The Black-ish Problem
When I first heard the title of the new ABC sitcom “Black-ish,” I decided immediately that I would never watch the show. Despite the fact that Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross and Laurence Fishbone are some of my favorite actors, I couldn’t get over the title… and the assumptions that come with it.
I guess I’m so jaded by the state of what passes for urban entertainment these days, that my immediate expectation was that the show would be another shuck-fest that trivializes the black family. My expectations have been shaped by our salacious appetite for reality shows and World Star.
Earlier this week I found myself spending some quality time with my wife doing one of her favorite things… watching syndicated sitcoms from the 90’s. On this particular occasion it happened to be “A Different World.” As I watched this particular episode about a heated racial altercation between students from an HBCU (the fictional Hillman College) and students from a predominantly white college, it occurred to me that shows like A Different World bravely attacked racial and societal hot-button issues.
I remember A Different World dealing with the Rodney King riots. I remember Family Matters dealing with safe sex, abstinence, gang violence. I remember Fresh Prince of Bel-Air dealing with AIDS and fatherlessness in the black community. I remember their producers recognizing that the platform given them was more than to entertain and make money. They recognized that they shaped culture as much as they mirrored it.
I also went ahead and watched a few episodes of Black-ish. As I expected, it’s hilarious! Their purpose is to highlight the comedic value of the cultural clashes that take place in America and that the issues would “also be relevant if the characters were Jewish, Latino, Asian, etc.” While I appreciate that, I cringed a little at a quote from Kenya Barris, the creator of the show, who said that “we live in a post racial Obama society where race and culture are talked about less than ever.” I cringed because recent events have shown us that we aren’t as post-racial as some think! I cringed because the fact race isn’t talked about contributes to the racial sickness in our country. Racism is a cancer that abides beneath the epidermis of our country. It isn’t as overt as it was in the 1960’s. We can ignore it… until the symptoms begin to surface as they have in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, and across our nation.
I hope that the producers of Black-ish recognize that for some, race is still the face of culture. I hope they will take full advantage of the platform that they have and address real issues. I hope that they will not devalue racial heritage while they celebrate the cultural similarities we share. I hope they won’t hide behind the punchlines… but use them to stimulate the discussions that we must have if we will truly be a post-racial society. If we will truly rid ourselves of this cancer.
Have you watched the show? What do you think about it? What do you think about the producers’ goals? Am I taking this too seriously? Do you remember those tense sitcoms from the 90’s? How did they make you feel? How did they make you think?