Why Don’t White People Watch Black Television Shows?

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Family Relaxing Indoors Watching Television Together

The beauty of the world lies in the diversity of its people. – Anonymous

Thursday nights used to mark my last night of law school classes for the week and one more day of a long workweek. It was also the one night I allowed myself to stay up late and lose myself in the television shows I had taped on my VCR.

My favorite show at the time was Living Single. It was a half hour comedy about four friends, all of whom were single women in their late 20s, living in Brooklyn and trying to launch careers and relationships. One of characters was inspiring to me as I struggled through law school at night. Her name was Maxine Shaw, played by Ericka Alexander, and she was a strong-willed attorney with a voracious appetite who raided her friends’ refrigerator regularly. I could relate.

It just so happened the cast of the show was made up almost entirely of African Americans. Even though I am white, Living Single really resonated with me and I became a big fan of the show. However, I assumed I wasn’t part of the show’s target audience, evidenced by the commercials featuring almost exclusively African Americans and ads for other television shows and movies featuring mostly Black casts.

The most popular television shows at the time were Seinfeld and Friends, two shows that came under fire at times due to the lack of minorities in the cast. The latest episodes were often the topic of conversation at my workplace the following Friday morning. I piped up once about a Living Single episode, only to be met with blank stares. Hmm… why weren’t my white coworkers interested?

There is a series lack of television programming that feature minorities in roles that are respectable. Unfortunately, there is still too much programming that reinforce stereotypes or make minorities look like buffoons. However, once in a while a show comes along that is well-written, relatable, funny or dramatic and that happens to have a minority cast. Still, non-minority audiences don’t seem to watch it. Why not?

There are still some Archie Bunkers out there who refuse to watch “those people” on television.  However, I think that for many others, certainly for those who are white, there is an unwritten rule that you have to be African American in order to be a viewer of African American entertainment. Few of us care to act in a way that questions the norm and it is much easier to simply stick to what is familiar.

Another reason why some resist viewing television and movies with African American casts is due to a feeling of not belonging – as we might feel when attending a social gathering where we don’t know anyone. While we may not hold any hard feelings toward anyone at the social gathering, showing up at the door is too frightening. It’s much easier to stay in our comfort zone. Even if we are not a member of the target audience of a show we enjoy, we may feel a little embarrassed to tell anyone else for fear of being singled out or made fun of by our peers.

I love to travel and explore and I do so in the vast variety of movies and television I watch, as well. I have suffered through movies that are way too artsy for my understanding, in order to find a movie that I absolutely fall in love with. The trade-off has been worth it.

The result is that I have seen entertainment from many different countries and cultures. The less familiar the country or culture is to me, the more likely I am to learn more about it. Branching out and watching those shows that star people different from us is a fun way to begin to break down the separateness among us.

An easy and fun way to bridge the gap among segments of our society is to tune in to good entertainment targeted to a group of which we are not a member.

This week, make a conscious effort to find a movie or television show that interests you and that has a cast that looks nothing like you. Expand your horizons!

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