by Dr Boyce Watkins
I have no interest in talking about Bill Cosby’s personal life right now, other than to say that I never really liked him that much. At the same time, I didn’t dislike him. With all of his public rantings, he reminds me of the well-intended grandfather you have to listen to, but don’t quite understand. Even when I didn’t agree with his critiques of the black community, I appreciated his decision to try….most black public figures just give in to the nonsense.
With or without those nasty allegations that appear quite convincing, but have yet to be proven in the court of law, I can only say that no matter what Bill did or did not do, I will always appreciate his decision to create Claire and Heathcliff Huxtable. Maybe this reminds us that bad people can do good things, or good people can do bad things, depending on how you look at it.
In fact, Claire and Cliff were so awesome that most of us smile just thinking about them and miss them as if they were real.
Here are a few reasons why Claire and Heathcliff Huxtable were two of the greatest characters to ever grace a TV screen:
1) They loved each other: Despite the simplicity of this idea, the love that Claire and Cliff showed one another on screen was admirable and powerful. Every episode or two, they would share a tender moment, embracing one another and maybe laying out a loving kiss over a sliced apple. These displays of affection have a powerful impact on children who are learning how to love a member of the opposite sex.
2) They took care of their children….TOGETHER: We’ve offiically entered the era of the Baby Mama-Baby Daddy Conundrum. Based on what we’re seeing in media, black men and women are often at each other’s throats (except for when they’re off making babies), creating a tornado of unecessary drama that turns children into it’s greatest victims. We’ve been convinced that our own personal needs are more important than the needs of our children, and even those who claim to need their kids don’t feel equally compelled to believe that they need the other parent.
We know that kids who have two parents are statistically better off than than those who only have one. It doesn’t mean that one parent can’t do a reasonable job alone, but one parent has now become the new standard, with two parents being seen as some kind of fantasy. A little girl I mentor once asked me, “Do you know anybody who’s married? I don’t know anybody who’s married.” Her words nearly brought me to tears because she didn’t even have a template for a stable, long-term relationship to reference into adulthood. This isn’t healthy.
3) They respected one another: Claire and Cliff didn’t have an on-going battle of the sexes. They didn’t tear their relationship apart by fighting each other for dominance or territory. Instead, Cliff always respected his wife and Claire always respected her husband. Again, even though this was a TV show, media has a powerful influence on the human mind. As a black man, I enjoy watching scenarios where we’re not being painted to be ignorant, womanizing thugs. We can also appreciate the idea of a man desiring a woman for non-sexual reasons. These images are meaningful and powerful. In fact, I recall another little girl I mentor (who is now in college) using Stevie J and Joseline Hernandez from Love & Hip-Hop as prototypes on how to have a healthy relationship. In case you’re wondering, Stevie is the guy with more baby’s mamas than he can count, who also owes a million dollars in child support. This is what many of our young people are referencing, and it’s a tad bit disturbing.
4) They were proud to be black: Bill Cosby could have done anything he wanted with that show. He could have cast his wife as a white woman, or created some kind of weekly scandal to keep us all hooked (yes, that pun was intended). Instead, he presented messages that were consistently favorable to the black community, and single-handedly increased HBCU attendance by leaps and bounds by promoting black colleges and universities. By watching this show, I learned that being black didn’t mean always struggling. I also learned that being successful didn’t mean having to sell out.
5) They were well-educated and proud of it: Before The Cosby Show hit the airwaves, Hollywood had a very consistent narrative about the black family, and it wasn’t always favorable. By choosing to make Claire and Cliff into a lawyer and doctor, Cosby was front and center about the importance and attainability of educational achievement. Twenty years ago, young people wanted to become like Claire and Cliff. Today, many young people want to be like Beyonce and Jay-Z (have you ever heard anyone mention the idea of dating a “corporate thug?”), which I would consider to be a step in an awkward (and highly unrealistic) direction. A regular black man can’t make hundreds of millions of dollars by calling himself a n*gga in front large crowds of people, but it’s relatively straight forward for him to become a doctor.
6) They were hilarious without being rachet: We know how ridiculous television has gotten over the last decade or so. Beating up on black women has become commonplace, and most of us overlook the violence if the perpetrator is another woman. The special talent of Claire and Cliff is that they kept you laughing without feeling the need to take you into the gutter. They realized that the brilliance of good comedy is subtlety, not getting arrested or putting a wine bottle across another woman’s head.
7) They showed the power of respecting our elders: I loved when the grandparents would come to visit the Huxtable house, sitting around telling stories about the good old days. We should be touched by any situation where our elders are given the respect they deserve, and we are allowed to benefit from their wisdom.
8) They presented a powerful sense of history: As a person who was never taught much black history in school, The Cosby Show (and A Different World) would often expose me to lessons about black history and culture that I might not have learned otherwise. Also, appreciation for what our ancestors have gone through gives young people a sense of pride, knowing that they are part of something bigger than themselves. You never expect to learn this on NBC.
9) They taught us patience: I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that children have an interesting way of doing things that make you want to choke them. That’s not a metaphor….I’m talking about putting your hands around their necks and squeezing until there is no air left in their lungs. OK, I’m just kidding….sort of. In all seriousness, the patience with which Claire and Cliff raised their children and found a way to laugh about their ridiculous antics was a nice (admittedly fictional) reminder of the patience one has to have when it comes to being there for your kids. Even though it was only a TV show, we know that life often imitates art.
10) They were classy: Do you remember the way Claire could easily, and gently put someone in their place when they tried to show her any type of disrespect? Whenever anyone dared to challenge Claire, she would give the opposing character “that look,” a tiny smile, and then fire off a couple hundred four syllable words that calmly tore apart the person’s argument and made them feel about two feet tall. Then she might politely offer them a piece of cake. Cliff wasn’t as smooth as Claire, but he did know how to make his point without demeaning himself in the process. If I were to choose a black couple to present to the American public, Claire and Cliff would be it. They weren’t just classy, they were also CLASSIC.
Of course we know this was all fictional, but we can never underestimate the tremendous power of media on the minds of young people. What we put in front of our kids impacts their self-perception, their goals in life and how they view love interests of the future. In that regard, I am appreciative of what Claire and Cliff brought to the black community; in fact, we could use them right now.
So, even as Bill Cosby’s personal reputation dies a slow and painful death, I won’t kill Claire and Cliff with it. As far as I’m concerned, this was the greatest couple to ever be presented on American television, and that’s not going to change, no matter what.