Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Black History Month Heroes - Dr. Julius Hibbert in "The Simpsons"

For more than 20 years the exploits of that yellow family from Springfield - Homer, Lisa, Marge, Bart and Maggie - have brought joy to the hundreds of millions of people across the globe. The Simpsons, a cartoon comedic masterpiece that has been on the cutting edge of pop culture for more than a score, is a beloved look at the trials and tribulations of a working-class family.

Homer Simpson and his brood are so well known and recognizable that people in the United States have a greater knowledge of this fictitious family than they do the Constitution that governs their nation:
CHICAGO - Americans apparently know more about “The Simpsons” than they do about the First Amendment.

Only one in four Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

But more than half can name at least two members of the cartoon family, according to a survey...

The study by the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that 22 percent of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just one in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms.

Civic lessons are of trivial significance when compared to the importance of being on an intimate, first name basis with The Simpsons. Remember, they invite you into their home seven days a week (through the power of syndication) and new episodes air every Sunday night, so it is important to be more cognizant of The Simpsons than say the basic rights delineated in the Bill of Rights.

Fictional Black History Month has covered a number of the great Black people that have existed through the medium of cinema and help give us positive images of Black people to love, cherish and respect, where they aren't necessarily found in real-life.

The Simpsons has more than 400 episodes to its credit, countless video games and DVD releases, a feature movie and product tie-ins that would make even George Lucas blush.

The ratings for The Simpsons continue to remain steady and new fans of the show are found daily thanks to the constant reruns found on any number of stations throughout cable, and the influence of the show can be found in words that have entered the vernacular, such as "Doh":

The Simpsons' influence may continue to grow. TV consultant Ted Farone says the show is strong enough to run for a long time to come. He compares it to The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, a 1960s cartoon that served as a satire on the Cold War. That show is still discussed 40 years later. "The Simpsons is one of the all-time great shows," he says.

Of course, whether high school students will be studying the episode "Much Apu About Nothing" in 400 years remains to be seen.

The question remains: What does The Simpsons have to do with fictional Black History Month? One name comes to mind, accompanied with calming chuckle, as Dr. Julius Hibbert has been the family practitioner for most of the shows glorious run:
Dr. Hibbert is the Simpsons' (usually) kind-hearted family doctor, a near-genius (with an IQ of 155), a Mensa member, a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and a member of the Thayer firm at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Hibbert is noticeably less dysfunctional than just about everyone else on the show, though he does have a bizarre tendency to chuckle at inappropriate moments. It is mentioned in Make Room for Lisa, that "Before I learned to chuckle mindlessly, I was headed to an early grave."

Dr. Hibbert is married; he and his wife Bernice have at least three children, two boys and a girl. When his entire family is seen together, they appear to be a spoof of The Cosby Show. Bernice is known to be something of a heavy drinker; this has been joked about on at least one occasion (in "Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment," she faints, along with other imbibers of renown, upon reading the news that Prohibition has been introduced in Springfield)...When Fox moved The Simpsons to prime time on Thursdays against NBC's top-rated The Cosby Show, the writing staff decided to make Hibbert a parody of Bill Cosby's character Dr. Cliff Huxtable. Hibbert is usually shown wearing sweaters, a reference to Huxtable.
Dr. Hibbert is a Black doctor of unquestionable intelligence, charisma and skill, who has remained an integral part of The Simpsons universe for almost the entire shows run. He has saved numerous lives and provided outstanding service to the citizens of Springfield. He truly is a fictional Black History Month, for even though provides an exemplary role-model to the citizens of Springfield and the viewers of The Simpsons, in the real-world he is put a statistical anomaly:
African-Americans have long been underrepresented among health care professionals. As of 2005, blacks made up slightly more than 8 percent of first-year medical students in the United States – roughly half of their share of the U.S. population (15.4 percent in 2007), and just 1 percent more than their share of first-year medical students in 1975.

This study, the first to examine the educational pipeline for black health care professionals, is based upon the National Longitudinal Study class of 1972, a comprehensive longitudinal survey of more than 13,000 Americans who graduated from high school in 1972, including about 1,450 African-Americans.

