the Common Man, Not the Celebrities
by E. LeMay Lathan
While watching the television
special "Black History, Television Shows" with my family,
I learned things that had never occurred to me about some of
my favorite shows.
The program, hosted by sportscaster
James Brown, featured a panel of celebrities and activists who
provided incredible perspectives on the history of television
and black performers' roles in it.
I grew up on these old shows.
Growing up largely without a father figure, I used to pretend
I was a part of those shows. I heeded the messages given by the
fathers to their sons and daughters.
Those shows instilled principles
that I still live by today. Alternatively, I got negative messages
from my neighborhood that tempted me to stray from the straight
and narrow. Without the lessons from those shows, I firmly believe
that I would not be where I am today. But I look at myself as
the exception and not the rule.
I don't want my son to get
his role models from television. Positive role models should
primarily be found at home or in the community rather than on
the boob tube.
I want my son to learn from
me, his mother, his relatives and our friends and neighbors.
Life's lessons should come from home and community. We stress
the importance of a good education to our son and follow his
schoolwork. His mom gives him a sense of the nurturing and sensitivity
towards life. We both do our part to create a well-rounded individual.
I encourage my son to look
around our neighborhood to see how people conduct themselves
as opposed to the behavior displayed on "Cops." We
want to give him a sense of community and being a good citizen.
On the show, Julian Bond of
the NAACP described how early black actors took demeaning roles
and acted like fools to break the color barrier. Black viewers,
he claimed, suffered because it forced them to accept that blacks
largely acted similarly in the real world. I understand his point,
but I look at stupid white characters from then and now and wonder
if white kids feel forced to consider them as role models? Or
are we to believe white kids are smart enough to differentiate?
Bond has been a civil rights
champion almost as long as I've been alive. In this case, however,
I think he's giving us less credit than we deserve. It's ludicrous
to insist we aren't smart enough to laugh at a stupid black man
on television and know it's not representative of us all. If
we've fallen to that level, we're already lost.
We should make our children
our first responsibility. As parents, we take an unspoken oath
to teach, nourish and protect them until they can do it themselves.
As Bill Cosby - one of those trailblazing blacks on early television
- has recently pointed out, many black parents seem to have lost
this ability and many black fathers are largely non-existent.
As a result, young black men
are running amok. Yet we still hear that demeaning roles on television
are to blame. Are those who escape accepting white life?
We can't blame television for
the quality of our neighborhoods. It's come from decades of negative
role models being allowed to overrun them. The only way to reverse
it is to be a positive role model and encourage children to follow
Our black leaders give us such
little credit for being able to disseminate the information we
see and hear because they seem to believe it's their job to think
for us. The sooner they realize the black community is intuitive
and certainly smarter than that, the better.
Let's teach our children to
watch us. Let's give them positive messages to draw upon. Let's
clean up our neighborhoods and show our kids our pride. Let's
take time to be with our kids and help them understand what life
means and that what they are doing now will be a part of their
How proud would you be seeing
your child graduating from college and having them tell you that
it's what they learned from you that really made them successful?
E. LeMay Lathan is a member
of the black leadeship network Project 21 and the author of the
book The Black Man's Guide to Working in a White Man's World.
Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research.
Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries
reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those
of Project 21.
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