge to the liberal ideas I have come to hold closely. While I do not feel that he offers a realistic or desirable solution to our current situation, I strongly recommend the book to others.
|Date:||Mon, 06 Mar 2000 23:13:22 -0600|
|From:||Jacqlyn Larson <jalarso@ILSTU.EDU>|
|Subject:||Review of Enlightened Racism|
The Cosby show is a family show that deals with everyday family life issues in a comedic matter. It is a show that both black and white people can relate to, which is an immense step in race relations.
Enlightened Racism is an analysis of the Cosby show, set up by Bill Cosby himself. It was a study to see how television influences people’s views of race. The book took a pool of people to give their opinions of the class, gender and racial issues they perceived on the show. The interviewers broke the people up into their own ethnic background, with the interviewer being of the same background, to make them feel comfortable in the discussions. The discussions did not follow a particular outline, and the people were allowed to speak freely. The authors also only selected only one episode to be the focus for the interview. These methods are not particularly the best process for providing an argument that the Cosby show is racist and sexist. The characters on television, become part of a viewer's everyday life.
They relate matters to the characters, and their distinction between reality and fantasy becomes blurred. It is common for a familiarity to form, which allows people to feel as if they know the characters on a personal basis. This is why many relate to Bill Cosby as Cliff Cosby or Bill Huxtable. The separation of the real person and the character that they play on television becomes distorted in the mentality of the viewers.
Jhally and Lewis find the Cosby show particularly distressing because they believe it alters viewers assessment that there are no more race and class divisions in America. They believe the show establishes an unachievable goal that sets blacks up for failure. The goal that they discuss is achieving the American dream. The Huxtables have achieved this sought out dream and live as the typical white American. The controversial question is what is a typical white or typical black American? Where do we draw the line to classify one’s lifestyle or class as typical? America consists of a huge melting pot, which contains different races and classes.
There is such a broad economic scale of white class as well as black class; the vast debate is where this fine line should be drawn. The interviewees see this issue differently, in one instance they are believable as real people and in the next instance they are totally unbelievable (Jhally and Lewis, 28). They find that the show was unrealistic in the sense that they did not live or act like a normal or traditional black family. Their education was not that of a normal black family, seeing that both Clair and Cliff were highly educated professionals. The issue of Clair always being dressed up and never having jeans or a sweatshirt on was the explanation one person being interviewed gave for the lack of realism the show portrays.
A second issue that was raised was that Cliff is always home, where as his occupation of being a doctor is a critical job that requires a lot a time away from home. Another issue that was bought up is that the parents are never frenzied, they have time to invest in each child's problems (Jhally and Lewis, 28). The argument for this conclusion is that the sitcom is a family show that is based upon family issues. If the family was always absent then there would be no show. The second argument is that Cliff had his office in the basement of their home, which allowed for him to spend a lot of time at home.
The show did not have racial conflicts due to the attempt to make the show more acceptable to the general audience, since it brought in a good amount of money for the network. Theo had an anti-apartheid sign hanging on his door which the network tried to have removed, but was unsuccessful due to Bill Cosby standing his ground that the poster was not to be removed. The success of the show enabled Cosby to over-rule the demand, to remove the poster, from the network. This is an example of the subtle hints the show gave to represent their racial background. A second hint was when the oldest daughter named her to twins Winnie and Nelson after the Mandelas. Instead of raising a controversial racial issue it is simply made into a minor detail.
Jhally and Lewis believe that the Cosby show is too passive in dealing with racism. They do give understated hints, but do not really address the controversies that are actually present. They alternatively believe that the issue of sexism is very prevalent throughout the show's script. There were numerous times when men characters, excluding Cliff, make sexist comments and possess macho attitudes. Though the men on the show, demonstrate these sexist behaviors the women are usually the one's that are outsmarting or end up belittling the men for their outlandish views. Cliff Huxtable supports the women's views that it is inappropriate for the men to act so arrogant.
The title of the book, Enlightened Racism, is how Jhally and Lewis perceive the racism on the Cosby show. The authors used the term enlightened racism to deal with the culture, economic status and achievements of the Huxtable family. They suggest that the Huxtable’s income is way above average of a typical black family, which is very difficult to achieve for anyone. The picture perceived through the show makes people wish that the show was everyday life. In one instance the authors state the Cosby show is a replica of an Oreo cookie.