The cohort was tracked into their 30s, long enough to collect data on college attendance and graduation, post-collegiate schooling and career choices, Howell said. The representation of blacks in the 1972 cohort declined from 11 percent at the point of high school graduation, to 9 percent at college entry, to 7.2 percent at college graduation, and to 4.1 percent at the stage of entry to the health professions (which, for this study, included physicians, therapists, dentists, registered nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, optometrists, dietitians and veterinarians, among others.)
These statistics used in this study don't reflect the actual level of Black doctors practicing, for that number is less than four percent of all medical doctors are Black:
Despite the long-term contributions of Howard Universityand Meharry Medical School and, more recently,Morehouse School of Medicine and Charles Drew University, African Americans comprise only 3.5% of physicians7 and fewer than 1.5% of professor-level faculty positions at US medical school faculty (including professor-level faculty at minority-serving institutions).
Every effort has been put in place to get more Black people into medical school and have them become real-life Dr. Hibbert's. Yet, these efforts have failed, as a backward drift is occurring among Black enrollment at medical schools across the land:

In a concerted effort to increase minority inclusion in the early 1970's, entering minority students rose to almost 1,500 in 1974, or 10 percent of the entering class in the nation's medical schools. A goal of 12 percent set for 1976 was not met, and the figure has stayed around 10 percent.

The percentage of minority students in this country is increasing, while the pool of medical students remains relatively low. The 64,986 medical students admitted to medical schools in the 1990-91 academic year was the lowest total enrollment of the last 10 years. Meanwhile, the representation of minorities appears increasingly bleak.

The most striking racial trend for new medical students has been the decline of black men entering the profession, with 23 percent fewer black men enrolled in medical schools in 1990 than there were in 1971.

Those statistics are of course from 1990, when The Simpsons tidal wave over popular culture was just forming. How are the numbers today? Why don't we consult California?:

A new study on physicians in California shows a glaring gap between the number of doctors of color compared with the state's ethnically diverse population, especially among African Americans and Latinos.

At the same time, the state has a disproportionate number of Asian and white doctors, according to the UCSF study, which focuses on doctor ethnicity and language fluency.

It found that out of nearly 62,000 practicing doctors in California, only 5 percent are Latino even though Latinos comprise a third of the state's total population. Only 3 percent of doctors in California are black, compared with 7 percent of the state's overall black population. While Latinos and African Americans make up about 40 percent of the state's residents, fewer than 10 percent of California's doctors are black or Latino.

"This is a critical public health issue," said Dr. Kevin Grumbach, director of the UCSF Center for California Health Workforce Studies, which released the report Wednesday. "These patterns are real. The problem is even worse than we thought."

Black History Month has long celebrated the accomplishments of Black doctors, such as Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, never deciding to celebrate medical doctors who find watches left on dying men a tragic sin.

Dr. Julius Hibbert has been a mainstay on The Simpsons, a television show that has been viewed by millions. He is a Black doctor on that show, which in real-life doctors of his ilk register as a statistical anomaly. Stuff Black People Don't Like welcomes him to the fictional Black History Month celebration, for he offers a figure so undeniably rare in his profession that he might be the most celebrated Black doctor currently practicing medicine.

And he's a cartoon.


Anonymous said...

This week's episode of Simpsons sorta copied Family Guy's in the case of there being a black family ancestor not known about until later.
It kinda sickened me how the "past" Marge dumped her husband just to save the slave she didn't know for more than a few hours. Another case of "white woman going to the black guy".

Godffrey said...

^ Yeah, the Simpsons aren't what they used to be :(

Stuff Black People Don't Like said...

I haven't watched an episode of The Simposons (or for that matter any cartoon on Fox) in about 5 years.

Simpsons peaked in season four (thanks Conan O'Brien), and to me is almost irrelevant, were it not so popular on syndication.

How much longer does this show last?

Steve said...

"I haven't watched an episode of The Simposons (or for that matter any cartoon on Fox) in about 5 years".

You haven't missed anything, its become old and tired with frequent episodes pandering to the PC crowd. It used to have some great political humor poking fun at all, not anymore.

How long will it last? Hard to say MASH lasted for years after Alda destroyed it.