Let me precede this blog by saying this is not a blog paying homage to Bill Cosby. Straight up, there it is: there’s a difference between Bill and Cliff. But, that’s not what this blog is about. This blog is about representation, and the importance of what it means to see your own experience reflected on TV. For me, that was in The Cosby Show.
My husband, Steve, and I were recently so excited because- if you didn’t know- The Cosby Show has been brought back to life on TVone. My husband and I have spent several weekends watching, loving and regaling our childhood through the show. And, much to our pleasant surprise, someone else shares in our love for Cliff, Claire, Sondra, Denise, Theo, Vanessa and Rudy Huxtable: our daughter Weslie.
Picture it: Indianapolis 1984, and a young DeAndrea is spending the summer with her Grandparents. A show airs on NBC that captures the Black Family like never before. It follows an upper middle class family-the Dad of which is a witty and charming OBGYN, the Mom is a no nonsense, sharp and caring attorney, and their 5 children are all well-adjusted and well rounded. The Huxtables were wealthy, they loved art and music and they lived in a Brooklyn brownstone. The family bantered at the kitchen table, and addressed obstacles that came with adolescence. This representation of a Black family was a strong and important counter narrative to racist perceptions of the Black family. For some, it reflected and reaffirmed a Black family experience that was not often shown in the media. Furthermore, Claire Huxtable maintained a career and a healthy partnership with her husband, while still being an amazing Mom. She also had a proud and unapologetic sex appeal that even now I admire.
In watching The Cosby Show, my Grandparents were impressed ( which was no easy task)….this family as my Paw Paw would say “had it going on.” My Grandparents were not formally educated, yet they managed to provide a great life for their children. My Grandmother had a 3rd grade education and my Grandfather 4th because they both were required by their parents to work in the fields, at a time where education was a luxury not a necessity. It meant a lot to me to see the representation of a black family that even my Grandparents admired. It was like seeing what their history and hard work was leading toward for my parents and for my own future. Therefore, every Thursday at 8 p.m. we were glued to the TV, my Grandfather brought me ice cream and my Granny and I watched and laughed. Imagine my delight when there was a spin-off, in comes A Different World.
Picture it: Indianapolis 1986, a still very young DeAndrea watching a show about college aged children at an HBCU. They were hanging out, they were socially conscious and ambitious… and, more importantly, they looked like me!!!!! My Grandparents loved the show like I did, even though they didn’t know much about college. What they did know is that in 1986, college was necessary to progress you both socially and economically. One day, while watching A Different World, my Grandparents said “Dee, look at how much fun they are having, they are going to school, and you can do that too.” My face lit up- they were having fun at “Hillman”, and my Grandparents believed that was a future I could have, too. I mean, sign me up! Some time later, I became the first person in my family to graduate from college.
Although they would never take the credit for it, my own success is due in large part to my Grandparents. For some, TV is entertainment: but, for me, those nights watching the Cosby Show, and later, A Different World, hearing my Grandparents’ enthusiasm as we were all exposed to Denise’s experience as “Hillman”- and the fact that they believed in me with such vivacity- inspired me to believe in myself.
They exposed me to things that they had never seen, but believed that I could accomplish. To them, by going to college I could possibly build my very own Huxtable family. Although both of my Grandparents are no longer here, I know I am their wildest dream.
I grew up in a middle class family and for all intents and purposes my parents were a modern day Huxtable family…minus the Brooklyn Brownstone. Now, I am a Mother of two young children and in today’s current climate, I want them to see images that make them believe in themselves, in their worth, and in their potential. When I watched The Cosby Show with my Grandparents, who had made a great life for their family with only a 3rd and 4th grade education, it made me believe. For that reason, my children will always understand the importance of The Cosby Show.
Representation matters in what your children watch, it can make them happy, cynical, or hopeful. To me, that means continuing to watch representations of what I have known as the Black family experience in America: one of humor, pride, education, and togetherness. I know what seeing this representation did for me, and I will do my best to ensure my own children get to experience the same.