There has always been a need for a strong black father figure in every kid’s life. Never has that idea held more true than on early-to-mid nineties weeknight primetime television. Black dads had to be very careful to walk a narrow line on 90’s network TV. I will henceforth refer to said line as the White Fear Line. The typical weeknight night ABC and NBC audiences were white because it was ABC and NBC and those are white people safehouses.
The last thing a network needed was people freaking out because the urban man on TV was messing up their white kids. For God’s sake, N.W.A. and the rest of the rap community made White America pee its pants just around the same time. They destroyed all of the goodwill that Cosby took years to build. Maybe it was time for a change. MaybeAmerica had grown too comfortable with race relations.
Either way, putting a powerful, in-your-face black guy on TV now was a risky proposition at best. Now was a time for healing. It was time for true artists like Carl Winslow and “Uncle” Phil Banks to mend this country and restore the trust. And mend they did. But exactly how did these sitcom titans walk the White Fear Line so masterfully when others would surely fail? As an impartial brown observer, I believe that it’s my place to make this analysis.
First let’s look at the physical characteristics. What does everyone find not intimidating and scary at all? Really fat people. Fat guys generally have a reputation for jolliness that stems from their love of food and cholesterol. That’s just science.
This is how I imagine the casting meeting for Family Matters went:
Guy #1: “Okay, now we need to cast Carl Winslow. He’s a cop so the audience won’t be too afraid of him.”
Guy #2: “Are you kidding me? Black cops are super scary! Didn’t you see Boyz N The Hood? That black cop that pulled the gun on them was the scariest character in the movie!” (author’s note: That guy scared the shit outta me)
Guy #1: “Well the props department already has the uniform soooo…what if we make him a fat guy?”
Guy #2: “Perfect.”
Guy#1: “Wanna do some blow to celebrate?”
Guy#2: “You have to ask?”
And scene. And even though Family Matters aired two years before that movie came out, that’s exactly how the conversation went. Just trust me on this one. So now we have our fat dads in Carl and later Uncle Phil. Both fat. Both not too scary for Whitey. Next we have to make sure these guys aren’t corrupting our their kids because we all know our moron kids will do exactly what the moron kids on TV do.
For that the networks needed positive role models to guide our young minds on the path of righteousness. And since Jesus wasn’t black (maybe?), and more importantly didn’t have his own sitcom, we needed to look elsewhere for guidance. The simplest way to make sure these dads aren’t lawbreakers is by making Carl and Uncle Phil anti-lawbreakers. Family Matters jumped out to an early lead by making Carl a cop. He’s going to take down criminals and keep your dumbass kids on the straight and narrow. And then we come to Phillip Banks. A self made man who put himself through school and became a super successful lawyer. Obviously we can’t be afraid of him. He’s got gumption and a shit ton of money. Nothing to fear here ‘Merica, this calls for a celebration dance.
Now we have our not scary cause he’s fat cop, and a not scary cause he’s richer than you lawyer. And that’s how we got Law and Order. You’re welcome America. Again, trust that this has all been fact checked. Great job casting people, time for some more blow.
Now, since this article is running much longer than anticipated (I smell thesis), I’ll have to revisit this topic in another post. Next up on My Two Black Dads: Part 2: Finding the Actors and Un-scary Behavior.