Social Commentary and the Anti-Racist Narrative

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In thinking about the show Scandal, the notion of interracial love and sex has been a contemplative one. As I once noted, white supremacy has conditioned society into accepting whiteness as pure and perfect; black men desire white women because they are the ultimate prize; however, this show offers a bit of a different narrative. I am not a huge fan of the show, seeing that the acting is poor, and the story line is a bit too much for me. This show is not the first to portray the notion of interracial ness.

The above clip is one of my favorites.

As a historian and educator, I have an appreciation for the arts. I particularly enjoy the use of visual arts, music, and the role both theater and television plays in sending positive social messages regarding the evils of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Further, such mediums can have a large impact on behavioral norms and attitudes. The challenge is trusting members in society to understand such central messages, and to grasp the complexity of why such messages are disseminated. My students are too young to recall All in the Family. Better yet, when the show was cancelled in 1983 after nine successful seasons on CBS, I was only nine years old. As a kid who watched a few episodes, I thought Archie Bunker was a racist and thus missed the social commentary. At the age of nine, I am supposed to miss it. However, by the time I reached high school, I was fully aware of All in the Family’s social commentary toward bigotry. In part,  I fully grasped this by noting Carrol O’Conner’s character, Chief William Gillespie, which he portrayed on the popular show, In the Heat of the Night.” If one recalls, O’Conner’s Gillespie character was in an interracial relationship in the state of Mississippi.

O’Conner on the problems with bigotry.

Gillespie, who dated then married an African-American female on the show, offered a thought against perceptive attitudes against interracial marriage. Having seen O’Conner play the role of Archie Bunker, I was delighted to observe the messages both All in the Family and In the Heat of the Night presented. 

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2 thoughts on “Social Commentary and the Anti-Racist Narrative

  1. I miss the t.v. shows of the 70s; they were a LOT more subversive than I think they get credit for. All in the Family was on the cutting edge of challenging racial boundaries (as were The Jeffersons and, to perhaps a lesser degree, Good Times spin-offs that followed). I made a case for The Munsters also being subversive in its messages about race and equality (https://theinnerdoor.wordpress.com/2007/01/11/goodbye-lily/). I think, too, of shows like Good Times (which, despite its very real problems, portrayed effectively the struggles of working-class families and even, in a memorable storyline that featured a very young Janet Jackson, waded into the issue of child abuse) and Chico and the Man were ahead of their time in terms of the ways in which they – sometimes gently, sometimes not – asked us to look at the way we see ourselves and each other.

    I remember, as a kid, being angry with Archie Bunker all the time. Like you, though, I came to understand that his character was an important one; Archie forced us to confront our thinking in ways that were blatant and sometimes shocking. Carol O’Connor was a treasure.

  2. Your blog post and comment forces me to ponder a bit more on how we should treat and discuss political correctness. Might such direct shows offer greater hope in helping folks think about complex matters? You are right in that Archie was an important voice. I continue to introduce him to my students. They find the above clip funny and important as we debate the problem of race. As for Janet Jackson, I do recall the issues she dealt with. As a kid, however, her matters of abuse escaped me due to my abstract understanding of abuse.

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