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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Black roles on TV

Leslie David Baker of "The Office"

Benjamin Todd Jealous is the President of the NAACP. His name is not without irony as he made a statement recently that he can’t understand why, since the country is excited about an African-American president, minorities are so grossly under-represented on TV. Pete Bronson of the Enquirer wonders if Mr. Jealous is watching the same TV that he and I are watching.

Black performers have been well represented on TV for many years in commercials, sports broadcasting, and regular programming and they still are. Currently, as Bronson reports, there are shows like The Unit which stars Dennis Haysbert of Allstate Insurance commercial fame. He also played a role on 24. The comedy hit The Office features black actor Leslie David Baker.

Among other shows featuring Black actors are The Shield, CSI, Law and Order, House, Grey’s Anatomy, 30 Rock, and Friday Night Lights. There are many more and most of the Black roles are portrayed positively.

This is nothing new, Black actors have been portrayed in a positive light on TV for years. Remember the highly acclaimed The Cosby Show which ran on NBC from 1984-1992? I don’t think anyone has been portrayed more positively than Dr. Cliff Huxtable. George Jefferson was a successful businessman on The Jeffersons from 1975-1985. How about Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and The Bernie Mac Show, Sanford and Son, Diff’rent Strokes, The Jamie Foxx Show. The list goes on but you know what I mean.

There are 221 million white people in the United States as opposed to 42 million Blacks and 44 million Hispanics.. With those numbers, I think Black actors are doing quite well with their exposure on TV. As far as underexposure, maybe Mr. Jealous can explain why there is the Miss Black America pageant, Black Entertainment Television, and Soul Train. I see zero white representation in those ventures. Why is that?

Sorry, Mr. Jealous. You’re wrong on this. One of your predecessors, Dr. Roy Wilkins, was a fan of the number one radio show of the 1930s. That show was Amos and Andy and it starred two white guys playing Black men in stereotypical fashion. Black citizens of the time loved the show because it portrayed Black people struggling through the Depression with the same problems as white people. It didn’t bother Wilkins in the 1930s that the actors were white. It shouldn’t bother you now.

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