Racism Isn’t Funny — So Why Does Archie Bunker Make Me Laugh?
How I fell in love with ‘All in the Family’s’ resident bigot
Just when I thought about giving up on love, I fell. Hard. The matchmaker was YouTube. The object of my affections was the ’70s TV sitcom All in the Family, which centered on conservative middle-aged White couple Archie and Edith Bunker — all nine seasons of which I binged greedily during quarantine.
I fell in love with Edith, played by three-time Emmy winner Jean Stapleton. Although her husband Archie dismissed her as a “dingbat” and she often played the part, she was usually the wisest, most perceptive person onscreen.
I fell for the Bunkers’ son-in-law, Michael “Meathead” Stivic (Rob Reiner), for challenging Archie on his racism and White-supremacist ideals. I fell for their daughter, Gloria Stivic (Sally Struthers) because she called out her father, tried to encourage her mother not to be his doormat, and pointed out the hypocrisy of her husband’s brand of well-meaning but ultimately disingenuous liberalism.
I fell, too, for Lionel Jefferson (Mike Evans), the Bunkers’ Black next-door neighbor. Lionel’s scenes with Archie were like nonviolent protests — using not just words as a weapon but inflection. Lionel was far more interesting and pivotal on All in the Family than in his parents’ spin-off series, The Jeffersons; he handled Archie better than Michael did, without a hint of anger in his patronizing, almost affectionate mockery. No wonder Archie was more respectful to him than any other character.
But of the five characters introduced in the show’s 1971 premiere, I fell hardest for Archie. The irony, of course, is that Archie wouldn’t have had any use for me — a gay Black man.
And it wasn’t just me; Bunker hated everyone. He spoke disparagingly not only of Black people but also of Jewish people, Latinx people, Italians, Irish, the Polish, atheists, Catholics, women, gays, and basically anyone who wasn’t a straight, White, Protestant male. So what did I see in him?
I won’t justify my love by calling him an “equal-opportunity bigot”; they’re just as reprehensible as those who train their hatred on just one group. I make no excuses for the guy, but I love him anyway…