This morning I was listening to the radio on my way to work and an interesting discussion began with the listeners of 107.5 WBLS. The topic was the controversy surrounding the November issue of Ebony magazine. For those who haven’t seen the cover, it’s the classic family photo of the cast of The Cosby Show with a bullet hole and shattered glass glazing over Bill Cosby’s face with the caption “THE FAMILY ISSUE(S)”.
This cover is very powerful and kudos to the concept creators of this. As WBLS discussed the cover image, they posed this question:
DO YOU THINK BILL COSBY RUINED THE LEGACY OF THE COSBY SHOW?
As listeners are calling in with their opinions, some in agreeance with the question and some in opposition, I began to conceptualize the profound effect that The Cosby Show had on America.
From its series premiere in 1984 to the series finale in 1992, The Cosby Show changed the misconceived notation, role, and functionality of the “Black Family”. It cannot be debated the significant impact that seeing a nuclear Black family on Television had on its viewers of the early ‘80s and ‘90s. I’m sure I don’t need to remind anyone of the lack of representation and overly generalized stereotypes that were shown of black people on TV.
The Cosby Show was an introduction if you will, to a new kind of family, The Huxtables, that had not been represented before; a Black family that had tribulation, disobedience, and struggles but also, wait for it…success, wealth, culture, education, love, appreciation and respect. The Cosby Show illustrated that while Black families are all too familiar with struggle and despair in a direct or indirect way, that is not the only type of Black family that exists. That revelation is what black and white America needed to see at that time.
I want to highlight that the educational and cultural aspect of The Cosby Show was an IMMENSE part of societal awareness brought on by the show.
On the fictional perspective, showing the Huxtable parents with lucrative careers, PhD and higher degrees, extensive professional networks, and educational expectations of their children, brought these conversations and expectations to America’s front door every week. Black people were, as a result of The Cosby Show, being seen as multifaceted and dynamic. No longer were there typically low expectations of black men and women. The Cosby Show forced America to wake up and recognize that being black is not a deterrent to success and education.
Showing the Huxtables stress the demand and more specifically, the substance for HBCU education was groundbreaking. HBCU’s were introduced and celebrated amongst not only the fictional Huxtable family, but through The Cosby Show itself. As a proud graduate of the #1 HBCU in the country (shameless plug) I will forever appreciate The Cosby Show for accurately displaying not only the uniqueness and beauty, but also the prestige within the DNA of HBCU’s. Advocating for HBCU’s by wearing various school paraphernalia, constantly keeping HBCU’s a topic of conversation, and the successful creation and production of the spin-off show, A Different World, The Cosby Show helped propel black education to the forefront. I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had with students from a plethora of HBCU’s about the impact that the fictional HBCU Hillman had on their initial interest and further decision to attend an HBCU. The influence continues to be very palpable.
Whether it was through special guest appearances on the show or the show’s dialogue, The Cosby Show found ways to speak to black culture and identity. The Huxtable family had an enormous pride and devotion to their identity as a part of American History and the Black Diaspora.
The Huxtable family displayed their appreciation of culture through all avenues; Claire Huxtable was an art aficionado, specifically black art and Cliff Huxtable played an array of black musical artists in almost every episode. The Huxtable family gathered and had conversations about The March on Washington, The World Wars, and racism in America; conversations that previously had not been shown from the perspective of the black family on television.
The Cosby Show, as a part of its distinctness, had a revolving door of characters within the Diaspora ranging from Asia to Uganda. I specifically remember an episode in which Theo’s teacher, Mrs. Westlake, came to the Huxtable home and Cliff Huxtable was trying to guess her ethnicity. It was later revealed that Mrs. Westlake was a mix of more than 3 ethnicities all the while still belonging to the African-American Diaspora. This further prompted the characters to discuss the Diaspora and the melting pot of Black people in America.
The Cosby Show was truly one of its kind; the shows intricately crafted makeup, uniqueness and effect, is proof that its legacy is one that cannot be tarnished. You could not watch an episode of The Cosby Show without the subtle reminder and imagery of the importance of education, culture, community and love within the Black family. And that image is the legacy of the Huxtables and The Cosby Show, regardless of the controversy today.
So to conclude the way we started; do I think Bill Cosby ruined the legacy of The Cosby Show… My answer is no. What is yours?