American enslavement decimated the Black family. Black women were raped with impunity and with no recourse in the law for protection. Black women and men were beaten, bought, and sold like oxen in the field. They were branded and made to “breed” babies as if they were livestock. Parents had no claim to their children. Children were snatched and sold at birth. The infant mortality rate was of no consequence aside from making the plantation come up short on potential enslaved labor. To say that American enslavement of my ancestors was brutal is one the most severe understatements in the history of the spoken and written word. Nevertheless, many Black men and women beat the odds. I am a testament to that legacy. My son is a testament to that legacy. Ironically, the Black situation comedy makes a significant contribution to that legacy.
How does one define family? Can one parent and a child constitute a family? Despite the sociological struggle over the definition, the reality is that someone had to be there. Someone has to be there still. The writer of this article was born to a fifteen or sixteen year old girl. Early on a cousin cared me for. When that cousin died, I was passed on to her sister who became my mother through adoption. Her husband died in 1963 leaving her to rear a young black boy all on her own. Did the two of us constitute family? No one can tell me that we did not. Julia addressed such questions when it began in 1968. Diahann Carroll played a single mother who was in the nursing profession. Some criticized the absence of the Black father. Nevertheless, a larger aspect of the question was unintentionally addressed. A single mother and child do constitute family. Only four years later in 1972 Sanford and Son confirmed that a single father and child also constitute family. The single parent is the sinew that has held the idea and practice of family together since the troubling era of African enslavement in America. The single parent made it possible to say that the Black family is intact despite unprecedented efforts to crush the idea of family in the Black community. In this context, the absence of the mother or father could not deter the ascent to family.
If Roy Moore is elected to the United States Senate and allowed to be seated, Bill Cosby should be put back on television in a routine and significant way. If the women of the Senate in particular and Congress in general will not galvanized to fight against a Roy Moore in the Senate and a Donald Trump in the White House, then their urgent and poignant indignation will suffer the same fate as a candle in the wind. Nevertheless, prior to Bill Cosby’s personal issues, The Cosby Show, showed us all what the ideal idea of the Black family could be like. First airing in 1984, The Cosby Show, took America by storm. Overall, it was a positive show about a successful doctor and his successful attorney wife. Bill Cosby played the lead, Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, while Phylicia Rashad was his co-stark in the role of Clair Huxtable, Esq. Some were short sighted enough to say Black families do not live like the Huxables. There were many middle class Black families. Not all Black families are impoverished. Not all Black families are composed of one parent. Others would make the case that the positive image of the Black family as portrayed by The Cosby Show, was only superseded the extremely positive and powerful image of America’s first Black First Family.
Separated by time, purse, and circumstance, Good Times portrayed a two-parent family just as The Cosby Show portrayed a two-parent family. Good Times was set in Chicago. The Cosby Show was set in Brooklyn, New York. Good Times is my all time favorite Black situation comedy. Sanford and Son is my second favorite Black family situation comedy. Good Times, just as have many Black family situation comedies, addressed some very serious topics. John Amos and Esther Rolle made for great casting. Both actors had great range and could balance one another off in interchangeable situations. Good Times drew criticism. Some protested the name of the show. How you have a family in the ghetto/slums of Chicago talking about good times? To the reader I say I grew up poor. However, I did not know it. I really did not find out that I was poor until I went to college and became educated enough to analyze my own history.
My top five list was not meant to be exhaustive. There are probably some Black Family situation comedies of which I am not aware.That is why I encourage the reader to make up a personal list of top five list of favorite Black family situation comedies. Good Times was a spend off from Maude. Maude was a spend off from All in the Family. All in the Family also gave us The Jeffersons that is my third favorite Black Family situation comedy. Overall, from wealth to poverty or from single parent to two parents, Black situation comedies have addressed the full gamut of the Black narrative in the United States. In short, Black situation comedies have surreptitiously willed Black Americans to laugh when by all indications we would have preferred to weep.
Anthony Neal earned his Ph.D. in political science from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). Dr. Neal is an associate professor at State University College, Buffalo. The author of numerous book reviews and journal articles, he has had his work published in the Western Journal of Black Studies, the Journal of Black Studies, and Black Issues in Higher Education. In 2014 Dr. Neal received the university’s Faculty Appreciation Award, was named Instructor of the Year by the university’s United Student Government, and Professor of the Year by the Student Political Society in the Department of Political Science. In 2015, he published The American Political Narrative which is a succinct yet poignant narrative about the development of the American political system and what is needed to maintain it. In 2016, he published a book of poetry entitled “Love Agnostic | from 9/11 to Charleston”