Why Everyone Needs To Give The Sitcom Blackish A Chance
My girlfriend introduced me to the show blackish and I found myself being unfairly skeptical of the show’s title without knowing anything else about it. I decided that being skeptical and not at least trying to give it a chance was simply not good enough for me or my girlfriend, so I went into it with an open mind.
Before we watched my first episode, I knew very little about the show’s premise besides the fact that it involved a black family. I thought of it as a “Black Modern Family” before ever watching a scene. But oh man, was I wrong and ignorant for thinking that.
Blackish revolves around an affluent, black, middle class family living in the suburbs of Los Angeles. This is understood fairly quickly on. But there was something larger going on throughout the show’s storylines that took a strong hold of my attention.
It’s important to remember that the show’s family is black and well-off financially — two things that do not necessarily go hand-in-hand in mainstream American culture and media. The show airs on ABC, a subsidiary of Disney, one of the biggest media conglomerates in the world.
The father, Andre “Dre” Johnson Sr. (Anthony Anderson) is an advertising executive, while the mother, Rainbow “Bow” Johnson is an anesthesiologist. In other words, the Johnson’s live extremely comfortably with their four children, grandmother and nanny in a spacious suburban house.
But the real plight of the show is that of the father, Dre, who is forced to ask the question of how he’ll choose to raise his kids and identify his family. Will he assimilate them to the status quo of middle class suburbia or will he embrace his African-American roots that prides itself on being culturally-dynamic, independent and proud of its history? Not to spoil it, but Dre flip-flops with his approach many times, understandably so. He obviously wants what’s best for his children, but he’s also weary of bringing too much of his past and culture — something drastically important to who he is — into the family’s daily life. He is being consciously aware of the American mainstream attitudes and perceptions towards black people and black culture, regardless of what socioeconomic background they may fall under.
In the first three episodes I watched, each touched on an important problem in American society and started conversations that we should all be having. These episodes included discussions on the representations of black people in toy stores, the “issues” with giving black children culturally-black names, and the importance of participating in jury-duty so everyone is granted fair and equal due process in a court of law, even though it may be under a broken criminal justice system.
One of my favorite examples of the sitcom’s keen ability to shake up social norms is when Dre hears about the option of “paternity leave” at his work place. To put this situation in perspective, Dre and Bow are expecting a newborn soon and they want one of them to stay home for while after the baby is born. But Bow is trying to get a promotion at work and she fears her employers will get the wrong impression if they see she’s pregnant because that equals time off from work, meaning she won’t be viewed as the best candidate available. Dre strongly considers going down the paternity leave road after a friend recommends it to him to help Bow out. The moral of the story is taking leave from work due to a recent pregnancy is not embraced or rewarded in Western culture as it should be. Mothers, therefore, carry the burden and are expected to take leave (sometimes without compensation) while fathers aren’t. This challenges our notion of what’s socially acceptable while forcing us to realize “Hey, maybe having the father stay home with the newborn isn’t such a bad or weird idea after all.” Because the truth is of course it’s not — it’s just one society does not teach us. Blackish breaks through these fabrics of traditional norms and guides its viewers to seriously question what’s viewed as “normal” and why.
Blackish is insanely comical, as most family-based sitcoms tend to be, but the reason this particular sitcom is so rewarding is because of the perspectives it gives into a situation most people aren’t exposed to or consciously aware of. My girlfriend and I didn’t realize or think to ask ourselves what it was like for black middle class families in America before we started watching blackish.
1. What is important to them? What forms of discrimination are they faced with?
2. How do they cope or deal with societal issues living in a “white-picket fenced” community?
3. What must they choose to tell to, or hide from, their children, and how do they make those crucial decisions?
These are only some of the questions we are forced to consider when watching blackish.
The ABC sitcom does an amazing job of putting the viewer in a vulnerable position to think critically about societal problems that many vulnerable and marginalized people are actually faced with on a daily basis. Blackish forces you to understand that we all have our own varying perceptions of reality, even though it may not be true in someone else’s shoes.
The mainstream entertainment industry in America needs more shows like blackish to offer up that diverse perspective through another equally valid experience of an entire community.
Do yourself a favor and go watch blackish — you can thank my girlfriend later, just as I do every time we finish an episode.