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The Cosby Show Challenge Conventional Stereotypes of Black People in America

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The Cosby Show Challenge Conventional Stereotypes of Black People in America

            In the 1980’s The Cosby Show challenged the preconceived stereotypes of black Americans in the United States. The show was created by a pioneer of enforcing positive images of black folk, Mr. Bill Cosby that supported the advancement of educational goals. The Cosby Show debuted in the fall of 1984 of Bill Cosby playing the role of the father, Mr. Cliff Huxtable that was a physician.[1] The role of the Huxtables pulled back the blanket of the other all black television shows that demonstrated black folks in negative stereotype perception.

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Theses perceptions left black folks to be identified as a restricted race of achievement.

            These restricted stereotypes on black folks limited the role to at times demeaning images for the young and old in the black community.[2]  The black shows on television before the Cosby Show debuted provided a sense that a negative stereotype genre was the only avenue for expression of the black family.

Many people in the black community and black leaders were torn to either support the shows or protest. The negative impact of the shows being telecast to viewership created an extension of the perception of the black community 9Ssmith, 2001). At times, these negative extensions did not provide an opportunity for grow in the black community and the work force. This is mainly due to the anticipation of behavior that related to the stereotypes associated from black shows.

            The Cosby Show changed the mind-thinking of what blacks can be and should be – living in America and raising a family. The Cosby Show provided not only a black family as a role model to achieve extraordinary feats but a confirmation of what black families are really like: normal.  Bill Cosby grew up in a time where challenges for a person of color brought new leaps and bounds to get over and beyond obstacles. Mr. Cosby was college educated and knew the fundamentals of what achievement felt like and what it look like to the person.

            When the show premiered there were some television analysts that stated the different quality of the show would not succeed, however, Mr. Bill Cosby knew something that the critics did not: there were people that wanted something different. Mr. Cosby took the challenge and succeeded in the first year by coming in second place in the Nielsen chart ratings. Mr. Cosby proved the critics wrong and helped to turn the tide of what the expected all black show could do to the unexpected. The Cosby Show had the ingredients that provided a picturesque of a solid family. A family that has it core seasoning focusing on issues to help them grow, learn, and love one another.[3]

            The theme Mr. Cosby wanted to incorporate was a black family that had the unique connection with rich characters. The family was to project a synergy that reinforces the trials and tribulations of the family unit, however, present a progressive attempt to remedy such trials.[4] The benefit of establishing a family unit with supporting characters of a father and mother were critical to brining a different aspect to the genre of an all black show. Bill Cosby also provided extra comedy that he is known for as an expert. The comedy touch allowed for some issues to be communicated and demonstrated with sincere appreciation of the issues being challenged.

            The Huxtable family was an upper-middle class family that lived in New York City that created the sense of similarity amongst the general population. The major difference was the Huxtable family was a black family. The chosen patriarch, Bill Cosby, was a well intelligent, gentle but firm to elevate the level of conversation and approach to address family issues. The approaches towards the issues for resolution were not the previous conceived attempt with limited thinking and stuck in the box attitude, rather a different approach was utilized to raise the bar.

            The patriarch lead the family unit for a solidify backdrop of stability that encourages a profound sense of a diversified of personalities.[5] The chosen characters personalities provided a mixture of challenges not often displayed in other black shows. These personalities displayed on The Cosby Show demonstrated an ability to relate to real families that did exist but was not televised before The Cosby Show debuted; in the manner that it did. The characters presented challenges that not only a black person could identity with but with non-black families could identify with perfectly. Bill Cosby created a masterfully atmosphere to showcase the connections between the characters, audience, and viewership to acknowledge that black folks can interact in a different medians than the norm.

            In addition, Bill Cosby demonstrated that there were audiences out there that will be committed to tuning in every week for a new episode. The audience that was attracted to the show came from not just the black community but from the white community as well. The show had a broad appeal to attract many different ethnic groups of people, mainly, due to the content of the issues being presented. The issues that were presented to be tackled each week were masterfully illustrated because it related to all families struggles, no matter, which ethnic group were watching.

            The Cosby Show did focus on challenges of children growing up in the household with two successful parents. This was not the norm for the black family shows previously being telecast. The norm was often a one parent establishment with struggling finances to battle. These images of struggling to make ends meet often played on the fears of black folk and other ethnic groups. These images presented a very limited objective of reaching the American dream of new opportunities and therefore created a wall to thinking achievement was out of reach.

            However, Mr. Bill Cosby challenging the very core of the establishment to what a black family could offer to the general public, not just entertainment with laughter, but a chance to see a black family tackle issues successfully. The love synergy of The Cosby Show showed tremendous effort that was a central component to drawing in newer viewership. It provided a different attitude to resolving issues with children growing up. Instead of brutal stereotype approaches that were abusive, the Cosby Show demonstrated firm and tough love at times to combat the problem head on. The issues did not become the solely central point of reference; rather, the approach to the issue became the lasting effect that brought the ratings to soaring heights.

            The dyslexic issue, for instance, that Theo had that was challenged in a very educational way to address the problem in American families to have a needed conversation. Bill Cosby was willing and able to talk about a condition that his actual son experienced to the forefront on television for discussion. It was a real life issue that had gain national attention in people households. Instead of feeling embarrassed, it provided an opportunity for conversation to share the trials and tribulations of challenges children face with their families.

