I was apprehensive when ABC dropped their fall lineup of shows – the call for diversity is usually answered by some Uncle Toms. Seeing the adverts felt a lot like looking at those University brochures where you can tell they specifically plucked an Asian kid, a light skinned black kid, and then a dark skinned black kid to put on the face of the brochure. The show I am most apprehensive about – and consequentially couldn’t wait to watch – is Black-ish, a comedy about a father, Andre (played by Anthony Johnson), who is trying to keep his family latched to their culture while being a member of the upper class.
In the history of black television, we’ve seen it all. In the 70s and 80s, we were introduced to Blaxploitation and in the same breath, introduced to all black casts where the black man’s story was told in an upfront manner and seen from different perspectives; we witnessed the struggles of lower class black families in shows like Good Times and Stanford and Sons, we tuned in to black people like the Huxtables who lived comfortably as part of the “upper echelon” and tried to assimilate in white America. Later, in the 90’s, we saw the word “urban” take a new meaning, and the influx of boldness amongst black actors, actresses, directors who, in lieu of incidents such as the L.A Riots, were not afraid to talk and be brash about black culture and the demonization of black culture and black people during that of the time. It was a world all about us, at least from what the viewers saw when watching TV.
Not many black shows have been honest about the appropriation of black culture and even the different definitions that the word “culture” has amongst African-Americans. But that’s exactly how Black-ish starts: with a monologue on the bizarre reality of Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake being hailed as R&B gods and Kim K’s ass paving the way for big butts everywhere. So far, Black-ish hits the nail on the head on what is universally considered black culture and the current state it is in. Kind of. Almost.
Contemporary black TV has yet to capture the honesty it needs to dissecting black culture and its current state. I’m not talking about our rampant representation in reality TV: reality TV serves a very different purpose than sitcoms and dramas do. Sitcoms and dramas have always been a way to reflect current events. Black-ish is an almost perfect lens through which we see some of black America and the most rampant issues we face today. I say an almost perfect lens because it is not perfect (peep that weird comment Andre makes about his wife not being technically black because she’s mixed) but it is only the first episode, so I’ll give it time. It’s already getting the job done more than any Tyler Perry show aired in the last six years has ever done, so let’s give it a round of applause, everyone.
But then again, how many shows have we seen lately dedicated to bringing to light issues faced by black people, through the eyes of a black family? Even if it’s only talking about white boys saying the N-Word?
Black TV has not yet been able to show us the many facets or definitions of black culture amongst African-Americans. We tend to blur the lines between the culture built up here in America amongst black people and “African culture”. This is why I said Black-ish was an almost perfect lens.. There is a scene where Andre’s son wants a bar mitzvah but Andre isn’t having it, due to fear that his son is losing his culture. So his instant reaction is to throw his son an “African Rights of Passage Ceremony” which you can almost guess what that looked like; drums, beads, chanting what I think were ceremonial chants, ankhs, the whole African culture shebang. This definition of culture is not entirely new in black TV. We’ve had dudes in ankhs and kufis walking around calling random black girls “Nubian queens” since the days of A Different World and perhaps way before that. This belief that Africa has one culture is simplistic and way too ingrained in Black America for us to even ignore. I has given way to a lot of ignorance when it comes to knowing about African countries and the various people and cultures that inhabit these countries. We’re left with the question: what is our culture really made of and what exactly should we be trying to hold on to?
At the end of the day, Andre decided to throw his son a “bro-mitzva” where everyone dressed exactly like LL Cool J in the “I’m Bad” video.
You can tell that Black-ish is not meant to be a serious, critical commentary meant to make everyone uncomfortable. It’s an ABC show that airs at 9:30pm, for god sake. Whatever in depth messages on class and oppression you were looking forward to will not be found On this show. It is light, funny, and cringe-worthy at times. Not many people will be able to relate to an upper class black family. Nevertheless, it is a breath of fresh air during a time where we are witnessing the blatant theft of black culture right before our eyes and no one is doing something about it. It’s worth tuning into, despite the flaws.
Tags: black america