On page 259 of Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, John McWhorter comments on the sitcom A Different World, which was created by Bill Cosby:
“One of the sweetest television pleasures I have ever experienced was the late, great series A Different World.
I sat mesmerized through every single episode of this show chronicling
the adventures of black students of all walks of life at the fictional
all-black college Hillman, because there was depicted the black America
of my dreams. Week after week, this marvelous little show kept alive my
faith that there can and will be a black America alive with the music
of black dialect, a compassionate sense of responsibility for the less
fortunate, a spontaneous connection to music and dance, regular
commemoration of the struggles and victories of the past, an electric
sense of humor, and even a guest appearance by Jesse Jackson, yet
combined with a dedication to personal advancement, a disinclination to
fixate upon victimhood, an openness to cultural fusion, and a sense of
school as an inextricable part of American life. There is not a logical
reason why this could not be black America.”
I watched A Different World back when I was a kid. It was on right after The Cosby Show. I really liked The Cosby Show, but I did not particularly care for A Different World. Part of this was my age. I was a kid for much of the time that The Cosby Show
was on, so I enjoyed watching Bill Cosby’s over-the-top humor. I could
also identify with the kids, since they were around my age (but I liked
Sonya, even though she was a college student). I could not really
identify with the characters on A Different World, since that
show was about college life, and I was not in college at the time.
Moreover, I did not care for most of the characters. Ron was a clown.
Dwayne Wayne was a clown, too, until he became a calculus wiz who took
himself way too seriously. Denise was probably my least favorite
character on The Cosby Show on account of her “Who cares?”
attitude. Freddie struck me as a self-righteous liberal intellectual
type. The cook scared me. Probably the only character I liked was
Whitley Gilbert, and that was because I thought she was hot.
But I can’t deny that I learned from A Different World. The Cosby Show has been criticized because it avoided the topic of racism, but A Different World got into all sorts of controversial issues: racism, affirmative action, etc.
I think that I appreciate A Different World more in my older
years than I did back when I was a kid. One episode that comes to my
mind is one in which someone is challenging Dwayne Wayne’s decision to
attend Hillman College, as if that is holding him back and Dwayne could
do better for himself at a more prestigious college. Dwayne asks
Whitley why she came to Hillman, and she responds that she could have
gone to a prestigious college (I forget which one it was—-perhaps it was
U. Penn), but someone told her that Hillman would be where she’d be
really loved. “Nobody will love you as they do at
Hillman.” I didn’t think about those kinds of issues when I was a kid;
nowadays, as an adult, the topic of an accepting environment frequently
crosses my mind.