Good Times: ‘Ain’t We Lucky We Got ‘Em’

How today's black television family could learn from the Evanses.

And Thelma. She was sexy, yet classy, and like all us women growing up, she made some mistakes and got into some sticky situations. Remember when she was about to marry that African fool or when she got felt up by Wilona’s creepy guy friend. I mean that’s real life there. But through it all she grew up, stepped up when James died, always handled herself with class and grace, and she had a husband before she had a baby. Who would argue that she isn’t a great role model for young women of any socio-economic class?

Ahhhh…and Michael. Little militant Michael. Michael always kept racial issues in the forefront, injecting social consciousness into every conversation. And sure, he got a little gay as he grew up (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and his militant rants were soon replaced by cheesy talent show crooning with Penny. But, it’s all good. Michael was a typical, bright, city kid. He was militant, excelled in school; he was strong but respectful of his parents. He also got involved with gangs, got drunk off Vita-Brite and beat up that fat kid in school that time. He went through what we all go through trying to find ourselves in this world. But he knew that education was the key to his success, and that thread ran throughout the show. Where can you find that now?

And as bad off as the Evanses were financially, they never asked for hand-outs or charity, never made excuses. They acknowledged racism, but never used it as a crutch. They didn’t give up; they didn’t try to get over. They just knew they had to work twice as hard because racism stacked the deck against them. If times were tough, James just worked harder. Thelma would work extra hours part-time. Or they would sell underwear out of that big cardboard box. But Florida and James always had a hopeful outlook. They always focused on hard work and its relationship to success. They helped their neighbors and ate dinner together. No one obsessed over entertainers and athletes, bling was a non-issue and a nuclear family was the rule, not the exception. Kids still wanted to be doctors and lawyers. And when they had a chance to get out of the projects, they were gone. They weren’t gonna have the next three generations in subsidized housing, just because they could. They wanted to do better. Can you imagine what a world this would be if we all embodied the character traits of the Good Times family? It would be good times, indeed.

Looking at current representations of African Americans on TV, I can’t believe I ever stuck my nose up at Good Times. I bought into the theory that we should write it off as some negative one-dimensional image of black life. It was a show that depicted a poor black family, so it was, ipso facto, bad, an insult, a stereotype. It was something we had come too far to look at, an obsolete show with no value and no relevance to modern day black people.

Tell you what, watch Good Times and then look at us now. Take a new look at the Evanses, and then look at us. Look at our images on MTV and VH1 and BET. Look at the way we’re depicted on network dramas and sitcoms. Check out the evening news.

Now you tell me, didn’t Good Times have it right?

Oops! Gotta go, Flavor of Love is on…

Jam Donaldson is a writer, attorney and television producer based in Washington, D.C.