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  1. #1

    Racial issues in American TV shows [essay]

    Here's an essay I wrote for my third year class on American culture. It was a long time ago, so it's no biggy, but if you find anything that doesn't quite sound like "proper" English, please let me know. I'll be grateful for any feedback.


    During the listening comprehension course, there has been one topic which, I think, prevailed – the problem of race. It goes without saying that America has always been a very conservative country; however, it is very surprising that a nation made up of people with various cultural and racial backgrounds used to have such a hostile attitude towards black people. The social and cultural revolution began to sparkle in the 1950's, when Rosa Parks refused to sit at the very back of a bus, the only seat she could occupy. The blacks started fighting racial discrimination exemplified, for example, by universities which allowed only white students. Black people had little possibility of gaining a satisfying level of education, they were discriminated at work, etc. The television, as the most powerful medium, didn't stay indifferent towards these issues. The subject of race was a taboo on television and TV show creators had to be really careful about what they wrote in the scripts. Nevertheless, some of the hints could be clearly seen and in my opinion, they helped a lot to change attitudes in a conservative White Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture of the United States.

    The black people came from Africa. They were brought to America as slaves. Southern farmers used them as a cheap man-power. When we were watching Star Trek, the slavery theme was heavily underlying the plot of the episode. It involved the story of an extraterrestial who escaped his master and tried to get back his rights as an independent being. This mirrors the situation of the slaves who tried escaping from southern farms to the north which was more liberal about human rights. To me, Captain Kirk seems pretty akin to Abraham Lincoln, the great president who is believed to have freed the blacks from the white reign. Kirk was willing to solve the problems of the alienated slave so that everybody would be happy. Of course, the owner of the slave was not happy with the situation. We could also see some of the Southern slavery theme in the humorous show, The Family Guy, where the Griffin family went to the South of the States. In one of the episodes, Peter Griffin - a typical white American with Irish roots finds out that his great-granfather was a black slave. This was a more humorous comment on the whole problem, but it also showed that there are still some problems going on as regards racial matters. Black people still feel somewhat different, they even speak a different dialect of English. For example, Peter cannot understand his son Chris, who starts talking in Black English slang.

    The initial alienation of the black people within the Euro-American society was clearly seen in other shows that we watched: Bewitched and The Addams Family. Both shows used a good deal of humor (very often sarcastic) used to cover up the real issues discussed. Bewitched tells a story of a woman in possession of some supernatural powers, married to a white man – which obviously hints at the issue of interracial marriages. The Addams' are a peculiar family dreaded by neigbours. They fail to be understood by typical American families, they lead a different kind of life, in other words – they have a different culture, just like the blacks. They stand out, but they are happy with it and not ashamed of showing their otherness. I think that this attitude is much like that of the black people nowadays. They are finally ready to show the pride of their racial heritage. Interestingly enough, there are no black characters in the two shows, yet the feeling is unmistakeable – the television made clear allusions to the issues present in the American society of the 1960's, on the threshold of a social revolution.

    The Ed Sullivan Show brought about another change in racial relations. The host of the show, Ed Sullivan, was one of the first (if not the first) TV presenters to invite black musicians to their shows. That helped a lot to raise people's consciousness that it was the blacks who invented rock'n'roll. Ultimately, this fact is a milestone in terms of popular culture. Sullivan broke the boundaries dividing 'black' and 'white' music, making them appear on one screen. The impact of blacks on the music business has been enormous. When we take a look at what music is popular in the States now, we see that it is dominated by black artists. Hip-hop, R&B and neo-soul artists are occupying the charts and although there is some space for white American rock, it cannot match the popularity of 'black music'.

    African-Americans even started making their own shows. The first example which comes to my mind is The Bill Cosby Show, but of course the case should not be narrowed only to that series. The two shows that we watched during the course were Amos and Andy and Good Times. The former was probably the first show to contain primarily black actors. Despite the controversy about the alleged racist aspect of the series, I saw it as a significant step in raising some of the basic questions regarding the position of black people in America. Some things were exaggerated, for example the overly 'black' way of speaking of one of the characters, still it was important to have blacks on television – we have to remember that the show started in 1920's. Amos and Andy served as a prototype for other shows that showed blacks as fully legitimate citizens, with families and rich social life. Good Times showed such a family with typical African-American humor. I couldn't make much out of it, since there are still many differences between black and white families – ranging from the dialect to the things that make people laugh. This show also portrays the religious side of life. The mother is a die-hard Christian who prays to God on many occasions. While there may be many different views on the religiousness of the blacks, my opinion is that they are quite religious. The Baptist church is a powerful and lively institution governed to a great extent by the blacks. The fact that African-Americans are religious has been a significant factor in the process of accepting their culture.

    On the whole, I think the racial issues are still present in the American society. While the attitudes towards the blacks have changed (partly thanks to numerous television shows), there is still some sense of separateness. The good thing is that television helped African-Americans to get a proper position among the American society by using a language that was not explicit; a language that could escape censorship and make it clear for everyone that all people are created equal. Television shows gave everybody a chance to come into being in mass consciousness.

  2. #2

    Re: Racial issues in American TV shows [essay]



    • Join Date: Nov 2007
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    Re: Racial issues in American TV shows [essay]

    ...began to sparkle in the 1950's, when Rosa Parks refused to sit at the very back of a bus, the only seat she could occupy

    It's one thing that Rosa Parks' action sparked the revolution. Brightly shining flashes of light did not illuminate the dawn of this new age of equality!

    If you were writing history, I would be puzzled that a petulant act such as kicking up a stink because she was too tired or lazy to walk to the back of the bus because it was the only seat left to occupy should resonate so across the nation.......

    I know you are probably writing for an American audience, but even so, "the only seat she could occupy" could be spelt out as "at the very back of the bus, the only place a segregated South would allow her to sit."

    Clarity! Impact!
    Last edited by David L.; 04-Mar-2009 at 01:25.

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