THE FIRST FAMILY
No Laughing Matter
The First Family produced by Byron Allen is one of the latest black sitcoms. It is filled with familiar black actors and actresses from the 80′s and 90′s and even includes Grammy Award winning music icon Gladys Knight. Many of us have been wondering, “Where are they now?” I watched two back-to-back episodes of The First Family one Sunday evening and then another two the following Sunday. I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t overreacting. I’m sure. The show not only perpetuates stereotypical views and images of African Americans but also promotes seriously risky health behaviors. The White House is portrayed as a hang out for the President’s extended family (and their friends) whose personal crises interfere with him doing his job. In one episode, the white Vice President and the President’s black father don’t support the President’s healthy eating initiative. They continue to eat oversized burgers and fried foods. Another casts the First Lady as a poor cook desperate to bake good cookies. Then the First Lady’s sister takes her cell phone from her bra in a scene with the President. When the President walks in the room where his sister-in-law is playing cards with former co-workers, a second woman does the same. She wants the butler to use her cell phone to take a picture of her with the President.
What’s the problem? Cell phones may be linked to breast cancer. Cancer has been found in women at the exact site of the breast where the cell phone rests. While African American women are less likely than whites to get breast cancer, we have a higher death rate. Breast cancer tends to occur in African American women at a younger age and in more aggressive forms. Fewer effective treatment options exist for more aggressive forms of breast cancer. Obesity also is a risk factor for breast cancer. Hence the image of two overweight black female characters taking cell phones from their bras may be more deadly than humorous. We should be encouraging all of our female family and friends not to carry their cell phones in their bras, not glamorizing this potentially dangerous behavior.
Curious about the show’s producer Byron Allen, I goggled images of him. I saw a wedding photo of him to a Caucasian woman (in appearance) and another of them and their biracial daughter at the beach. My first thought was, “Why didn’t he do a show about a biracial family?” After all the backlash from a Cheerios’ commercial featuring a biracial family, such a show might help all Americans to be more tolerant and accepting of biracial and multiracial families. And then I mused, “When will we care more about little black boys’ and girls’ self-esteem and identity than we do about laughing at racial stereotypes of ourselves?”
I know sometimes we might laugh to keep from crying but positive social action, not more laughter at our own expense, is what we need to counter racism, internalized and externalized. Picture the power of millions of African Americans turning away from the movies or television shows using the N-word or stereotypical black images. Imagine flipping the script on Hollywood, staying away from the box office and television until we get the respect we’ve earned. Visualize a future generation of black children without learned black inferiority. What will it take—You and I.