When I found out about Black-ish, a new comedy focused on an upper-middle class Black father worried about his family losing its Black identity in the midst of his come up, I was not beaming with excitement.
With that sort of premise, you can easily predict what you’re going to get: jokes themed around Black people doing this, whereas white people do that, which have long grown stale, along with cries from affluent Blacks struggling with whether or not a new zip code makes them “less down.” This, while working class Blacks – who have far more in terms of population than actual representation – continue to actually struggle.
When it comes to conversations about race – particularly through the prism of television – it often feels exhausting. Not so much that we have to still discuss and dissect the issue, but given the same things are being said over and over again. Frankly, some of these concerns were quickly proven true in the Black-ish pilot.
André, played by Anthony Anderson, does indeed take issue with his son André Jr. going by “Andy” with the rationale, “I think it says I’m edgy but approachable.” Likewise, he’s burdened by the fact that his son opts to play field hockey at his high school as opposed to basketball. This, coupled with their other children failing to realize that President Obama is the first Black president and André Sr., who works in advertising, getting a promotion as the head of a “urban” division as opposed to some division that doesn’t include racially-coded language in its title.
As André explains, “I wanted to be the first SVP who happened to be Black.”
With that all frustration comes André’s solution: Dressing up as Kwanzaa creator Maulana Karenga and forcing his kids to sit through a little history lesson – all in the name of “keeping it real.”
However, by the end of the pilot, I found myself less judgmental about the show and more hopeful about its promise. In the end, André realizes that it’s okay for his kids to just be. By the way, André Jr. likes to hoop, though in the hunt to be around more goals and ultimately touch a boob, it proved to be more fruitful to play field hockey for the foreseeable future.
This is all sweet and corny, but it’s an ABC family sitcom and that’s what it’s supposed to bring in addition to laughs. Moreover, I remembered that sometimes you have to present complicated issues like assimilation and cultural identity in the most mundane of ways for widespread audiences. I love us, but collectively we are not the brightest bunch.
That said, even in the pilot André goes on to proudly own his position as the VP of the urban division – realizing that in that space he can show he’s more than just a “cool black” while dually teaching this white owned company how not to pander to blacks when trying to advertise to them. You can often correct other people’s preconceived notions about who you are and what you represent by simply existing.
Though this show is nothing like The Cosby Show outside of both families living in a more comfortable tax bracket, Black-ish may at least share that sitcom’s ability to show Black people’s capability of being as multi-faceted as everyone else by just telling their story. And since it’s a TV show and a not a book on critical race theory, that’s perfectly reasonable.
How far this show’s fate goes depends on the level of support it gets. A few weeks ago, I attended a screening with Tracee Eliss Ross. During the Q&A portion, I asked Tracee if she felt the network was giving the show the kind of push it would need to survive. As I explained to her, there have been excellent post-Cosby Black family sitcoms like The Bernie Mac Show and Everybody Hates Chris, but their respective networks did them both a disservice in terms of seeking and keeping an audience. Tracee said, that given its post-Modern Family timeslot and its ample amount of promotion, ABC is proving it wants the show to succeed. The rest is left to us.
As a pilot, Black-ish offered some laughs and signs of plenty of attention. Most of all, though, it reminded me that even I sometimes have to know to look beyond the surface and not be so quick to make assumptions. It would be easy to write off the show on the name alone (which is more like “Black people’s shit” than diet Negro, FYI), but it would be wrong to.