The Diaspora of Black People Through 90’s Sitcoms: A Required Curriculum for Karens

Black 90s Sitcom photo collage

We are all sick to death of hearing Black people referred to as suspicious, intimidating or threatening, for no other reason than being Black. Walking. Jogging. Driving. Asleep. Unarmed. Just Black.

With the litany of Black 90’s sitcoms, representing the full spectrum of Black life, there really is no excuse for the willful ignorance that causes people to negatively profile and stereotype us.  So, for anyone that didn’t tune in to ABC, NBC, WB, CW, or UPN for an education on Black people, below is a crash course on what you obviously missed.

Black People are Educated:

The Cosby Show – a groundbreaking portrayal of the Huxtables. Dr. Heathcliff and his wife Clair, a successful trial lawyer raising five intelligent, independent thinking children in an affluent Brooklyn brownstone was the #1 show on NBC for eight seasons.

A Different World – a spinoff of The Cosby Show, was must see TV, as the resilient and creative Denise Huxtable navigated college life at her parent’s all Black alma mater.

Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper – stand-up comic Mark Curry illustrated the strong and caring character of an ex-professional basketball player who returns to coach and teach at his former high school.

The Steve Harvey Show – before he was a game show host, Steve Harvey starred as musician and music teacher Steve Hightower, a pragmatic yet sensitive mentor to inner city students.

Black People Have Strong Family Values:

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air – made clean cut rapper Will Smith a household name. Will, the Fresh Prince, was welcomed with open arms by the wealthy and sophisticated Banks family, his aunt and uncle’s Bel Air brood, and raised as one of their own.

Sister, Sister – before their talk show stints as adults, Tia and Tamera Mowry starred as twin sisters separated at birth and adopted by different families. Although strangers, the patient and loving adoptive parents agree to cohabitate for the emotional benefit of the sisters.

Family Matters – introduced us to the phenomenon that was Urkel, a loveable science geek who ingratiates himself to the Winslow’s, his multi-generational next-door neighbors, with a kind and consistent Black police officer as its patriarch.

Black People are Hard Working:

The Jamie Foxx Show – prior to his Oscar winning performance, Jamie Foxx starred for five seasons as Jamie King, the hard-working and loyal heir apparent to his family’s hotel business.

Martin – before his film career, Martin Lawrence portrayed radio deejay Martin Payne—as well as a host of hilarious ancillary characters—while building a loving relationship and devoted friendships.

Living Single – or ‘the original Friends’, gave us Black Girl Magic as roommates, motivated Khadijah, fabulous Regine, ambitious Max and pure-hearted Synclair support each other while juggling careers, friendships and relationships.

These shows, and many others, were successful because the characters and situations resonated with us and represented how we see ourselves—mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends and neighbors. You can’t watch The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and not think of Trayvon Martin, who was racially profiled, stalked and killed in his own neighborhood. A sleeping Breonna Taylor reminds us of Khadijah, Regine, Max and Synclair, young creative women in pursuit of their dreams. And, Urkel has never been more personified than in the innocent, pure heart of Elijah McClain.

Now do you see us? Asking for a friend.

5 thoughts on “The Diaspora of Black People Through 90’s Sitcoms: A Required Curriculum for Karens

  1. Catherine Phillips says:

    I LOVED this! Especially loved when you gave “Living Single” it’s recognition 👏🏽. It’s the accuracy for me when you said ,”The Original ‘Friends’ “. All of these shows remain classics because of the portrayal of our diversity and values which society has forgotten. Loved this 👍🏽

  2. Alycia says:

    Wow, the end got really deep. I honestly believe that black sitcoms were the lifeblood of black culture, because it represented our day-to-day lives and ordeals. I’ve noticed that since then, the perception of black people has lost its variance. The characters in the shows that you mentioned all had unique personalities. It never felt like you were watching the same show. These days, with reality TV, the only difference between the shows are the names and locations. College Hill was the best reality representation of black people—young Black Scholars, at that. We have Black-ish, Grown-ish and Insecure, but they’re outnumbered by the dramatized “reality” image — that’s what people see when they see us. That’s the personality that they expect. Alternatively, they could expect one of the people that news reporters insist on interviewing, like Ms. Sweet Brown, or Antoine Dodson, or the “piece of burger” guy, or the “Bella Noche” girl, because that’s what the media insists on portraying. If they thought of it in this context—Urkel being murdered by paramedics with a ketamine injection after vomiting from the cops’ carotid chokehold, all because someone thought he looked “sketchy”—then they would be outraged, too.

  3. Erica N Kearse says:

    Very well written and summed up. Although they were all fictional characters, they all represent people and families within the black community. If people come out of their box and not allow for the media to be their source of information and just take the time to get to know a person for who they are as a human being they would truly do a justice for themselves. People assume and never take the time to get to know and learn a person. Outside of work, nopeeeee……I’ve had conversations with many people and 2 hear their responses about different things amazes me wondering what world are they living in. It’s sad but reality.

  4. Jody Dilbert says:

    Thissss!!! We are a polylithic people. I enjoyed this, and the end brought tears to my eyes because I grew up with these feel good characters and identified with most of them.

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