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Blacks on TV: Taking Steps Toward a Goal

February 17, 1997|MARIANN AALDA | Mariann Aalda is a comedy writer and performer who has acted on several TV sitcoms, including "The Royal Family." She was named 1995 volunteer of the year by the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services for her efforts in developing programs to raise the self-esteem of disadvantaged children

Although the Beverly Hills/Hollywood chapter of the NAACP, the Brotherhood Crusade and Mothers in Action have the best intentions in their efforts to bring more positive images of African Americans to television by targeting several black sitcoms, their attention may be somewhat misplaced ("Groups Call for Changes in Portrayal of Blacks on TV,"A Section, Page 1, Feb. 8).

Billie J. Green, president of the NAACP chapter, has criticized these sitcoms with all-black casts for being "humiliating to black people" and cites the WB network's "The Wayans Bros." as "one of the worst offenders" because of the show's vulgarity.

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Well, those two guys on the NBC sitcom "Men Behaving Badly," in which one of the lead characters once used a pair of dirty underwear as a coffee filter, are nothing for white folks to stand up and be proud of either. But--and this probably comes from the security of being in the ethnic majority--I don't know of any white person who ascribes his racial identification to this show and feels that it humiliates all white people.

With that as a perspective, let's look at "The Wayans Bros." for what it is: Just a couple of black men behaving badly. And that is progress.

As my mother would say, "We may not be where we want to be, but we aren't where we used to be." It used to be that black people were invisible on television. Now we are a presence, and appreciated as an economic force to be reckoned with. Let's use that power to build on, not to tear each other down.

Lowbrow comedy and slapstick have been a tradition since vaudeville. It's not to everybody's taste, but I don't begrudge its right to a time slot on a television network schedule.

The frustration that I think these organizations are trying to express, however, is that there is not more of a range and sophistication in the offerings that are aimed at black audiences.

In her statement to the press, Green additionally recognized many other black sitcoms such as "Cosby," "Moesha," "The Parent 'Hood" and "Sister, Sister" for their positive portrayals of African Americans.

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To that list I would like to also add these shows: "Dave's World," "Ink," "NewsRadio," "The Larry Sanders Show," "The Naked Truth," "The Single Guy," "Nick Freno . . . Licensed Teacher," "Boston Common" and "3rd Rock From the Sun" for their continuous positive portrayals of African Americans in an ethnically diverse world.

These shows reflect progress in a direction that goes beyond "black sitcoms" vs. "white sitcoms." They represent the entire crayon box as it exists in America today--not a "melting pot," but a mosaic where every color should have an opportunity to be seen and appreciated for its own vibrancy.

Since its invention, there have always been great shows on television programmed right alongside mediocre ones, fluff and garbage. Which shows fall into which categories, however, are in the eyes of the beholder. Comedy, especially, is always subjective.

I agree with the NAACP that we still have a way to go, but let's celebrate how far we've come and all those who have helped us get here, no matter how misguided we may personally feel some of those efforts to be.

Hopefully, the time will soon come when we can all laugh with each other and at each other, and it won't be such a big deal.

Now that would be real progress.

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