Talk highlights racial differences on TV
Alyssa Lyon | Sunday, February 22, 2015
English professor Stuart Greene held an open discussion on the depiction of black love and family on television as part of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) lecture series for Black History Month on Thursday in O’Shaughnessy Hall. The series was co-sponsored by the NAACP, Africana Studies department, the Africana Studies student organization, Multicultural Student Programs and Services and the Gender Studies department.
Junior Preston Igwe began the discussion by highlighting “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and the way in which the 1990s series defied typical stereotypes of black families, portraying each family member in a way that is “a lot more real and a lot more genuine.”
Igwe said there is a stark contrast between the “stereotypical black son” and Carlton, the son on the show played by Alfonso Ribeiro.
“There is the black son who is a lot of times angry, unintelligent, sex-crazed, and then you have Carlton who is a gentle young man who is funny and ambitious and is a hopeless romantic,” he said.
One particular scene from the show that Igwe described depicts Phil, played by James Avery, as a compassionate and loving father-figure to his nephew played by Will Smith.
“He let [his nephew] know it is okay to be vulnerable sometimes; it is okay to let it out; it is okay to be angry; it is okay to cry,” Igwe said. “We all need Uncle Phil in our lives. We all need to try to be that person in someone else’s life.
“I think he is one of the best representations of how to be a good black father and a good black man.”
Junior Ray’Von Jones said most other television shows featuring black characters depict them in a negative light. She addressed the negative ways in which television portrays black love and particularly sexuality by pointing to “Love & Hip Hop,” a television show on VH1.
“It tells us that black love is dysfunctional,” Jones said. “If you watch these shows, you know that there are very few relationships in ‘Love & Hip Hop’ that are successful that go on without cheating and violence.”
She said women are the ones who are particularly shown in an unfavorable way.
“[According to the show] a black woman’s love and sexuality can be bought,” Jones said. “They portray women in a way that is overall negative in terms of a woman’s role in a black relationship. They portray women as angry; they portray women as [people who are] always going to go back to these men who are doing terrible things to them.”
Junior Nora Williamson said she thinks it is easier for adults to recognize that these are negative depictions, but less so for younger audiences.
“I remember watching things like [“Love & Hip Hop”] when I was 12, 13, 14, and I feel like it is especially formative on kids, regardless of race. But just watching this when you are little, and if you think that that’s what a relationship is like … that could be a real problem,” Williamson said.