Race and Andy Griffith

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Friend of the room, Shani O Hilton, offers a really nice tribute to our dearly departed. I agree with her conclusion--sometimes all white is all right:


We can all say that we were just watching "The Andy Griffith Show" yesterday. Because anyone with a television could have watched it yesterday. It is on every day. 

My friend Brooke is a progressive Southern white woman from a tiny town in Georgia. We shared our sadness over Andy's death on gchat, and then she asked me what I got out of "The Andy Griffith Show" when I watched it as a kid. In her world, and in many worlds, Mayberry is shorthand for a simpler time. And as we all know--we all know this, right?--a "simpler time" is shorthand for a time when white people didn't have to think about whether they were treating nonwhite people (or women) like humans. As Brooke said, it was mostly the "good old boys" who still clung to the ideals of Mayberry. 

What I told her was that Sheriff Andy Taylor was better than Mayberry and that's the thing people don't get. People are nostalgic for Mayberry, but Andy spent most of the series (after the early years when his character was a silly hayseed) trying to improve it. To be nostalgic for it is missing the point. To be nostalgic for it is forgetting that Mayberry was based on a town where Griffith grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and where he was called "white trash."

People always joke about Matlock being for old people, but I loved Matlock when I was a kid. Murder She Wrote too.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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