“The Mythical and Majestic Black Family Returns to Television”
Black-ish comedically details the lives of an upper middle class African American family grappling with the assimilation of black culture into mainstream America. Andre Johnson, known as Dre (played by comedian Anthony Anderson), is a family man who deeply struggles to gain a sense of cultural identity while raising his four kids in a predominantly white, upper-middle-class neighborhood. Helping Dre cope with the pressure of “keepin’ it real” is his wife Rainbow, played by Tracee Ellis Ross (actress and daughter of famed singer Diana Ross) and his father, affectionately known as “Pops” is played by Matrix star Laurence Fishburne.
A bit jarring at times, Black-ish is brave, funny, and highly relatable. It breaks down the doors of antiquated, yet often used racial stereotypes held by both blacks and whites and deals with them head on in a clever and amusing way. The pilot starts off with a profound critique to the black community when father figure Dre states, “Black people have dropped a little bit of their culture and other people have picked it up.” He continues on by pointing out that “In the urban world Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke are R&B gods, Kim Kardashian is the symbol for big butts, and Asian guys are just un-holdable on the dance floor.” Dre even goes as far as to imagine that his family is standing on the front lawn hearing a white tour guide describing them as “the mythical and majestic black family out of their natural habitat, yet still thriving.”
Since its premiere, ABC’s “Black-ish” debuted to over 10 million viewers making it the season’s No. 1 New TV Show with Adults 18-49. Black-ish makes it easy for the average viewer to connect with its storyline and its plethora of clever jokes, but there might be some subject matters that may just surprise some people. As noted by Linda Holmes from NPR, “there’s a candor about the way that having money affects Dre and Rainbow’s sense of who they are and how they’re raising their kids that’s very uncommon in a world where the obviously rolling-in-dough families on Modern Family, for instance, almost never discuss it.” And she’s right. Whether due to ignorance for some, lack of diversity and/or white privilege for others we are easily blinded to how people, particularly minorities in this country experience the world. But where many sitcoms of the day choose to dance around racial presence, this particular one celebrates it. With that in mind is “the mythical and majestic black family” claim too off base in this day and age? I think not, seeing as most people are unaware of the fact that it has been 13 years since network television premiered a sitcom with an entire black cast (the last show being Bernie Mac Show in 2001). The black family sitcom, so prevalent in the mid to late 1990s has been hugely underrepresented on network television through much of the 2000s. An unfortunate break that, in my opinion, went far too long.
So what makes this sitcom stand out above the rest? It’s the fact that Black-ish successfully reintroduces America to the black family unit in its current and most true form. As an African American who’s also an avid TV viewer, what struck me most about it was the diversity of thought on what it means to be black in America. Much like the real life conversations I’ve personally engaged in each member of the Johnson family carries a unique viewpoint about what “black-ness” means to them. Whether it’s the two youngest twins who didn’t know “Obama was the first black president” or the two oldest siblings who are indifferent toward the same subject, the point is their experiences are valid and no one more valid than the other. That’s the kind of black family I grew up in, it’s the kind many of us grew up in. And that’s what makes this sitcom special.
In the end, Black-ish is smart, hip, and downright funny. Its fresh and interesting approach to conflict and dialog is easily relatable to people of all walks of life. Its brilliant cast makes the show feel warm and friendly even to the hardest of sceptics. At its worst, Black-ish is entertaining, at its best, it might help move the conversation of race forward in this country. Who knows, after 13 years, the Johnsons, similar to the Huxtables, might just be the one mythical family to help wake us up and get America really talking about race again.