Type: Creative Essays
Sample donated: Hope Carpenter
Last updated: August 21, 2019
TheBirth of a Nation, afilm released by D.W Griffith in 1915, whichreinforced the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group as the saviours of whitewomen from black men who driven by sexual desire after the end of slavery inthe southern United States. Perhaps it cal-culturalclimate of ‘race’ 5,is best to say that this is the most anti-black filmever made, however, it brings a huge improvement in the art of film-making andtelevision shows. In this sense, the representations in mainstream media canboth “register and contribute to the shifting political-cultural climate of’race” (Cottle, 2000, p. 11). The Cosby Show (US,1984-1992), is one of the most popular sitcoms that capturewide audiences in America and South Africa, worksas a site of resistance through the articulation of alternative representationsof African Americans.
The show has been credited for its positive depictions ofsuccessful middle-class and highly educated black family that help inenlightening race relations. According to Hall (1973), by giving audiencemembers the ability to be oppositional readers, this may lead to newpossibilities of challenging dominant hierarchies and ideology around AfricanAmerican community. In fact, many black and non-white postcolonial audiencesexpress their affinity with The CosbyShow because of a mutual history of racial-colonial exploitation andcontemporary class oppressions that derive from the past (Spivak, 1990). Though The CosbyShow has overcome previous racist stereotypes, however, there are stillcomplexities in its politics of representations of blackness.
According to Jhallyand Lewis (1992), it can be seen as either “social progressive” or as a defenceagainst previous racist practices. In this sense, these images can be quiteambiguous as the show is simply installing new characteristics into the representationof black community, however, do not mirroring the realistic imaginary of typicalAfrican American family. This form ofrepresentation is similar to fictions, “they are created to serve assubstitutions, standing in for what is real.
They are there not to tell it likeit is but to invite and encourage pretense. They are a fantasy, a projectiononto the ‘Other’ that makes them less threatening” (Hooks, 1992, p. 170).
Eventhough the representation of black Americans in The Cosby Show may be too exceptional and unrealistic, but bymaking these depictions publicly available, it allows the society to understandrace issue and response to it. The positive depictions of the Huxtable familyalso work as a progressive force where it inspires the black community to seeand construct positive images on themselves and others. As Downing (1988)explains, the upper-middle-class setting of the show, “is not simply a matterof blanking out the ugly realities of continuing oppression, but also ofoffering some sense of resolution to the grinding realities of racial tensionand mistrust in the United States” (p.
70). As a result, The Cosby Show offersa potential to move beyond traditional racism by representing African-Americansin a more positive way for the purpose of creating an impression of black socialadvance and thus undermine black claims on white resources and sympathies (Cottle,2000). From this perspective, dominant racialized representations possibly maybe contested and challenged. Hip Hop asResistance AsHall (1998) describes, popular culture works either as a form of containment ora strategy of resistance. Though most of the representations and productions ofpopular culture are controlled by the dominant group, but Foucault (2009)argues that power does not only derive from top down, it exists everywhere andcan be used by anyone, even by those who are oppressed.
In this case, blackcommunity often become the targets of oppression by white people. However, itis believe that black popular culture offers a promising space of resistingracial domination, expressing hope, experiences, struggles, and articulatingoppositional identities. In Stuart Hall’s “What is This ‘Black’in Black Popular Culture?” (1992), he describes the “black repertoires” ofwhich black popular culture originates as including style, music, and the useof the body as a canvas of representation. Together these repertoires constructa “black aesthetic” which Hall (1992) defines as the “distinctive culturalrepertoires out of which popular representations” of diaspora Blacks are made(p. 290). Rap music and hip-hopin particular, have always been the centralpart of black cultures in which deliberations of race, expression andalteration of racial meanings could be achieved. Hip-hop culture includesseveral foundational elements such as graffiti, breakdance, DJ-ing, and rapmusic.
According to Neal (1999), “Hip-Hopemerged as the one of the first black popular music form to develop largelyunmediated by communal critique from the formal and informal structures of thetraditional Black Public Sphere” (p. 160). In this way, hip-hop or rap music notonly works as a creative agent, but also as “a cultural expression that prioritizesblack voices from the margin of urban America” (Rose, 1994, p.2). As Duncombe(2002) explains, “Both the culture we enjoy and the culture in which we liveprovide us with ideas of how things are and how they should be, frameworksthrough which to interpret reality and possibility. They help us account forthe past, make sense of the present and dream of the future” (p. 35).
In thissense, hip-hop provides ideas to African-Americans youth and inspires them tofind solutions for the means of transformation, as well as defying theoppression and discrimination