They are black on the outside, but live as if they were white on the inside. They have the economic status of a white middle class family and their skin is the only way that they can be distinguished as being black. I do not believe this is true, due to the culture that they place into almost every episode. They always have some sort of African American culture in the story line. For example when Theo was writing a paper on the march in Washington, his whole family was talking about it throughout the episode. These issues do not cause tension for the white class, because the way they are acknowledged so subtle. The culture is revealed through the artwork throughout the house, the music and the political issues (Jhally and Lewis 53).
The Huxtables’ life leads to the conclusion that anyone can make it, which can be defined as the American Dream. Jhally and Lewis strongly disagree with this statement for the fact that people born into poverty are rarely going to be able to crawl out of that dilemma. I believe that it is good to have this goal for people to try to achieve instead of doing nothing about it. The show is showing that the class barriers between generations do not have to continue in this cycle. The authors did remain constant to their conclusion that America is a racially divided country. But I believe that they were biased in their assessment from the beginning. The Cosby show did bring different races and classes together, which is a step in bringing about racial unity.
|Date:||Wed, 08 Mar 2000 14:20:12 -0600|
|From:||Justin Mayo <jdmayo@ILSTU.EDU>|
|Subject:||Enlightened Racism Review|
In a study funded by Bill and Camille Cosby themselves, Sut Jhally and Justin Lewis evaluate the effect "The Cosby Show", a popular sitcom in the eighties, has on society. In their study, Mr. Jhally and Mr. Lewis find many interesting aspects and implications the show has. However, the evaluation is based on contradictions that the authors make themselves. Personally, I found myself wanting the authors to make a decision on what was good and what was bad. Unfortunately this never seemed to occur.
The study was done in Springfield, Massachusetts, a racially diverse area that the authors felt represented all aspects of the racial and socioeconomic sections of America. Participants in the study were interviewed individually, but most responses were taken from focus groups. These focus groups were first divided by race (26 white, 23 black, 3 Latino) and then subdivided by class (page 10). White focus groups were led by white interviewers, black groups by black interviewers.
As the interviewers guided the discussions, they delved into questions regarding race, class, and gender roles. They asked questions such as, "What do you like about the show?" (Page 38), and "How aware are you of the Huxtable's being black?" (Page 53). They then document several of the responses from all of the focus groups. From these responses Jhally and Lewis come to some interesting conclusions.
One of the more interesting conclusions they reach is that we in America have learned to blur the lines of reality and fantasy. While we recognize that Bill Cosby is an actor, when we discuss his character on "The Cosby Show", we refer to him as Bill, opposed to Cliff (the name of the character). This confusion, according to Jhally and Lewis, is one way in which we blur these lines. One example they give outside of television is in politics. Jhally and Lewis state that, "such thinking allowed many people to vote for Ronald Reagan (because he made them feel good about being 'American') though they disagreed with many of his specific policies on matters of great importance." (Page 16). Jhally and Lewis charge that there is a misconception that human beings are rational and therefore incapable of these contradictions in thought. This may be the basis for the contradictions within their argument concerning the impact the show has on American culture.
The major contradiction is that while "The Cosby Show" does a service to African Americans by not giving into the temptation to show the stereotypical version of African Americans, they give in to the "myth of the American Dream" by showing that anyone who works hard can succeed. At the end of the book, Jhally and Lewis claim that the show is not gritty enough. It does not show the harshness and brutality that America shows most African Americans. This contradiction was my biggest fault with the book. If this is the point that the authors were trying to make, why did they claim that not giving in to the stereotype was the biggest strength to the program?
Jhally and Lewis do a good job of showing how "The Cosby Show" changed the face of American television. They discuss how previous programs such as "227," "The Jefferson's," and "Amen" merely perpetuated a stereotype of black America. For example, the older woman hanging out of the window and watching everyone on the street ("227") is a perpetuation of that particular stereotype. Jhally and Lewis commend "The Cosby Show" for breaking away from the stereotypes and providing us with human beings, different from the hackneyed image of African Americans. By providing us with a family that works with two professionals heading up the family (Cliff Huxtable is a doctor, Clair Huxtable is an attorney), "The Cosby Show" again breaks away from a stereotype perpetuated by such programs as "Roc" and "Good Times". This is something Jhally and Lewis say is important to both whites and blacks. They make the claim that, "interviewees would no doubt endorse jazz singer Lena Horne's gratitude when she thanked Bill Cosby 'for giving us back ourselves.'"
