Bill Cosby

A Positive Representation of Black Male Intellect in The Cosby Show

The Cosby Show

A good education can take you much farther than dribbling a basketball. (Photo Credit: imdb.com)

The Cosby Show offers one of the most powerful and important representations of Black male intellect in the history of American television.  One of the main characters on the show is Heathcliff “Cliff” Huxtable (Bill Cosby), an obstetrician and son of a leading jazz trombonist.  Cliff is married to Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rashād), a smart and professional attorney.  Clair and Cliff have five children.  The upper-middle class Huxtable family lives in a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights, New York.  Although The Cosby Show has received some negative critiques for focusing on highly educated and successful Blacks, I find the show to provide a needed alternative to the dominant narrative about Black male intellect: the media and other sources often present Black males as being unintelligent and criminals, but Cliff Huxtable represents respectability and brilliance.  His brilliance isn’t wrapped in the traditional “nerd” image either.  (Nothing’s wrong with the traditional “nerd” image, but it’s refreshing to see a representation of intellectual giftedness that doesn’t simply rely on an overrepresented image of what an educated or intellectual man looks like.)  It’s essential to look at the great representation of Black male intellect Cliff Huxtable offers.

Although some don’t like Cliff Huxtable’s positive representation of Black male intellect to be highlighted, a critical observer of The Cosby Show cannot help but to see it.  Cliff is a Black man who is a medical doctor.  It takes a significant amount of knowledge and intellectual prowess to become a medical doctor.  His education enables him to enjoy the life afforded to an upper-middle class man living in America. He doesn’t, however, display his wealth in an ostentatious manner.  Instead, Cliff elects to invest his money in building a strong family centered on the importance of a quality education and essential moral values.

The cast of The Cosby Show in 1989

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Even though Cliff is known more for his comedic ingenuity, the substantial value he places on education isn’t about fun and games at all.  He has fun with all of his children but they know he doesn’t mind disciplining them about a lack of commitment to their academic studies.  Theodore “Theo” Huxtable (Malcolm-Jamal Warner), Cliff’s only son, experiences the most difficult academic challenges, stemming primarily from his frequent lack of focus and motivation to excel academically.  Theo constantly has his mind fixed on beautiful young girls, which, of course, is typical of a young American boy.  Cliff refuses to allow Theo to sacrifice his education for phenomena less vital than a quality education.

Dr. Huxtable presents an interesting fusion of intellectual, moral and comedic excellence.  When Black men are looking for a positive role model, they can follow the example proffered by Cliff.  Too many people aren’t able to see the value of Cliff’s example for Black men because they’re too concentrated on his economic standing.  Black men who don’t have anywhere close to the amount of money Dr. Huxtable has can still learn the essential values of a quality education and active and positive parental involvement from him. 

Imagine if more Black men were to embrace Cliff’s commitment to education and active and positive parental involvement.  How much better would our young Black males be today and how much stronger would Black families be?

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison