Revolution Televised: Prime Time and THe Struggle for Black Power

U of Minnesota Press - 238 ˹
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After a decadelong hiatus, African Americans once again began appearing regularly on television in the 1960s. Bill Cosby costarred on "I Spy, Sammy Davis Jr. briefly hosted a variety show, and in 1968 Diahann Carroll debuted in the title role of "Julia, the first television series to star an African American since the cancellation of "Amos 'n' Andy. Over the next ten years, shows with African American casts became more common; some, like "Sanford and Son and "Good Times, were hits with both black and white audiences. Yet many within the black community criticize these programs as perpetuating demeaning stereotypes and hampering the political progress made by African Americans. In "Revolution Televised, Christine Acham offers a more complex reading of this period in African American television history, finding within these programs opposition to dominant white constructions of African American identity. She explores the intersection of popular television and race as witnessed from the documentary coverage of the civil rights and Black Power movements, the personal politics of Flip Wilson and "Soul Train's Don Cornelius, and the ways in which notorious X-rated comic Redd Foxx reinvented himself for prime time. Reflecting on both the potential of television to effect social change as well as its limitations, Acham concludes with analyses of Richard Pryor's politically charged and short-lived sketch comedy show and of the success of outspoken comic Chris Rock. "Revolution Televised deftly illustrates how black television artists operated within the constraints of the television industry to resist and ultimately shape the mass media's portrayal of African American life.


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Television of the Black Revolution
Network News and Black Journal
Soul Train and The Flip Wilson Show
Sanford and Son and African American Humor
Black Women and Power in Julia and Good Times
The Rise and Demise of The Richard Pryor Show
Movin On Up Contemporary Television as a Site of Resistance

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˹ 36 - At the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family. It is the fundamental source of the weakness of the Negro community at the present time.
˹ 9 - It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.
˹ 202 - Black people should not be forced to fight in the military service to defend a racist government that does not protect us. We will not fight and kill other people of color in the world who, like black people, are being victimized by the white racist government of America.
˹ 202 - We want all black men to be exempt from military service. 7. We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people. 8. We want freedom for all black men held in federal, state, county, and city prisons and jails. 9. We want all black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their black communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States. 10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.
˹ 40 - They have not communicated to the majority of their audience which is white - a sense of the degradation, misery, and hopelessness of life in the ghetto.
˹ 17 - Last time I was down South I walked into this restaurant, and this white waitress came up to me and said: "We don't serve colored people here." I said: "That's all right, I don't eat colored people. Bring me a whole fried chicken." About that time these three cousins come in, you know the ones I mean, Klu, Kluck, and Klan, and they say: "Boy, we're givin you fair warnin'. Anything you do to that chicken, we're gonna do to you.
˹ 18 - You gotta say this for the white race its self-confidence knows no bounds. Who else could go to a small island in the South Pacific where there's no poverty, no crime, no unemployment, no war, and no worry and call it a "primitive society"?
˹ 202 - We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings. . . . 5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American Society.
˹ 202 - We have been, and are being tried by all-white juries that have no understanding of the "average reasoning man" of the black community. 10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace. And as our major political objective, a United Nationssupervised plebiscite to be held throughout the black colony in which only black colonial subjects will be allowed to participate, for the purpose of determining the will of black people as to their national destiny.
˹ 6 - Scott maintains that, despite appearances of consent, oppressed groups challenge those in power by constructing a "hidden transcript," a dissident political culture that manifests itself in daily conversations, folklore, jokes, songs, and other cultural practices.


Christine Acham is assistant professor in the African American and African Studies Program at the University of California, Davis.