Jhally and Lewis provide us with empirical data that also shows the changing face of American television since the popularity of "The Cosby Show". They go into much detail regarding this issue in Chapter Four (pages 57-70). In Table 4.2 (page 59), they take two time periods (1971-1976 and 1984-1989) an show that there was a 2% increase in black, clearly upper class characters; there was a 14% increase in black, middle class characters; there was also a 16% decrease in black, clearly lower class characters. As "The Cosby Show" provided us with successful images of black America, the face of the television character changed. Black characters were now not only the butlers and the cleaning women, they had become professionals and they hard-working members of the middle class.
In doing so, however, according to Jhally and Lewis, "The Cosby Show" did a great disservice to African Americans. They implanted the perception in the minds of white America that anyone can make it if they work hard enough and are determined. Because of this, white America no longer saw the disadvantages that face most African Americans. This makes it even harder then for African Americans to be able to get ahead.
Another aspect of the program that Jhally and Lewis criticize is the "whiteness" of the Huxtable family. At one point in the book, they are even referred to as an Oreo cookie - black on the outside, white in the middle. Some respondents commented on how they would like to see them (the Huxtable family) struggle more.
They wanted to see some more aspects of the black experience. They wanted the show to confront racism more and actually deal with the issue. However, my belief in regard to this issue is that this study was based on an episode. "The Cosby Show" did deal with the topics of race and inequality in many, much subtler ways.
One example of this would be in Cliff's choice of music. Cliff was a fan of jazz music. His favorite musicians included the likes of Maynard Ferguson, Dizzy Gillespie, and Lena Horne. In one episode, Lena Horne guest stars and sings to Cliff. Through the experience, we learn along with Theo and Vanessa (two of the Huxtable children) about the racial barriers that Lena Horne and other black musicians had to face and still sometimes face today.
Another example is when Clair is asked to return to her alma mater, Spellman, an all-black college. Here, we learn with Denise (another member of the Huxtable clan) as she learns about what school was like for her mother as she was going through college in the height of the movement for racial equality. Both of these ways are much more subtle, but still deal with race and inequality. However, nobody in the focus group mentioned either of these episodes.
"The Cosby Show" was breaking new ground. Never before had an African American television show succeeded as much as they had. In my opinion, "The Cosby Show" did a good job of incorporating aspects of African American heritage while making the program accessible to all aspects of society. Had they gone too much further, they would have run the risk of losing their audience and further, the educational impact they had on a culture.
An example of this in modern day would be the television sitcom "Ellen." "Ellen" was a very successful program with the lead character, played by Ellen DeGeneres, as a bookstore owner trying to make it. When Ellen came out of the closet and announced her sexual identity, the sitcom became about her being a lesbian. Within months, the show had failed. Most people could not relate to this aspect of the character so major sponsors withdrew their sponsorship and within a year, the sitcom was yanked from ABC's lineup. In one year, People Magazine's funniest woman in America no longer had a television show. It had become "too gay." Had the show maintained what it was originally, a sitcom based on the lives of five thirtysomething's trying to make it in a big city, people would have been more likely to be able to relate it to their real lives.
A parallel may be drawn to "The Cosby Show". What made the program so good was that people, regardless of race, could relate to some aspect of the show. Had the sitcom become "more black," it would have lost the impact that it had and not allowed for the continuation of providing successful African Americans.
Overall, I found the book well written. I feel that it did do a nice job of showing both sides of the issue. However, I did not feel that it clearly made a decision as to whether "The Cosby Show" was good or bad from a sociological position. It gave more compelling arguments for its being good, yet at the end provided us with the answer of it being bad. I also do not feel that Jhally and Sut completely looked at what the implications of what they were asking for would have. When evaluating a show such as "The Cosby Show", one must ask the question Which is more important showing African American's who are succeeding at tearing down the stereotypes which are all too common on television, or showing "real life" for the "majority" of African Americans? For me, it is much more important on a sitcom to show the first.