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Mom and I have been watching a lot of "Andy Griffith Show" reruns on MeTV lately, because they happen to fall in the otherwise dead zone between the local news and the Wheel/Jeopardy hour. (Yes, I share the TV with an 80-year-old woman. You got a problem with that?) The other day, an oddness in my peripheral vision finally came into focus: there are no black people in Mayberry. None. Not just no African-American guest stars, but not even any black citizens wandering the streets.

At the time, I was going to post a flippant Facebook status, pondering whether cozy Mayberry had actually been one of them "sundown towns" all along. (Google it if you're unfamiliar with the term. I sincerely hope you'll be revulsed.) But then it occurred to me that this was the early '60s, and it would have been a politically daring act, maybe even a radical act, just to have employed black extras. Particularly in a show set in the (then) present-day South. And even Andy Griffith, who was politically progressive throughout his life and ran one of the most popular shows in America, obviously didn't feel comfortable rocking the boat on this issue.

Which brings us to Michael Sam, and "the kiss."

Bigots are predictable in the trajectory of their reactions to any civil rights movement. Eventually there comes a tipping point after which open displays of hatred for Group X become socially unacceptable - when bigots have to precede their expressions of distaste with a disclaimer that they don't have a "problem" with Group X, no, honest they don't.

The next thing that comes up is almost always the question of visibility. I don't mind Group X - no, really, some of my best friends belong to Group X - but why, WHY must they "rub it in our faces," or "ram it down our throats," or [insert your own bodily-violation metaphor here]? Remember Mayberry? Can you doubt that if Andy Griffith and Sheldon Leonard had deliberately included African-American extras on the streets of Mayberry in 1961, the comments would have sounded eerily similar?

In short: Bigots have an unhappy lot, once their airtight rational arguments about Group X deserving to be treated as second-class citizens lose favor. They can't even express open distaste for Group X any more, without someone suggesting they're, you know, bigots. So they retreat, and just hope to get through their day without constantly being reminded that there are Group X members out there, shamelessly existing and interacting with us normal folk - just as though they were human beings too or something, rather than a purely political issue to be discussed in a vacuum. Don't those Group X people know their existence is controversial, and that they should spare us the sight of themselves while we work out our trust issues?

For a while now, professional sports has been an oasis for those poor persecuted bigot-Americans. One of the last places where they could spend a day in front of the TV and never once be reminded that gay people exist. Michael Sam has burst their bubble, the same way Jackie Robinson once did. I've watched the NFL draft too - and Sam and his boyfriend didn't do anything that a thousand other draftees and their girlfriends, wives or family members don't do.

And that is the entire point. He IS just like all those other draftees, and even ESPN is treating him accordingly. The reaction to "the kiss" is the exasperated cry of a group of people who find themselves no longer able to escape the future. Or rather, the present.

Edited (5/13/14. 12:57pm EDT):  I have been informed that there WERE eventually a few African-Americans that showed up in Mayberry, including a major guest character in a Season 7 episode. Good to know! For what it's worth, MeTV has largely been showing just episodes from the first couple of seasons. My point remains: the very presence of African-Americans on the show, even as extras, was enough of a politically-charged issue that it took quite a while for it to happen.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Visibility is our greatest strength (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Pope Buck I, Lujane

    My nieces and nephews grew up in mostly small, conservative, predominantly Mormon towns. Had they not had me in their lives I'm not sure they'd be as passionately geared towards equality. The culture in those small towns can do a lot of damage to young minds.

    They're in a somewhat purple area now and don't understand why some people argue about gay people. This is the generation that will be running things eventually. Had previous generations stayed in the closet where it was relatively safe, our great progress would be that much further behind.

    Kudos to Sam for a whole new level of visibility. I'm proud to stand with him.

    P.S. I am not a crackpot.

    by BoiseBlue on Tue May 13, 2014 at 09:44:22 AM PDT

    •  Exactly! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BoiseBlue, Lujane

      It's why Harvey Milk always emphasized that visibility is key. As long as any "Group X" is invisible, the bigots can get away with imagining their world full of only "normal" people.  Visibility means they have to deal with us on the level of reality.  

      Most will eventually "evolve" at least to the extent that they'll get used to the sight of two men kissing, as they once got used to seeing African-Americans visible on TV in non-servant roles.  But some of them, sadly, never manage the trick.

  •  There was only one credited black actor........... (0+ / 0-)

    and only one black actor with a speaking part on the show during its entire run; Rockne Tarkington.  Tarkington played Opie's piano teacher and football hero in season 7, episode 4, in 1967. The episode was entitled Opie's Piano Teacher.  I looked all this up on the Google, couldn't tell you a thing about the plot.

    The worst thing about St. Louis is Missouri.

    by duckhunter on Tue May 13, 2014 at 10:49:06 AM PDT

  •  If it's about football (0+ / 0-)

    then you have to realize that being taken at the bottom of the 7th round is not a "victory".  If its not about football then all bets are off.  Then again, the league is rife with undrafted free agents.  Only time will tell.

    "When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, And the women come out to cut up what remains, Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains An' go to your Gawd like a soldier." Rudyard Kipling

    by EdMass on Tue May 13, 2014 at 11:04:31 AM PDT

  •  It should be noted... (0+ / 0-)

    ...that another show of which Sheldon Leonard was an executive producer, The Dick Van Dyke Show - which ran concurrently with Griffith's - featured black actors in guest or supporting roles on several episodes (among them, Godfrey Cambridge - as a federal agent on a stakeout - and Greg Morris, who made two appearances).

    And in two groundbreaking ones, "That's My Boy" (one of the Morris appearances) and "Show Of Hands," race or racial issues were very much parts of the plots.  

    It was also somewhat groundbreaking that in the Cambridge episode ("The Man From My Uncle") and the other Morris one ("Bupkis"), the fact that their characters were African American was of no relevance to the plots - that is to say, they could just as easily have been played by actors of any race or ethnicity - and that in all three cases, the characters were not those of domestics or subservients of any kind.

    I mention all this by way of context - covering, as it does, the same period and milieu (network sitcoms) - and as a counter to any inference that might be drawn about squeamishness on the part of Leonard.

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