Blackish and Identity Representation

8 Oct

Blackish is a new comedy on ABC that is bringing more black representation to television.  The pilot episode premiered last week.  Based on the first episode, I would say the show is going to be a huge success.  When I first saw previews for Blackish I wasn’t sure what to think.  Surely, this show is not targeted towards young white females like myself.  The previews were hilarious though, so then I thought that since it is a comedy then the targeted demographic is expanded.  I for one immensely enjoy comedies, no matter what they are about.  My next thought though was if I would enjoy it because it is centered around a black perspective.  The fact that I had asked myself that was infuriating.  Growing up in a culture that celebrate white perspective in entertainment has sheltered me.  It probably was not until I was in high school that I watched a show with a black or other minority main character.  One of my favorite genres is anime, which is centered around Asian perspectives.  Why would I not enjoy a show centered around a black one?  Was I scared that the show would make me feel less powerful in my white perspective?  Was I afraid that I wouldn’t understand the themes the show would focus on?  I needed to let go of these predisposed feelings that white culture has given me and dive in.

Blackish features a black/mix family who is upper middle class living in a “white” neighborhood.  The main character, Andre (Dre for short), and his wife Rainbow grew up poor and knew that they wanted better for their children.  They wanted to escape the urban or ghetto stereotype and “make it” in a white world.  They live in a nice, big home with their four children and Dre’s dad “Pops.”. Rainbow is a doctor, Dre work for an advertising firm.  This first episode, and what I assume will be the basis of the show, is the family hanging onto their black culture while they challenge the norm of being black and upperclass.  We learn that Dre is getting promoted to vice president of a division within the company.  At work, he fits in with the black crowd and his assistant who is white.  He notes the differences between “them” and “us.”. “Them” meaning the white people who hold the higher power positions and” us” meaning all the black people left sitting around the conference table.  He is thrilled that this promotion will put him on the other side of the table with “them.”. He says that if one black person makes it, it feels as if they all have.  Then, Dre learns that he is becoming the VP of the Urban division.  He is infuriated that he was chosen for the job because he is black, and more so that he is still treated differently in the office because of his color.

At home, his children are posing other dilemmas to him on what it means to be black.  His son Andre is a freshman in high school.  He wants to play field hockey instead of basketball, lets his friends call him Andy, and wants to have a bar mitzvah for his birthday party.  Dre feels as if his son is trying to be perceived as having white characteristics in order to fit in instead of being true to his black culture.  His two youngest children come home and say they do not want to go on a play date with Lily, who has a polka dot book bag and smells like turkey burgers.  Dre realizes they are talking about the only other black girl in their class and is upset that they didn’t describe her as being black.  Rainbow is excited that her children do not see race and thinks their description of their classmate was appropriate.  Much more minor things happen through out the episode that emphasize their blackness and Dre’s problem to hold onto his black culture without being stereotyped.  For instance, Andre’s white friend starts raiding the fridge after school looking for grape soda.  A stereotype Dre is upset the boy assumed.  The funny thing though is that he found a can of grape soda in the fridge.

The name of the show comes from these dilemmas.  At one point in the episode Dre exclaims that he wants his family to be black, not blackish.  He doesn’t want his family to dismiss their own culture in order to be more accepted because they act white.  I think this message is inspiring to everyone.  To those who are black and working through the same issues as this family is.  Also to those of us who are not black but need to be made aware of these struggles of identity in comparison to power relationships.  I think that one dilemma I have is that the show is a comedy.  I think that most people would not watch a show featuring such strong race-centered messages if it were not something to laugh at and with.  People feel less like the bad guy if they are laughing.  On a personal level, I connect with Dre and his fight of being real to himself, his values, and identity.  I found that even though we come from different racial perspectives, we could connect on many things.

In a study by Elizabeth Monk-Turner, Mary Heisermn, Crystle Johnson, Vanity Cotton, and Manny Jackson called “The Potrayal of Racial Minorities on Prime Time Television: A Replication of the Mastro and Greenburg Study a Decade Later (2010)” it is said that minorities are underrepresented in TV.  In Mastro and Greenburg’s study in 2000, when they are represented they are portrayed negatively.  In both studies, African-American’s make up 16% of primetime characters.  This number has not changed in a decade.  I believe what has changed is how they are portrayed.  Now, black roles are more than just the portrayal of low-income, uneducated, lazy, or disrespected.  Positive images of blackness are being represented in TV now, which will hopefully have a positive impact on how people view them.  Also, I expect that the percentage of African-American representation in prime-time TV will increase in years to come thanks to shows such as Blackish becoming more popular.

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