I couldn’t get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia’s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it’s run by blacks, primarily black patronship. … There wasn’t one person in Sylvia’s who was screaming, ‘M-Fer, I want more iced tea.’ You know, I mean, everybody was — it was like going into an Italian restaurant in an all-white suburb in the sense of people were sitting there, and they were ordering and having fun. And there wasn’t any kind of craziness at all. — O’Reilly surprised “there was no difference” between Harlem restaurant and other New York restaurants
If you think this diminished expectation of black behavior is limited to O’Reilly and his friends at Fox, you are mistaken. During the Inaugural parade last Monday, a camera was focused on the First Family as they watched the proceedings from their box seats. In the background we got to hear Chris Matthews and Joy Reid, two MSNBC talkers, wax on about what a fine decent family the Obama’s were.
Joy compared Michelle Obama to Diahann Carroll as the kind of black female role model her mother admired. When I first heard this my heart warmed. It brought back memories of “Julia”, the groundbreaking sitcom in which Carroll played a dignified professional black woman as opposed to the wise cracking maid that was the typical TV image of black women in older times. But my warm heart quickly froze over when I realized that was 40 years ago. Is Joy Reid really suggesting that we’ve made so little progress in 40 years that we need Michelle Obama to provide a good role model to young black girls? I can think of many others, including of different political stripes. Condoleezza Rice comes to mind. There is no shortage of fine female black role models.
Then, Chris Matthews, who suffers from the worst case of white guilt I have ever witnessed, talked about how decent and ordinary the family was. They do so much for race relations just by being there for all of us to see. What is this? Some Ripley’s Believe it or Not freak show? Come and see the black family that knows how to behave! What exactly were Chris and his panel expecting? Did they expect Michelle to be stinking up the White House with chitlins while Malia and Sasha blast “Fuck tha Police” out their bedroom windows?
I know the MSNBC gang have their heart in the right place. That doesn’t change the fact they suffer from the soft racism of low expectations. It’s been a good 30 years since “The Cosby Show” portrayed a black family that was not trapped in the ghetto, dodging bullets from gang-bangers. If after all this time we need the Obama’s to remind us that there are black families “just like the rest of us” then we are worse off as a nation than I had ever imagined.
Post script: I am glad to say that the Oxygen network has cancelled “All My Babies’ Mamas” before it ever got on the air. The reality show about a rapper and the ten mothers of his eleven children raised eyebrows and outraged enough folks to shame Oxygen into doing the right thing. That is one less show promoting the diminished expectations of black folks.
Image by NBC [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons