Celebrities…And theirImpact on Race and Racism                     By Henry Pflager
"Will Smith." Notable Black American Men, Book       II. Ed. Jessie Carney Smith. Detroit: Gale,       2007. Gale U.S. His...
Smith, Will. "Papas Got a Brand-                                                                                   New Exc...
Reid, Tim, and Tom Dressen.                                                                              47th and Drexel R...
"The Amazing True Story of the                                                                            First Black and ...
Deane, Pamala S. "The Jeffersons." St. James                                                                         Encyc...
"Ego." American Decades Primary Sources.                                                                                  ...
• For decades in the 20th century, celebrities such Will Smith and Ali, and shows such as Tim  &Tom and The Jeffersons per...
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  1. 1. Celebrities…And theirImpact on Race and Racism By Henry Pflager
  2. 2. "Will Smith." Notable Black American Men, Book II. Ed. Jessie Carney Smith. Detroit: Gale, 2007. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 27 May 2012. Will Smith is African-American actor and singer who starred in numerous films including Men in Black, Independence Day, and Ali, and also was the main character in the TV show, Fresh Prince of Bel Air (“Will”). From 1987 to modern days, his success demonstrated to American society that a black male could earn awards all the way from Grammy’s to Oscar Nominations. Hollywood considered him to be “the most powerful man in Hollywood” in 2007 (“Will”). Furthermore, Smith developed “interpersonal skills” from attending a school mainly full of whites—and then a school almost entirely consisting of blacks—during his youth. Those skills were exemplified during Fresh Prince of Bel Air, a 1990s show that was not only popular with blacks, but also “mainstream audiences” (“Will”). Because Smith exemplified those skills to such a large, multi-racial audience, his amicable nature assisted in effectively eliminating barriers of interracial friendships between whites and blacks—especially among youth. Moreover, his friendly nature also demonstrated to society that the tension and anger of the race riots in LA during the early 1990s did not apply to all African-Americans (Culver). In fact, during the early 90s, Smith was named the ‘hippest teen on TV’, according to a TV Guide poll (“Will”).
  3. 3. Smith, Will. "Papas Got a Brand- New Excuse--Episode 97." Dir. Shelley Jensen.      Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Comp. David Zuckerman. 9 May 1994.      Youtube.com. Web. 28 May 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/      watch?v=PrJQ1YBya0c>.• In 2008, the Encyclopedia of Race and Racism published an article which summarized that “The consistent absence of black fathers has been a major issue since slavery. More recently, high incarceration rates, the difficulties undereducated black men face in the job market, and various regulations in the welfare system that discourages marriage are among the issues.” (“Families”)• As the video above indicates, Will Smith’s Fresh Prince of Bel-Air not only drew a connection with the audience, but, due to the intense emotions displayed by Will, elicited sympathy from the American society to the current state of African-American families. Due to his aforementioned popularity— especially among youth—, this video was seen all around America and demonstrated the trials and tribulations of African-Americans to American society.
  4. 4. Reid, Tim, and Tom Dressen. 47th and Drexel Routine. DNS. Youtube. Web. 20 May 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/wa tch? v=K27f6AM2_hg&feature=relat ed>.• As Scott Simon stated, Tim & Tom, the first and last interracial comedy show that continued into the early 1970s,“broke barriers with laughter” (“The Amazing”). Positing racism as farcical and satirical, they took an innovative approach “to help Americans confront their racial divide: by laughing at it” (“The Amazing).• With comic routines such as 47th and Drexel above, Tom’s white character and Tim’s black character identified the nonsensical racial prejudices which American society had developed— and were able to laugh at them too—while maintaining a comedic and friendly nature. As the video shows above, Tim & Tom exemplified to blacks and whites alike that the racism in society was simply senseless and comical.
