Project 21 New Visions

 

It's About 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 your example.

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 lives forever.

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?

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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 [email protected].

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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