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'Purple' Prose

February 23, 1986

Before Legrand H. Clegg II, chairman of the Coalition Against Black Exploitation ("Bad Blood Roles in 'Purple'," Reader Comment, Feb. 16) decided to comment on the manner in which blacks are currently portrayed on television ("as thugs, dope addicts or fools"), he should have tuned in to one or more of the following:

"Benson": In which a (black) head of housekeeping in the governor's mansion inadvertently plays Horatio Alger and winds up as the state's lieutenant governor. He is an idealist and a humanist, and genuinely seems to have the people's needs at heart.

"The Cosby Show": depicting a family (black) who seem to have successfully achieved the American Dream. Family issues typically involve dates, homework and sibling rivalry ("Father Knows Best" 20 years later).

"Charlie & Co.": another relatively successful family (black), in which the head of the household plays the only sane, competent and rational employee at the local road department office. His white co-workers are an assortment of incompetents, apple-shiners and goof-offs.

"St. Elsewhere": The (black) doctors, and even the orderly, are portrayed as serious and committed to their jobs, compared to the rest of the insecure, anxiety ridden or overbearing professional staff (white).

"Hill Street Blues" and "Miami Vice": The (black) police officers are remarkably free of "blues" and "vices," whereas many of their colleagues are busy beating suspects' heads in, chasing women or considering taking a bribe.

In all of these shows (most of which are incredibly popular), it appears that pains are taken to avoid any of the old black stereotypes, to the point of depicting whites as the confused and doltish fools.


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