Amid mounting evidence of Bill Cosby’s depraved behavior, many have changed their minds about Cosby the person. Should they also reconsider, for very different reasons, their affection for his megahit sitcom, The Cosby Show? Lefty writer Chauncey DeVega thinks so. In a Sunday article for Salon, DeVega opined that the series “lied to its white viewers about the nature of racism, white supremacy, and white privilege” and “enable[d] the colorblind white racist fiction and delusion that anti-black racism is a thing of the past.”
The Huxtables, claimed DeVega, were “an African-American version of the model-minority myth, one of the favorite deflections and rejoinders of white racists in the post-civil rights era, where there are ‘exceptional’ minorities and the rest are failures because they do not work hard, are lazy, and complain too much about white racism. While unintentional, ‘The Cosby Show’ enabled some of the ugliest Reagan-era fantasies.”
From DeVega’s piece (bolding added):
Americans on both sides of the color line are upset by Cosby’s behavior not exclusively because of the horrific nature of his crimes, but also because his failings have robbed many of them of an innocent and positive part of their youth…[P]erhaps the focus now should be on the source of that nostalgia itself, and how the politics and values of “The Cosby Show” [have] enabled a pernicious type of right-wing “colorblind” racism to flourish…
… “The Cosby Show” channeled a particular understanding of race, capitalism, “success,” and “middle class” identity that more often than not reinforced dominant American cultural norms and rules basically in line with the the Horatio Alger myth…
For most of its 8 seasons, “The Cosby Show” existed inside a bubble that was outside of the day-to-day lived experiences of the vast majority of black Americans. The events in [the] bubble were white fantasies of black folks’ lives.
“The Cosby Show” was set during the 1980s and early to mid 1990s in New York City. This was a tumultuous time of protest activity, anti-black and brown police harassment, brutality and killings, tensions between African-Americans and Koreans, anxieties about black “super predators,” “wilding,” the Central Park Five, the Crown Heights riots, and the racist murders and assaults on black youth by white racists in the neighborhood of Howard Beach.
In that context, consider the following:
- Theo Huxtable was never harassed by the New York City Police Department because he was a young black male.
- Cliff Huxtable was never stopped by the police because he drove an expensive luxury automobile.
- Claire [sic] Huxtable was never racially profiled while she shopped in an exclusive boutique or high end retail department store in Manhattan.
...[T]hose moments and events are the context and backdrop for the show. To ignore those happenings in an act of surrender to genre norms…
…”The Cosby Show” lied to its white viewers about the nature of racism, white supremacy, and white privilege…It told them of a world of black millionaires—people who were “just like them”…
At the same time, “The Cosby Show’s” erasure of white racism and its impact on the day-to-day lives of black people in the United States (from the rich to the poor) enables the colorblind white racist fiction and delusion that anti-black racism is a thing of the past. Moreover, the Cosby family was an African-American version of the model-minority myth, one of the favorite deflections and rejoinders of white racists in the post-civil rights era, where there are “exceptional” minorities and the rest are failures because they do not work hard, are lazy, and complain too much about white racism. While unintentional, “The Cosby Show” enabled some of the ugliest Reagan-era fantasies.