Melissa Harris-Perry discusses 'The Cosby Show' effect

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A panel discussion on the portrayals of black characters on-screen and whether The Cosby Show reinforced the idea that race and class barriers were non-existent took place during this Sunday’s Melissa Harris-Perry Show

The Cosby Show, one of the most-watched television shows of the 1980s, featured an upper-middle-class black family living in Brooklyn — the Huxtables.

The race of the show’s characters did not deter white audiences from watching.

In the 1992 book Enlightened Racism, the authors published research collected from Cosby Show viewers, finding that white viewers saw characters’ race and considered the Huxtables racially exceptional. Their research also found that white viewers felt the show reinforced the idea that race and class barriers to equality did not exist.

Jamie Kilstein, co-host of Citizen Radio, joined the conversation saying it is unrealistic for people to say: “‘Why can’t these young kids who grow up in poverty with no jobs just grow up to be a really famous comedian and actor like [Bill Cosby]?’ And it’s like well that’s a really hard path to make it.”

Harris-Perry noted a study out of UCLA finding TV shows with more diverse casts and diverse writers have the highest ratings.

“I appreciated The Cosby Show so much because at the time I grew up in the middle of Bed Stuy Brooklyn in the middle of the ’90s, during that time when it was one of the most dangerous ghettos, and I kept saying, ‘but this is not the only way,'” Twib! Radio host Elon James White said.

“Why couldn’t this be something I could do?” White continued. “I appreciated the portrayal more than anything else.”

NYU journalism professor Farai Chideya noted that it takes a lot to change viewers’ cognitive dissonance of seeing injustice and then seeing a different, positive portrayal of African-Americans.

Watch the full clip above and let us know what you think in the comments below.

Follow Carrie Healey on Twitter @CarrieHeals