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Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Huxtable Effect

During the 2008 presidential campaign, many Democrats worried about the so-called Bradley effect — the theory that white voters will express support for black candidates in polls but not in the voting booth — fearing that it could work against Barack Obama. Me? I think the Bradley effect was a result of flawed polling. Some others believe that the "Huxtable effect" may have countered the Bradley effect. THEY may be onto something. . .What is the "Huxtable effect", you ask:

In 1994 Sut Jhally, a professor of communications at the University of Massachusetts — Bill Cosby’s alma mater — persuaded Mr.Cosby to donate $16,000 for research on why his show was so popular among white as well as black audiences. (Mr. Cosby himself had no influence on the study, according to Professor Jhally, and the book that came out of the research, “Enlightened Racism: The Cosby Show, Audiences, and the Myth of the American Dream,” was critical of the show.)

“After Obama won the other night, and listening to the reactions from both the white Americans and the black Americans, it was like a rerun of research we did on ‘The Cosby Show,’ ” Professor Jhally said. “Black families we interviewed were incredibly proud and incredibly grateful that finally there were images that were dignified, and they were represented as human. White Americans would say, ‘Here is an intact black family.’ ”


The term Huxtable effect was coined by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez who often writes about how pop culture portrays minorities:

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, blogger, novelist, and a former journalist who covered culture and the arts and who is the daughter of a sociology professor, cited the Harlem Renaissance in literature and art, which came about 30 years before the civil rights movement, as an example of pop culture’s anticipating political change.

For a certain generation of young voters, she said, “It’s not Ward Cleaver who was the all-American dad; it was Cliff Huxtable.”

Tom Werner, who was an executive producer of “The Cosby Show,” called the series groundbreaking in its effect on audiences. “Bill depicted the Huxtables as an American family that happened to be black, rather than as an African-American family,” he said. “For Bill, family was more important than race.”

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