The wife of Bill Cosby -- a man often credited with helping to erase stereotypical images of black Americans on television -- told a black service sorority to be on guard for the perpetuation of such damaging images in the future.
Camille Cosby, addressing the national convention of Delta Sigma Theta sorority in Baltimore yesterday, used research from her doctoral thesis in ez ducation to bolster her contention that blacks are damaged by their portrayal in popular entertainment.
Dr. Cosby said she considered a number of topics for her dissertation, "But the one topic that wouldn't let me go was the influence television images had on our young adults' perception of themselves.
"How could the depiction of African-Americans on television, in the news, in advertising, in movies and sitcoms not shape young people's views of themselves?" she asked.
"Television permitted us to project ourselves into other people's lives, but it portrayed people as it wished," she said. Television images of people of African descent were dominated by those who Dr. Cosby said "would have us and the world think poorly of ourselves, [who] constantly associate us with images of sexuality and servility."
She said that blacks rarely are portrayed as quiet, contemplative, reasonable characters, but as the excitable types, full of energy and motion, often associated with violence and drugs.
"Never do you see the softer side, rarely are they the givers," she said, urging that schools teach young people how to analyze movies and TV shows so they can recognize the negative images, some of which may be hidden by humor.
"We all know that most welfare recipients are white. How does that get kept such a secret? And who would believe that making the face of welfare a black face is accidental?"
Dr. Cosby -- whose husband's sitcom "The Cosby Show" was widely praised for its depiction of a stable, affluent, well-educated black family -- spoke to a luncheon meeting at the Convention Center, sponsored by the sorority's undergraduate section. It attracted about 500 of the 8,000 women attending the convention.
"Sometimes the damage done by these images is so subtle it is hard to detect," she said, warning that because slavery denied African-Americans a sense of history, popular media can provide a damaging replacement.
"Today's screen images make tomorrow's history in the heads, hearts and minds of our young people," she said.
"Ask yourself if you are depicted as you wish. And if the answer is no, get in there and make it otherwise."