Pepi Leistyna and Debra Mollen’s article “Teaching Social Class through Alernative Media and by Dialoging across Disciplines and Boundaries” explores the conflicting negative and positive societal messages The Cosby Show appears to assert through the lifestyle of the Huxtable family. On one hand, critics claim that portraying a Black family as affluent seems to say that many of the Black American families that do not live a wealthy lifestyle should blame their situation on their work ethics or lack of education, not on racism. A message undermines the basis of programs such as social welfare or affirmative action and may create the social image that they are no longer necessary. On the other hand, many people praise The Cosby Show for breaking the racist stereotypes perpetuated by the media at the time. For this reason, and in light of the largely negative and racist portrayals of the Black American family in the media, The Cosby Show proved socially and historically significant. The popular sitcom ushered in a new social view of how Black America, though culturally different from White America, has many similar core values and do belong to be equally treated and regarded by American society.
Pepi and Debra offer the idea that media—namely T.V., the center of household media in the 1980s—has the power to shape public perception on social issues such as racism and class structure. The Cosby Show‘s role in affecting perception of the Black American family was to shift it from a negative light to a positive image that should be celebrated by Blacks and other Americans. It is true that there may be conflicting societal messages implicit in The Cosby Show and that the show does not portray to general reality of Black American families, but that was never the intent of Bill Cosby and others who created, scripted, and directed the show. The show portrays the minority of Black America that the media has neglected and even ignored. The Cosby Show depicts a strong, relatable family with sound American values in a time when racism and the subordination of Black America was the norm. Despite the fact that there are racial barriers preventing most Black families from mirroring the Huxtables’ financial success, there are no barriers stopping these same families from practicing strong American values and belonging to the America culture that racism keeps them from because of White America’s superiority complex.