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

Happy Father’s Day to Only the Good Fathers


As I was contemplating what to write about Father’s Day, I became tremendously unsettled by the reality that so many terrible fathers receive the honor of “Happy Father’s Day” from the general “Happy Father’s Day” that we shout out on this day. When I thought about this reality, I decided that it was time for someone to address this issue. We need to be more selective about who we are saying Happy Father’s Day to. Some of you sorry “fathers” or should I say “baby’s daddies” do not deserve to even hear those words uttered to you. Many of you are nothing more than sperm donors. I am truly thankful on this day that my father, Kenneth Daniels, is a great father. I am also thankful that the majority of my relatives who are fathers are great fathers too.

While Father’s Day should be a day when we celebrate our fathers, it is also necessary that we use this particular Father’s Day as a time for poor fathers to rededicate themselves to their children. Men, if you know that you are not going to be devote yourselves to the children that will emerge from sexual intercourse engaged in without a condom, then please keep your penis in your pants! Recently, rapper Slim Thug said that Black women were not “holding it down enough for their men,” but what he overlooks is the reality that many Black women are “holding down” those children that many Black men are not helping to take care of. Slim Thug, how much more do you want them to “hold down” for you? Slim Thug, don’t say no more dumb junk like that.

To President Obama, I thank you for being an excellent father to your children. You are an excellent role model for America’s fathers. I simply do not want you to keep going to Black churches and telling Black men that they need to meet their responsibilities to their women and children. How about going into some White churches with that message—they can certainly benefit from that message too, you know?

To the rappers who just generally refer to all women as “bitches” and “hoes,” I want you all to understand that you are devaluing women when you do this. We need to be the solid leaders that our women are looking for. You cannot be a true leader for your women when you refer to them in such disparaging ways. Please increase your sensitivity to the damage that such language does to women. We are here to love, protect, comfort, and support our women—not to do violence to them.

To the trifling fathers who still take care of their children but who neglect their wives and/or girlfriends, I want you to know that you still have a responsibility to be a man to your women. You should never forget the women who helped to produce the children that you cherish. While I am glad that you do take care of your children, I want you to understand that being an effective father requires more than just taking care of your children—it requires taking care of the women who carried those children for 9 months. Got me?

If you have a good father, please realize that you are blessed. Women, if you have a good man in your life who is a good father to your children, be sure that you let him know and do something special for him to appreciate him for this. Far too often, I hear many women who a quick to criticize their men for the negative stuff that they do, but will not give them any credit for the good or great things that they do. I challenge women to be more grateful for the great stuff that men do for you and your children.

Again, I would like to say Happy Father’s Day to only the good fathers! I want a novel discourse to emerge about who we are going to say Happy Father’s Day to. Let’s think about the damage we do when we send out a Happy Father’s Day to everyone without qualifying it. Again, Kenneth Daniels, thanks for being a great father.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison