Construction of Whiteness Through a Black Lens

19 Oct


Blackish is a new show becoming popular due to its acknowledgement of black culture and it’s majority black cast.  Episode 3 – “The Nod” features Dre, the father, teaching his son Andre an important gesture of black culture, The Nod.  According to Dre, when you come upon another black person in public it is an obligation to nod your head towards them in order to acknowledge them.  Even if this is a person you do not know.  Dre says this is an important nonverbal gesture of community because it shows that you have something in common, being black.  Rainbow, Dre’s wife and the children’s mother, seems to be on the opposite ends of these situations.  Andre not taking part in this cultural gesture is not an identity crisis to her.  Dre and his father are in agreement when it is said, “Pops, we fought to hard for these kids they have nothing else to struggle for.”  Rainbow exclaims, “isn’t that a good thing?”  To which Dre and his pops say “no!”

the nod


Dre comes to the conclusion that Andre needs black friends.  Since the kids are in private school they are the only black students there.  At work Dre he is faced with his own dilemma.  There is a new black employee named Charles.  They give one another “the nod” and make conversation.  He is happy to have a black coworker to connect with.  Dre soon finds out that Charles breaks many of the cultural/community rules that are unspoken.  For instance, he hugs too much, uses the urinal closest to the one Dre uses, and is too personal.  He wants to distance himself from Charles but realizes that he has a son close to Andre’s age and invites them over for dinner.  Also, Dre feels like he is obligated to be empathetic towards Charles because it is a part of “the struggle.”  During dinner that evening Charles is rude, too personal, and breaks many more rules.  Dre is close to kicking him and his son out of their home until he finds that Andre and Charles’ son getting along marvelously in the other room.  Though it isn’t their blackness that connects them, it is their “nerdy-ness.”  Dre comes to the conclusion that nerds are the ones now experiencing a social struggle and becomes more lenient with Andre.

not for use

The character I connect with best in this show is Rainbow.  She is probably the most “color-blind” of the entire family.  She has been through the same struggles that Dre has, but is not as pushy on the children to appreciate the struggle.  Rainbow is open to her children’s personalities and identities even in times that they do not participate in black culture. She is grateful that her children do not have to experience the black struggle and wants them to be color-blind as well. Rainbow is smart, empathetic, and supports her family members equally.  She is also there to mediate and be neutral in her family’s affairs.  She reminds me of myself and the place we hold in our families as observers and mediators.

In this episode there were not any white characters included in the story line.  They were bystanders in the background.  There was one scene where the youngest daughter, Diane, goes to work in the hospital with Rainbow for a sort of “career day.”  At some point Diane ends up in the emergency room and sees three badly injured patients wheeled by, all of which were white.  I do not see any implications in this though.  In other episodes I have noticed that when there is a white character featured that is the moment race is brought up.  For instance, whenever Dre has a conversation about or with a white person he is internalizing how he is treated by them due to race.  Blackish is portraying what whiteness means from the lens of a minority.  In Banjo and Fraley’s “The Wannabe, The Man, and Whitebread: Portrayals of Whiteness in Black Films” it is stated from Lewis (2004) that “because [‘racial minorities’] lives have been contained, limited, [and] excluded [by whiteness], racial minorities are one potential source of insight into an effort to understand how whiteness works today.”  Typically, whiteness is invisible and is not interrogated or negotiated in films because white is the dominant ideology.  Once we can evaluate whiteness as a racial lens such as other races are viewed can we understand how whiteness is constructed.  Blackish does a wonderful job of doing so by portraying how whiteness is perceived in a black perspective. I can honestly say that I feel more knowledgeable and understanding towards identity and race from seeing my whiteness from a new perspective.


One Response to “Construction of Whiteness Through a Black Lens”

  1. aquaticbarefoot October 23, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    Good to hear; That means the show has succeeded in it’s goal.

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