The Black-ish Problem

The Black-ish Problem

2014-09-30-blackishkeyartfullWhen 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? 

  • uhnoneemus

    Pastor, we follow each other on social media, so you may know that I’m a fan of the show. This is the first time I am hearing the “post-racial Obama society” quote. That does make me cringe, but in reading the content at the link you provided, it seems like the tone of the forum where the quote was taken was somewhat light. I like their initial quotes but, in the words of Coach Gruden when RG3 alluded to his teammates shortcomings, “He just elaborated a little too much.” I think that comment might be rephrased or withheld if they had the opportunity to take the interview a little more seriously. Then again, the tone of the interview was similar to the tone of the show.

    I share your hopes for the future of the show and, in fact, it was one of the reasons why I became a fast fan. It has shown flashes of Richard Pryor-esque genius in terms of calling out ignorance and stereotypes and making you laugh… even if you are the offending party. You left a Richard Pryor saying, “That Richard is a fool… whew! Wait a minute… that’s kinda messed up.” Perhaps the folks behind Black-ish will be a little more bold in terms of the topics they tackle once they have secured a dedicated audience. A Different World was set on a college campus, so I think that backdrop worked well for social commentary Protests, black leaders in politics & art doing cameos as professors, poverty, race, discrimination, sexual assault… each week they could easily weave in something new. I see this show maybe more following the Cosby or Fresh Prince (to a lesser degree) example of periodically mixing in a more socially relevant episode with a serious tone among the typical light, universally appealing stuff.

    December 19, 2014 at 8:07 AM
  • Basnight

    I haven’t watched…. couldn’t get past the name and the concept…. The title implies that although you are black some people are just kind of black and I just can’t rock with that…. black is black… I have a huge problem with how the entertainment industry is depicting black people on prime time television…. Empire, Scandal & Being Mary Jane all feature beautiful black women who are basically “side chicks”…. and many black women LOVE these characters…. The Housewives of ATL are just embarrassing…. And Black Men on TV are either thugs, athletes or clowns (comedians)…. Different World featured educated black men, professors and students…. Cosby show featured a black doctor as the main character…. Fresh Prince a black Judge…. Family Matters had a Black genius…. WHAT HAPPENED?

    March 31, 2015 at 6:40 PM

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