            The approach to such issues allowed the breakthrough role that Mr. Cosby had complete creative control in presenting to the public. Mr. Cosby control allowed the approach to the challenges of raising children and the married life to focus on mainly on the issues and not the stereotypes of black folks.[6] That was a major contribution that Mr. Cosby accomplishment in the success of The Cosby Show because it focused on the core issues that affects all family. Instead of the usual negative approaches that led to a dysfunctional attachment, Mr. Cosby challenged the characters as well as the viewers of the show to think outside of the box.

            Bill Cosby created a great sense of accountability and an intelligent response to family issues for a reflection of a higher level of learning. Bill Cosby has a strong educational background and incorporated the focus of education to the show. The educational background focused was a pioneered to a transformational way black folks were portrayed in a positive light. Mr. Cosby tailored the show to reinforce the importance of higher education and how actual black graduates were able to interact in supporting families.

            Bill Cosby created a matriarch, Clair Huxtable, to show a very stylist, elegant, and eloquent wife that brought a balance between Cliff and the children. The wife flipped the usual role of a black woman being displayed on television; to showcase a beautiful black woman attorney. This was another pioneering feat of accomplishment because it became acceptable in the American family household.[7] The very first time in history, a television show that presented an intelligent woman that was able to show leadership in the family unit, especially, the black family unit.

            The normal stereotype was a black woman that was a single parent with children in a low income environment. The black woman would project a more demanding and an emotional unbalance to managing the role of the absent father in the household. In doing so, the black female became the standard model to black television shows. This stereotype was limited in the range of expanding the conversation of black women roles in the overall family structure. The often timid or restricted identification of black women was successfully challenged when the Cosby Show debuted. It provided a new awareness to the identification of black women in a more positive light and how black women contributed to the family unit and community.

            Bill Cosby was successful in changing the mindset of black American families from the other black shows by showing diversity of achievements relating to black folks. The Cosby Show demonstrated class, intellect, value virtues of the family unit. It was an out of the box way of thinking and a risk to saying that black folks and white folks would accept the show. However, it did worked and landed Bill Cosby as a true contributor to positively changing the landscape of all black television sitcoms.

            The Cosby Show ranked in awards from an Emmy to Golden Globe year after year due to the enormous popularity of the show. The topics were of interest to all families and the characters with Bill Cosby wit provided a need for an open forum to expressing everyday family problems but in a positive light that was demonstrated by black folks. Bill Cosby mission was to center the black family on a solid foundation that exposes the ups and downs of raising a family but a different aspect to approaching those issues.

            The show also did not focus solely on race, in which, was a critical way to eliminate a polarization of a black family being displayed in a productive expression. Like many other black shows the race issue would be center stage and that brought along stereotypes that limited the black family perception. In the Cosby Show, the race was not presented as the main vantage point of discussion; rather, the show was presented to focus on the characters that happen to be black and educated. According to Gordon Berry’s article, “The socialization process is one by which children learn the rules and regulations of their own family group, their culture, and their society.”[8]  The goal for the Cosby Show was to provide a realistic approach to the black family that did exist in America that allowed for a new way of thinking that challenges our everyday issues.


Berry, Gordon, L. (2007). Black Family Life on Television and the Socialization of the African American Child: Images of Marginality. Journal Article Excerpt.

Hooks, Bell (1992). Black Looks: Race and Representation. South End Press

King, Mel (1981). Chain of Change: Struggles for Black Community Development. South End Press

Kunjufu, Jawanza (1986). Motivating and Preparing Black Youth for Success. African American Images; 1st ed edition

Lerner, Gerda (1992). Black Women in White America: A Documentary History. Vintage Press

Smith, George, E. (2001). Walking Proud: Black Men Living Beyond the Stereotypes.   Kensington Publishing

Roberson, Jane. The Cosby Show. (2007) TVGuide.com, Retrieved on April 20, 2008

Weems, E. (2006).  Con-Fessions: Truths, Myths and Stereotypes about Men and Women and Relationships. Book Surge Publishing

1 Roberson, J. The Cosby Show. TVGuide.com, 2008, Retrieved January 4, 2008. www.tvguide.com
[2]  Weems, E. Con-Fessions: Truths, Myths and Stereotypes about Men and Women and Relationships. New York: Book Surge , 2006.
[3] Kunjufu, Jawanza. Motivating and Preparing Black Youth for Success. New Jersey: African American Images; 1st ed Edition, 1986.
[4] King, Mel. Chain of Change: Struggles for BlackCommunity Development. South End Press. New Jersey: South End Press, 1981.
[5] Hooks, Bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation . New Jersey: South End Press, 1992.
[6] Smith, George E. Walking Proud: Black Men Living Beyond the Stereotypes. New York: Kensington Publishing, 2001.
[7] Lerner, Gerda. Black Women in White America: A Documentary History. New York: Vintage Press, 1992.
[8] Berry, Gordon. “Black Family LifeonTelevision and the Socializatin of the African American Child: Images of Marginality.” Black Family Life (2007): 1-3.


Cite this The Cosby Show Challenge Conventional Stereotypes of Black People in America

The Cosby Show Challenge Conventional Stereotypes of Black People in America. (2016, Aug 15). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-cosby-show-challenge-conventional-stereotypes-of-black-people-in-america/

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