The norms of American television during its early years have always been focused on the so-called “social whiteness” owing to the fact that shows have always been dominated by the whites.
This theory of racial subjugation was eventually refuted since white and black characters after the 1980s do get the same amount exposure on TV shows. Considering the height of racial discrimination in the United States, the lack of African American TV shows is not surprising though African American celebrities have the same acting skills as non-African Americans.
The shows allotted for African-Americans, predisposed or not, have been limited to situation comedies (sitcoms) and stand-up comics to exemplify that these marginalized sector indeed does get the equality of quantity of said TV acts.
To cite in history, there was the “Amos N’ Andy Show” which commenced in 1928 as a thirty-year radio show and broadcasted on television in 1951 which only lasted for two years because of the massive protests by the black community. It was the lone TV show with an all-black cast during the period. There was also “The Beulah Show,” “The Nat King Cole,” “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times,” “What’s Happening,” “That’s My Mama,” and “Sanford and Son.”
The era of “The Roots,” “The Cosby Show,” “Different Strokes,” “Webster,” “Gimme A Break,” and the “A-Team” also came. Many contemporary TV shows featuring African Americans followed thereafter including NBC’s “Hidden Hills,” FOX’s “The Bernie Mac Show” and “Cedric the Entertainer Presents…,” ABC’s “My Wife and Kids,” CBS’s “Robbery Homicide Division” and “Hack.”
The former network WB also aired black-oriented shows as “The Hughleys,” “The Steve Harvey Show” and “The Jamie Foxx Show.” To enhance racial diversity, WB also featured “ER,” “Smallville,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Friends” and “The West Wing.” Meanwhile, UPN introduced “The Parkers,” “One on One,” “Girlfriends,” and “Half and Half.” Even the popular reality TV shows “Survivor” and “Big Brother” even incorporated black contestants in them.
According to Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in 1991, schedules for prime time shows are still segregated in that African American dominated shows were isolated still and in some networks like FOX and NBC, the blacks were still underrepresented, such the term “ghettoization” of African American TV shows.
Studies by SAG further revealed that there are two types of programming: first, “resourceful” programming wherein some shows included a racially diverse cast and “missed “opportunity” in which no effort is made at all to broaden their horizons in terms of casting.
An example of the first type is “The Practice” where it gave importance to African American casts, placing them in major roles with long screen times. As have been mentioned earlier, African Americans did not have much opportunity in drama and more serious roles.
Shows like “Sex and the City” and HBO’s “Six Feet Under” put blacks in very minor, insignificant characters. Oftentimes, blacks are associated with being criminals, villains, gangs, troublemakers, street people, mobs, sidekicks or subordinates in TV performances. These racial stereotyping is not helpful in terms of reconciling the diversified cultures of blacks and whites living in one nation.
It cannot be denied that television is one of the most influential media of information dissemination in the world today. Amidst globalization, television plays a great role in shaping the minds and perspectives of people about things happening in their immediate environment. The squaring off of cultural, racial and sexual distinctions should be given priority if indeed the goal of unification and eliminating discrimination is to be realized.
The lack of African American TV shows is an illustration as to the inequality of racial representation in media. Even if African Americans constitute only a marginalized portion of the population, they should be given equal TV exposure to indicate that racial chauvinism has been resolved and eliminated. If whites are shown to overshadow the blacks on TV, the audience will get the idea that impartiality still exists even in the entertainment industry.
It should be emphasized that television serves as an important cultural medium. Through this instrument, people learn about cultures of the different races.
Whether genuine or not, what is shown on TV will be the image that the audience will grasp regarding that particular culture. This is the reason why extra care and caution must be considered when depicting cultures on TV shows since they shape the representation of that ethnicity.
As mentioned earlier, African Americans often have negative persona in many TV shows. Because of this, the audience will tend to generalize that African Americans are indeed those kinds of people. This brings about a complex societal problem with regards to people’s attitudes towards African Americans.
In conclusion, the lack of African American TV shows is not merely a question of the quantity of shows broadcasted on television but it is also a question of the quality of shows that are being aired globally.
Cultural sensitivity is an important factor in that African American characters should not be limited to being slapstick comedians and humorists, but their roles must exemplify what the true black culture is in order to educate people about their beliefs and ideologies. It is only through a wider and deeper understanding of other ethnicities can we solve the problem of racial prejudice.
Therefore, it is quantity coupled with quality of African American TV shows that will make the imparting of the black society more meaningful and constructive to be able to correct the mistaken identities of African Americans. By increasing the number of quality African American TV shows, deliverance is within reach.
“Amos N’ Andy Show.” (n.d.). The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/A/htmlA/amosnandy/amosnandy.htm
Easton, B. M. (n.d.). “African-Americans on TV: A Retrogressive Renaissance.” Retrieved February 18, 2008, from http://www.purrmag.com/Purr12/blacksontv.html
Kumbier, A. (n.d.). “The TV Ghetto.” Retrieved February 18, 2008, from http://www.poppolitics.com/articles/2002/09/09/The-TV-Ghetto
“Racism, Ethnicity and Television.” (n.d.). The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/R/htmlR/racismethni/racismethni.htm
“The African-American Television Audience.” (n.d.). Nielsen Media Research, Inc. Retrieved February 18, 2008, from http://www.nielsenmedia.com/ethnicmeasure/african-american/indexAA.html
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