by Hermene Hartman, Sylvester Cosby and Aquantee Hendricks
WE were at the office having a discussion on the new sitcom, "Black-ish" and I realized we were of different generations and had different viewpoints. So we all wrote our interpretations of the program. Based on our "water cooler" conversations, this is a collaborative review.
A new word has been added to the Americano vocabulary - Black-ish. Is it a noun or an adjective? It is yet a new word to be added to the description of Blackness or African "Americanese." It is, perhaps a contemporary view on race relations. It will explain, defend, and possibly offend depending on who you are and where you are in your status/station of life. The show is certain to be controversial. The new ABC sitcom (Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.) premiere had a viewing audience of more than 11 million in its debut. That's a hit in TV language.
Black-ish is about a Black suburban family whose patriarch fears his kids are losing touch with their heritage, starring Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laurence Fishburne and introducing four young actors/actresses. This is not an extension or update on The Cosby Show, who was just an American family that was Black but quite average in its middle class happenings. This is different. Black-ish is a cross generational view of a well to do Black family living in America with a Black consciousness. (Ellis Ross), the mother is of mixed race and is a doctor. She is liberal. The family consists of four children and a live-in granddad.
This is a family you might know. The father (Anthony Anderson) is an advertising executive at a white agency. He is up for a promotion in the company; his niche is carved out as the Senior Vice President of Urban Division, rather than Senior Vice President of Company. He thought he was to be Senior Vice President of the Company, but not so. How many times have we seen this situation? No matter how hard your efforts, your education, your profitability, your experience, your skill set - you are still marginalized to the "black" spot. His wife gives him the other side, a reality check that says you are Senior Vice President of something and what's wrong with "Urban Division?" He gets it. But does this mean he can't aspire to being Senior Vice President of the white company? Does he have to wait and do the Urban Division first or has he reached his height as "Urban VP?"
Laurence Fishburne is a boomer, an old school gent who probably recalls the civil rights struggle. He's probably experiencing with his grandchildren situations that he never absorbed or are just simply beyond his grasp. He observes his son's raising "new school" children." His grandson attends school with Jewish students. He comes home with friend announcing he wants a bar mitzvah. His white friend calls him "Andy" instead of Andre. Oh well. The father sees this as his son losing his very own culture heritage and calls for an emergency family meeting on cultural values and identity. The son wants to play field hockey as a sport rather than the traditional black male game of basketball. The father agrees to a "bro mitzvah." Something new.
What is "ish?"
Blackish raises fundamental questions about social class as black folk achieve upward social mobility. How do you raise kids who never wanted for anything to not forget "our struggle" or where we came from?" And what is black culture? