Critiques against affirmative action are inescapably a neoconservative vilification and denigration of minority groups, establishing and ultimately trying to propagate a continuing narrative around the American Dream that is essentially yet tactfully discriminatory. How else might The Cosby Show, despite all of Bill Cosby’s efforts to assert its indifference to race (as if that were plausible), possess evidential value for conservative ideologies against welfare programs and the oh-so terribly parasitic entitlement programs extracting the economic life force out of our federal government. It’s an ongoing Reagan type of rhetoric cultivating a positive-negative binary revolving around race and class.
We don’t need federal assistance. We need a dose of ideological enlightenment. We need to be reinvigorated with the successes of a diligent Protestant work ethic. Federal programs can only do so much, but what we need is that good ole pull yourself up by your bootstraps attitude that fortified this country, which in no way could be construed as a declaration imbedded with severe racial and class tensions. Don’t try to contextualize my proud American idioms with history. “The facts [The Cosby Show apparently] clearly show that it works for minorities and poor children as well as the children of the suburbs.”[i]
One can’t make an argument against affirmative action without having to tackle the cultural images of the underserving minority and the newly struggling yet deserving white victims—unendorsed cultural images that have been given to minority groups by their white officiaries. How can a policy of active and positive discrimination attempting to bolster those who have been historically excluded from so called inalienable rights and liberties be reverse racism, when the very idea of reverse racism depends upon an immediate valorization of the discriminated, that posits them as secondary or subordinate. A critique will always, whether explicit or not, undervalue its effects and debase those it benefits.
Affirmative action produces no direct capital and, according to the chant of the free-market fundamentalist, disenfranchises the poor struggling middle class white American. Therefore it has no use, or if it did it’s run its course. It’s in a way similar toHerman Gray’s essay, which he writes, “the recognition and engagement with blackness [in 1980s television] were not for a moment driven by sudden cultural interest in black matters or some noble aesthetic goals […] in a large part they were driven […] by economics.”[ii] Commercialism. Capital. Advertising Revenues. Niche Markets.
After dramatic shifts towards new and more austere ownership, network engagement with blackness was primarily motivated by a decrease of upper income viewers opting for more premium options like home movies and pay cable; thus, creating desperate competition among the networks to tap into new audiences and markets, that were in effect constrained to commercial television. The “commercial networks soon discovered African American audiences as a ready-made, already organized, and exploitable market niche.”[iii] They certainly weren’t about to shell out a lot of money to produce intensive and expansive series like the primetime drama and movie of the week. The commercial networks played it safe by limiting black shows to cost efficient genres—situational comedies, entertainment/variety, talk programs—and the advertisers followed. You can certainly argue the benefits of the existence of such television in the 80s, but you can’t wrest it away from its origin in cultural and socioeconomic capitalization. What exploitable reserves does affirmative action posses?