Is it racist to have a white person as the voice of a black cartoon character? I'm going to go out on a limb and say yes.
In this new animated series from Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, Mike Henry, a white voice-over actor plays Cleveland Brown, an African-American sidekick on Family Guy who's now getting his own spinoff show like Sherman Helmsley did as George Jefferson.
Helmsley, however, was an actual black man, not just a white guy in blackface. Except, what Henry is doing is the cartoon equivalent of blackface. Yes, Bugs Bunny dressed up in blackface, but it was totally different.
With the possible exception of Robert Downey, Jr. who received an Oscar nomination for it, most white people who do blackface these days are the subject of harsh criticism. In the 1950s, Civil Rights groups like the NAACP worked to get rid of blackface portrayals. Blackface perpetuated gross and highly offensive stereotypes about African-Americans, and if there could be any description of The Cleveland Show, I would say that would be it.
A similar assessment could be said of The Boondocks, but at least that show was created and starred a black person who plays the voice of the main character. I might feel different if this show starred a black man who voiced Cleveland, but now all I see is a missed opportunity. I know in the film Coming to America (1988), Eddie Murphy dressed in whiteface, in order to play an elderly, Jewish man, but that was different.
Dressing in whiteface doesn't have the racist history that dressing in blackface does. Yes, I know this series is just trying to be comical and satirical, but when it comes to black culture, sometimes it's better left for black to handle. Besides, the show just plainly isn't funny. The jokes fall flat like when in the opening scene, as Cleveland and his overweight son are leaving, a couple people say, "Bye, chocolate people!" It's just stupid.
In another scene, the writers go for an obvious R. Kelly joke that is nothing if not totally lame. My suggestion would be for McFarlane to hire Aaron McGruder to be your show's head writer.
One Star out of Five Rated TV-14 Running Time: 30 mins. Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on FOX.