  5. 5. "The Amazing True Story of the First Black and White Comedy Team in the History      of Show Business. And the Last." Tim & Tom: An American Comedy in Black and      White. The University of Chicago Press, 2008. Web. 28 May 2012.• However, Tim Reid and Tom Dressen came to the realization that “they were ahead of their time: America was not yet ready to laugh at its own failed promise” . While many laughed, “the shock of seeing an integrated comedy team…led to racist heckling, threats, and even violence”—effectively exemplifying the racist zeitgeist of the 1970s (“The Amazing”).• Yet, even so, this entertainment show was a foundation for the culminating philosophy that the racial tensions of American history are simply comedic. Despite the fact that racism eventually played a role, the show caused society to look at itself to see how the current racist tensions that had permeated through American society were ludicrous.• The benevolent nature of Tim & Tom showed Americans that interracial friendships could definitely exist in society, while posing the possibility of a white man and a black man cooperating as friends to create a successful comedy show.
  6. 6. Deane, Pamala S. "The Jeffersons." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture.      Ed. Tom Pendergast and Sara Pendergast. Vol. 2. Detroit: St. James Press,      2000. 536-37. 2 vols. Gale U.S. History in Context. Web. 15 May 2012.• In the 1970s the sitcom, The Jeffersons, “helped set a new tone in prime time television” , while being an “enormously popular and highly rated program that lasted 10 years”.• One of the main characters, George Jefferson, is a rich African-American businessman who lives with his wife, son, and maid in the wealthy East Side of Manhattan (Deana). The comedic nature of the show generated comfortability with the idea of a wealthy African-American family being neighbors to whites and other races.• Also, the idea of a multiracial family next door—characters named Tom and Helen Willis with a black child and a white child—posited the reasoning that it is OK for Americans to not only live near multiracial couples, but also to interracially marry as well.• If anything, this sitcom succeeded at “ proving that programming with black casts could be successful and profitable, earning it a significant place in the history of 1970s television.” (Deana)
  7. 7. "Ego." American Decades Primary Sources. Ed. Cynthia Rose. Vol. 8: 1970-1979. Detroit: Gale, 2004. 632-36. Gale U.S. History In Context. Web. 28 May 2012.• “He is fascinating—attraction and repulsion must be in the same package. So, he is obsessive. The more we dont want to think about him, the more we are obliged to. There is a reason for it. He is Americas Greatest Ego…he is the very spirit of the 20th Century, he is the prince of mass man and the media”—Norman Mailer on Muhammad Ali after losing his 1971 bout to Joe Frazier, Life Magazine, 1971. (“Ego”)• As Ali’s victory against the United States in the Supreme Court Case in 1970 illuminated, he was very defiant against social expectations for a black boxer—in fact, he became a cultural icon for not only African-Americans, but also whites (“Muhammad”). The prince of mass man and the media was always an iconic figure; however, he was not given his rightful recognition in white American society until the late 1990s. In 1970, America was divided when Ali lost to Frazier: whites were “delighted” while blacks saw it as “disappointing” (“Ego”). Later, however, American society exemplified progress in regards to racism. Ali’s brazen and gutsy attitude—and skills in the boxing ring—caused the world and his country to honor Ali at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, when he lit the Olympic torch (“Muhammad”). In 1999, became the first boxer ever to grace the cover of a Wheaties box (“Muhammad”).• The recognition of Ali’s greatness as an entire American society indicates that the American society as a whole, not solely blacks, accepted him as a beloved figure because of his success, while ignoring the obvious racial connotations associated with Ali. By looking past Ali’s race, society began to show that racism was increasingly becoming part of U.S history, rather than being a part of the modern world.
  8. 8. • For decades in the 20th century, celebrities such Will Smith and Ali, and shows such as Tim &Tom and The Jeffersons persuaded the white American society to show progress in regards to accepting diversity. However, such acknowledgement is generally only confined to blacks and whites. As Todd Lewan writes “Is it possible, they wonder, that this nation — its history steeped in slavery, terrorism by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, and illicit eroticism between black and white — is ready to embrace not just white or black, but shades of brown?”• Mariah Carey, Tiger Woods, President Barack Obama, Halle Berry, and Derek Jeter—as shown above: these are all multiracial celebrities which prove that America is ready, and has already embraced shades of brown in American society. The acknowledgement and widespread fame of all of them designate the progress of the late 1990s and 21st century; society has not only accepted black celebrities, but it is also has recognized multiracial celebrities. Americans have progressed eons in the late 1990s to the 21st century compared to the 20th century considering race and racism—even enough so that a multiracial president can take office.