It Will Take More Than a 'Muslim Cosby Show'

The seminal TV show rode a wave of black achievement to challenge racial stereotypes. But Katie Couric's well-intentioned statements to the contrary, American Muslims will need more than a situation comedy to counter Islamophobia.

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Pino: Bruce!

Mookie: Prince!

Pino: Bruce!

Mookie: Pino, all you ever talk about is "nigger this" and "nigger that," and all your favorite people are so-called niggers.

Pino: It's different. Magic, Eddie, Prince, are not niggers. I mean they're not black. I mean. Let me explain myself. They're not really black, I mean, they're black but they're not really black, they're more than black. It's different.

Mookie: It's different?

Pino: Yeah, to me it's different.

For many of The Cosby Show's viewers, the Huxtables were in a social space all their own, exceptions to the prevailing negative images of black America held by the mainstream. At the same time, the Reagan administration sought to defund many programs that had helped support working- and middle-class black families. Student-loan programs were cut by $2 billion, and by 1990, black students made up only 9 percent of the students enrolled in higher education -- a decrease from 1980.

It seemed that America preferred its black professionals on TV rather than in real life. There was still a stark difference between the prime-time position of the Huxtables in television and the precarious political and social status of most blacks in the '80s. A television show does have its limits.

Attempts to penetrate the fear and ignorance about Islam through television have had mixed results. In Canada, Little Mosque on the Prairie, about a diverse Muslim community that shares its prayer space with an Anglican church in small-town Canada, received strong reviews and is now in its fifth season. In the U.S., however, the CW sitcom Aliens in America, about a white family that hosts an exchange student from Pakistan, also received positive reviews but only lasted one season, after failing to build an audience.