The Relevance of Black Television

"The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"; courtesy photo

By: Imara Bright-Johnson
Posted 8:15 PM EST, Fri., Mar. 3, 2017

During the 1980s and 1990s, Black television had some of the most popular programs of all time. It was the first time that Black shows focused on showcasing Black culture (and it was popular en masse), as well as giving many African American actors and actresses a chance to shine. Black television, specifically sitcoms, gave African Americans the opportunity to experience television that was relatable, understandable—but mainly showed positive representation. This was the golden age of Black television.

Many Black television shows were produced to reach audiences that would be able to relate to the issues, plots and concepts within them. “Moesha” was about the life of a young Black teenager in California, and how she dealt with her issues day to day as an African American female. “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air gave” the audience an idea of what it’s like to be a Black guy growing up in a predominately white community. Shows like “The Cosby Show” and “Family Matters” contradict misconceptions of the African American family, negating stereotypes that constantly placed on families of color. These series showed that African Americans do, in fact, have college degrees, well-rounded children and great jobs.

Black television gave those watching and participating the opportunity to see African-American representation in roles that were often played by other actors. Audiences were able to see Black actors play roles such as doctors, judges, professors and other working professionals. These shows depicted African americans in a positive light and relayed the message that people of color can succeed regardless of others’ low expectations. After watching these shows, many individuals wanted to attend college, build families or set goals for certain career paths.

Black television sought to address sensitive subjects such as racism, discrimination, dating violence and the importance of safe sex. “A Different World” was a series that showcased life at historically Black college and displayed the rich culture of HBCUs. The show normalized the experience Black young adults were having in college–which is to say it legitimized the notion of Black collegiate students and their separate set of cultural challenges.

Recently, there has been an increase in the production of Black television a shows again. Shows like “Atlanta” and “Queen Sugar” are attempting to reclaim the original purpose of African-American television by putting African-Americans in roles with positive representation while still addressing contemporary issues in and around the Black community. Black television has continued to play a significant role in society over the years, and hopefully will continue to for generations to come.