The Cosby Show and Barack Obama

I keep reading these comparisons between the Obamas and the Huxtables:

But one idea seems to be gaining traction, and improbably it has Bill Cosby and Karl Rove in agreement: "The Cosby Show," which began on NBC in 1984 and depicted the Huxtables, an upwardly mobile black family -- a departure from the dysfunction and bickering that had characterized some previous shows about black families -- had succeeded in changing racial attitudes enough to make an Obama candidacy possible.

On election night Mr. Rove, the former Bush strategist, said on Fox News: "We've had an African-American first family for many years in different forms. When 'The Cosby Show' was on, that was America's family. It wasn't a black family. It was America's family."

Yeah, that Karl Rove. Look, I'm not one of those people who thought The Cosby Show wasn't black enough. I loved the Cosby Show, and have seen every episode. More importantly, it holds up as humor--I've seen episodes recently that are just as funny today as they were twenty years ago. That said, nothing says more about the gap between black America, and the people who write about black American, than the fact that, when looking for a precedent for Barack and Michelle, what we get--quite literally--is fiction.

The black middle class is a rarely mentioned casualty of our recent race debate. People who read this blog know that I'm deeply sensitive to the issues of the black poor, above all. But in the 90s, we fell into an almost pornographic, voyeuristic obsession with the black poor. Worse the problems of the black poor were conflated with the problems of black people--despite the fact that most black people are no longer poor. America sees itself as a nation of strivers, as a nation built on middle class values. The odious notion that black people don't share in those values has done nothing but further dehumanize us all.

Why did I just go off on that ramble? Because the true precedent--from the perspective of race--for the Obamas are Michelle Obama's parents, and Corey Booker's parents who were execs at IBM. It's Colin and Alma Powell. It's the engineering majors I knew at Howard, busting their asses in Founders Library during exams. It's dudes working construction, working plumbing, driving buses. These are people who are make real contact with the broader world, and shape impressions. There are no cameras following them. But they are real--and they're more of them than there are of the dope dealers. In other words, the precedent is us. It takes some stones--and some ignorance--to overlook all that and hearken back to a fictional family that was on television 20 years ago. I cast no aspersions here, but Bill Cosby--like an actor--was playing a role on NBC. This right here, is real.