THE COSBY EFFECT?

People always want to find really simple explanations for things, and often this takes the place of pinpointing one pop-culture phenomenon and attributing massive influence to it. So we have people speculating whether the Cosby Show helped Obama get elected. Why stop there? Why not Jimmy Smitts on The West Wing? Or Dennis Haysbert on 24? Not surprisingly, these arguments have been made too. And they're all pretty dumb -- these are pop-culture representations of changes in American society, not the other way around.

At any rate, since Obama didn't actually expand too far beyond the Democratic base, but rather the Democratic base itself expanded, there's something absurd about going back to '80s TV shows and deciding that the Huxtables set off a massive domino effect that would eventually result in the first black president being elected. Rather, there is an infinite web of watershed moments, for individual Americans as well as for the country as a whole, that likely made them comfortable with the concept, starting with our presence on American soil centuries ago. Fredrick Douglass gave a speech. Paul Lawrence Dunbar wrote a poem. Booker T. Washington visited Teddy Roosevelt in the White House. W.E.B DuBois published a book. Walter White let folks up North know just what a lynching looked like. People fought to unionize, then they fought to integrate unions. Martin Luther King Jr. led a boycott. White students bused down to the South to join in protests. Fannie Lou Hamer let the Democratic Party know how sick and tired everyone was. A racially integrated military shared the misery of Korea and Vietnam together. Harold Washington got elected mayor of Chicago. Jesse Jackson ran for president again.

I haven't even started to scratch the dust motes on the surface. It disgusts me to even hear people take Karl Rove's abridged History of Blacks in America as seriously as they did his "permanent Republican Majority." It's incredibly silly and self-centered to point at one moment in the history of black Americans and say "there, that did it." Well what made "that" possible? Before there was Cosby, there was Bert Williams. And if you knew that, you probably knew what Good Times was gonna turn into. Not a pretty thought is it? It hasn't all been multicolored sweaters and HBCUs. I love The Cosby Show. But let's not pretend, and let's retire the word "postracial," because if you actually watched The Cosby Show, you'd know it wasn't that. It just wasn't pressed about race. 

As far as Cosby goes, I'd like to recall something he said just four short years ago, in one of his rants about how ignorant black folks today tend to be about themselves:

We are not Africans. Those people are not Africans. They don't know a thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail.

Yeah, I mean who would ever think that someone with an African-sounding name could ever amount to anything in this country? Come on people!

--A. Serwer

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