Paul R. Lehman, “All in the Family,” a view of American Bigotry

December 16, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Posted in African American, American Bigotry, American Racism, Bigotry in America, blacks, desegregation, Disrespect, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, fairness, integregation, justice, minority, Prejudice, public education, Public housing, Race in America, Richard Rothstein, The American Prospect, U.S. Supreme Court, whites | 4 Comments
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An old saying that “hindsight is 20/20” makes reference to the possibility of people looking back on something in the past and getting a better, more clear picture and understanding than the first time they experienced or saw it. That might be the case for some people, but not for all. Sometimes the look backwards does not change at all; the change depends on who is doing the looking. A good example of this type of experience can be observed in the famous television show “All in the Family.”

The show was centered on the Bunker family who lived in a house located in Queens, New York. Information about the show states that “Archie Bunker was the main character… He was televisions most famous bigot, crass and down right rude. Yet he was loveable, with a soft side just beneath the surface. Edith Bunker was his somewhat dizzy wife whom he called ‘Dingbat.” Archie and Edith had a daughter, Gloria, who had a husband named Mike, but was called ‘Meathead’ by Archie.” We are told that “The stories revolved around many controversial topics including, rape, sex, homosexuality, death and other topics that were relevant to the 70’s, especially political strife and inflation.” In addition, we are told that “Archie Bunker was probably the first character in a situation comedy to use racist remarks referring to blacks and other minorities.”

What makes this show important is the fact that Archie complains constantly about the changes that are occurring in society. The audience sees him as a bigot, but he never sees himself as such, and rightly so, because his society conditioned him to hold the social perspective he possessed. If we look at some of the lyrics of the show’s theme song, we get the full flavor or Archie’s protest: “Boy, the way Glen Miller played. / Songs that made the Hit Parade. /Guys like us, we had it made. /Those were the days.” Archie remembers, according to the song, what to him were the “good old days,” when European Americans (whites) were the people of privilege in society. The song also underscores his attitude about himself and other European Americans concerning the present state of affairs: “Didn’t need no welfare state. /Everybody pulled his weight. /Gee, that old LaSalle (car) ran great. / In other words, he had a good job, a nice affordable house, an automobile, and he lived in a segregated neighborhood. Those were the days!

For Archie, conditions in society are changing in a way that allows other Americans to begin to share in many of the benefits of society. The problem for Archie is that he wants to retain the level of privilege he believes is his by virtue of his being European American. To be more specific, the government promoted European American privilege, segregation and discrimination. Richard Rothstein, in an article, “Government-Sponsored Segregation,” published in The American Prospect, tells us how Archie was able to purchase the house in Queens. He states that “The government has an explicit policy of not insuring suburban mortgages for African Americans. In suburban Nassau County, just east of Queens, for example, Levittown was built in 1947; 17,500 mass-produced two-bedroom houses, requiring nothing down and monthly payments of only about $60.” This payment, we are told, “(was considerably less than the approximately $75 unsubsidized charged in Woodside Houses for apartments of comparable size.) At the FHA’s insistence, developer William Levitt did not sell homes to blacks, and each deed included a prohibition of such resales in the future.”

Archie’s house in Queens more than likely had a housing restriction that prevented African Americans from living, owning or renting them. So, the attitude of privilege that Archie reflected along with the bigotry was not unusual for his generation. Those social elements were cultivated in him by his society. Again, we are told that

Although the Supreme Court ruled in 1948 that racial restrictions were legally unenforceable, the FHA and VA continued to insure such mortgages. By 1950, the federal agencies were insuring half of all new mortgages nationwide. Many white families, who before the postwar housing boom lived in urban neighborhoods in proximity to African Americans, were relocated to more isolated white racial enclaves, created and promoted by government policy. (40)

To Archie, the privileges and special attention given to European Americans was normal and expected. What would have been seen as out of the ordinary would have been fair treatment to African Americans. Other forms of advantages given to European Americans came in the benefits of belonging to labor unions, a membership that was denied African Americans. But housing was a major element in the make-up of American society because it was the foundation and center from which most social elements revolved. When we look back and see just how unfairly African Americans and other minorities were treated by our government, we can recognize how the gaps in economics and education were created. Much of the problem relative to accepting all Americans can be traced back to the government’s role in sponsoring segregation and discrimination. Rothstein makes the point that

With public housing, federal and local governments increased the isolation of African Americans in urban ghettos, and with mortgages guarantees, the government subsidized whites to abandon urban areas for the suburbs. The combination was largely responsible for creating the segregated neighborhoods and schools we know today, with truly disadvantaged minority students isolated in poor, increasingly desperate communities where teachers struggle unsuccessfully to overcome their families’ multiple needs. Without these public policies, the racial achievement gap that has been daunting to…educators would be a different and lesser challenge. (41)

So, now when we look back at Archie Bunker and the constant protest he made about the changing society in which he lived, we can understand why he complained. What we might not appreciate from him is his concern for people who do not pull themselves up by their bootstraps. What we now know that he never considered was that the African Americans and other poor minorities could not pull themselves up as easily as the European Americans; they had to work for their boots. The government literally gave Archie, and the generation he represented, the boots, the straps, and a little incentive just because they were European American.  Now that things are changing, we no longer have to wonder why he lamented “Those were the Days.”

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4 Comments »

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  1. “Those were the days” is still lamented by the Archie Bunkers and those worse than Archie Bunker, and the governments, local, state, and federal still promote white segregation but absolutely not to the extent of the past.

    The downplaying of racial animosities by white congressional leaders of the Political Right, and their constant efforts to use “reverse discrimination” to beat down the calls of white racism against economic minorities goes on. The younger generations of African Americans too, play that game.

    Times have changed but they have not changed enough economically for Blacks, and neither has the denigration that many Blacks feel toward themselves, although that is slowly but surely changing, It is going to take a very long time for Blacks in general to have cultivated self appreciation to the level that white Americans have for themselves – so the inner pain goes on as we continually seek identification.

    Times have changed but there is much more yet to be done.

  2. Your observations are very timely as it appears the sentiments of “those days” have again surfaced more than 40 years after that show premiered. How long?

  3. Blog…

    I do consider all of the ideas you’ve offered to your post. They’re really convincing and can certainly work. Nonetheless, the posts are too quick for beginners. May you please extend them a bit from subsequent time? Thank you for the post….

  4. Very prescient posting. A few days after this blog, MSNBC aired a clip of Archie waxing political about gun control.


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