The political and social structure of the United States can be difficult to comprehend. How does one rationalize that in 1776, America declared its independence from England by stating, in part that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” yet, in 1818, in the very same country, Frederick Douglass is born a slave? (Jefferson, 2004 p. 612; Library). It appears that under certain circumstances, it is not self-evident that the Right to Liberty is unalienable.
Fortunately, America has progressed, and while it would be difficult to support the position that Blacks have arrived at a point of complete equity with Whites, it is safe to say that giant strides have been made, but these strides have required action in the form of organized social movements. Blumer (1939) stated that “social movements can be viewed as collective enterprises to establish a new order of life. They have their inception in the condition of unrest, and derive their motive power on one hand from dissatisfaction with the current form of life, and on the other hand, from wishes and hopes for a new scheme or system of living” (p.
199). This analysis captures the meaning and significance of today’s Black social movements: that while the Black community now enjoys an increased equality and level of privilege when compared with what it was allowed in the recent past, there remains significant ground to be covered before true parity can be reached. The awareness of this need within the Black community has created both unrest and dissatisfaction, but past successes in the fight for social equality have nurtured a desire for even more change.
One of the most influential areas of modern, American society is the media—specifically television—and it is here that an important social movement can be traced: the increased inclusion of Blacks on T. V. During the 1950’s, shows like I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, and Dick Clark’s American Bandstand all premiered (List of years in television). Each of these shows featured characters and storylines that dealt with an America that was portrayed as White.
Moving into the 1960’s, a time of great advances in the Nation’s struggle for racial equality, the television fare featured the premier of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Green Acres, and the original Star Trek (List of years in television). This decade’s entertainment also featured a predominantly White world-view; however, Star Trek’s promise “to go where no man has gone before” was as much a testament to the people, issues, and possibilities that were at the forefront of social improvement as it was a reference to space travel (Star Trek: The Original Series).
To the credit of Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, his multi-racial, multi-gender crew, included Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura, a stunning, articulate, high-ranking, black woman whose role it was to keep lines of communication open. This was a step in the right direction for Blacks as it allowed White America to absorb a new concept: Blacks are intelligent, responsible, and worthy of authority; they do not exist merely to dust, clear tables, and act as the butt of jokes.
Currently, the face of television has become far more diverse, and there are networks such as BET (Black Entertainment Television) that cater to and feature Blacks. It is my belief that the change that has taken place in television media over the last half-century can be attributed to the increased awareness of those who once had sole control of the medium (Whites), coupled with the increase in buying power of Blacks, and the desire on the part of Blacks to assume command of part of television (e. g. BET).
The fact that Blacks desire greater representation and control within television media is part of the ongoing, modern social movement towards equality that the Black community embraces. What does this all mean? Primarily, it means that social changes come about slowly, pushed by two forces: natural social change, and active social movements. It was natural that at some point someone would include a character like Lieutenant Uhura in a series, but along with this natural progression, more action was needed.
There was only one Uhura on television, but there were thousands of Black women like her out in the world. This is why networks such as BET are so important: they represent an active social movement in the Black community; an insistence that part of the focus, part of the power, and part of the control be in the hands of Blacks. It may be true that our Nation’s Declaration of Independence seemed to say one thing but represent another; however, Frederick Douglass survived the mixed message and went on to contribute significantly to American history and ideals.
Today’s Blacks are aware of a truth Douglass understood: that to make strides, one must work within the framework of the majority, while never doubting the singular strength of an individual’s effect on a nation. Without the early encouragement of his Master’s wife, Douglass may not have been introduced to the desire to learn, but that desire led Douglass to greater pursuits (Douglass, 2004, pp. 62-65).
The Black community is now represented in local, state, and federal government: a sign that the community is working individually (i. e. running and voting), and within the framework of the majority (i. e. the established government and its rules) to improve its position within the United States of America. Schools are filled with a variety of ethnicities, both in front of the classroom and seated within it, and Blacks are embracing the need to educate themselves to ensure better jobs, financial success, and future opportunities.
Essentially, the focus of today’s Black social movements can be viewed as those actions that fall within the context of the majority’s framework and are designed to allow members of the Black community greater parity within this frameowrk. At the same time, these actions are being encouraged and supported on an individual by individual basis, so that the overall strength of each person can be added to the collective, and both might benefit from natural social change as well as active social movements. References Blumer, H. (1939).
Collective behavior. In R. E. Park (Ed. ), An outline f the principles of Sociology. (pp. 199). New York, NY: Barnes and Noble. Douglass, F. (2004). Learning to read and write. In Comley, N. , Hamilto, D. , Klaus, C. H. , Scholes, R. , & Sommers, N. (Eds. ), Fields of reading: motives for writing. (pp. 62-66). Boston, Mass. : Bedford. Jefferson, T. (2004). The Declaration of Independence. In Comley, N. , Hamilto, D. , Klaus, C. H. , Scholes, R. , & Sommers, N. (Eds. ), Fields of reading: motives for writing. (pp. 612-615). Boston, Mass.
: Bedford. Library of Congress, The. The Frederick Douglass papers. Timeline. Retrieved September 12, 2006, from http://rs6. loc. gov/ammem/doughtml/timeline. html. List of years in television. (2006, September 11). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 12, 2006, from http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/ List_of_years_in_television. Star Trek: The Original Series. (2006, September 11). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 12, 2006, from http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/ Star_Trek:_The_Original_Series.
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