It was when I caught sight of the approaching Chicago skyline and heard the familiar piano riff that I realized my true appreciation of my sister-in-law’s HBO Max account. From Steve Urkel’s foibles and love of cheese to Carl and Harriette’s solid marriage, “Family Matters” was a piece of ‘90s nostalgia that still resonates most: seeing the Winslow family encapsulated notions of the American Dream for me, especially as a child of color.
The show envisioned what it meant for a Black family not just to survive, but thrive (Love, 2019). I saw many relatable parallels: first, the story centered around a multi-generational family of color who lived under one roof. Grandma Estelle, Aunt Rachel, and cousin Richie were part of the family’s lifeblood, just like I had seen so many times with my own family: grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins living under one roof, and though it was often crowded and noisy, there was always someone to talk to or lean on.
Storylines centered around relevant issues: patriarch Carl struggled with losing weight to improve his health; brother Eddie stepped in to help younger sister Laura stand up to a boyfriend spreading rumors about her sexuality; the family banded together to help Aunt Rachel’s Black-owned restaurant business. I can’t count how many times my family gathered together to help provide support, to show up, to help each other with tough times. Whether my sister had her competitions or my cousin was graduating from university, we were there to cheer each other on, to cry with each other, to walk each other through the tough moments, and celebrate in the good ones.
Though the show had room for the absurd (cue: scientific creations that morphed geeky teens into suave sophisticates), it was apparent how normal this family was to me, how much they loved each other and made efforts to communicate and grow together, in spite of bumps along the way.
Cultural relevance was incorporated in a way that I didn’t see too much with shows of my time (although here I must disclaim how much TV I wasn’t allowed to watch). Watching the Winslows helped make it ok to embrace the culture of what made my own family uniquely it’s own. For instance, Laura pushing for a Black history course at her school was not something I saw with other similar–but not quite as relatable–sitcoms of that era. It made it ok for me to celebrate culture as a deep part of my identity, especially as a child of immigrant parents.
Though my conservative parents would have liked to shield me from some content (high-school dating, under-aged drinking) I know that a lot of the values (family, community, respect) that the Winslow family exhibited aligned with how my parents envisioned our own household.
I love the Winslows, but I don’t necessarily think I can say that every other show has aged well: though streaming has made it possible, it is difficult to rewatch a few favorite shows without cringing at condescending references to the LGBTQ+ community, parodies of Asian females being fetishized, or even old silent films where characters are dressed in blackface or yellowface, and women are sometimes at the mercy of a male’s physical blows through hair pulls, or constricted to domestic duties. While shows like these are a product of their time, “Family Matters” doesn’t make me sit there with a level of cringe and a deeper level of understanding that I couldn’t grasp when I was 8 or 9. Although I grew up loving some of these shows, I know it’s better to leave some of these in the past as I work toward an inclusive future, one that works to understand and embrace rather than exclude.
Because after all, “As days go by, it’s the bigger love of the family.”
Love, B. L. (2019). We want to do more than survive: abolitionist teaching and the pursuit of educational freedom. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press.
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
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