Family Matters One

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Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

ABC’s hit series "Black-ish" was recently renewed for its sixth season and has received so much acclamation that the show now has two spin-offs, "Grown-ish" and "Mixed-ish."

The original show has been a form of representation for black people and black families, nationwide. Now that there are two other similar shows with people of color at the forefront, this means more representation, depicting black families in a positive light.

For a long time, black people were just used as tropes and quickly discarded characters in television and film.

There were so many sitcoms starring white families but very little focused on families of color, and even then they didn’t last long.

Positive black families finally began to get their own recognition in the 1970s but only truly became popular with sitcoms like "The Cosby Show," which aired from the early 80s and into the 90s.

It’s popularity acted as a catalyst that sparked the production of other black family sitcoms.

More notably, shows like "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" and "Family Matters" positively depict the dynamic of black families living in middle-class conditions and parents with higher playing careers.

These shows were effective in portraying a healthy family but also often focusing on making race and racism a topic of discussion, which was significant and influential at the time.

But, it’s not just TV shows that have this power to represent black families and their dynamics.

Though they are entertaining and often end happily, some movies have perpetuated stereotypes about black people and black families for years. This includes movies like Tyler Perry’s "Meet the Browns" and "Precious."

This would often focus on black families dealing with themes such as drug-dealing, single-parenthood, abuse and neighborhood violence.

This greatly contrasts with how white families were always shown to be upper middle-class, slightly dysfunctional and rarely focused on such heavy topics.

That’s not to say that these black films aren’t iconic or don’t hold any form of truth to them, but they do run the risk of implanting stereotypes into the mind of the viewers.

Within the past few years, however, there has been a slight decline in the depiction of healthy black families on screen.

According to a National Public Radio article, there was a six-year gap between series that showed black families on television: "Everybody Hates Chris," which ended in 2009 and then "Black-ish," which began airing in 2015.

These shows have more of an impact on society and the black community, as a whole, because positive representation of black families means less room for stereotyping and discrimination.

Not only is positively depicting black families in the media necessary for adults, but it’s also important for children to see.

Shows that were geared more towards children, like "The Proud Family" or "That’s so Raven," have such a strong impact on black youths.

It’s especially paramount when portraying black families on screen that the black children watching can feel that those who look like them can have healthy relationships, too.

Representation is fundamental because it holds the power of telling the public, it’s watchers, who and what is important. If a group sees that they are not being represented in the media, or even represented negatively, it’s easy to believe that they are not worthy of being on screen.

It also can create the idea that there are fewer people out there that are similar to them, which isn’t always the case.

It’s important for black families to continue to be portrayed in a positive light on screen because of how the many, many years of oppression and stereotyping have altered their image to viewers.

Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t just end with having healthy black families on television and in movies. Other races and diverse groups of families need to be shown as well. Our population is diverse and the media we absorb should show that, positively. 

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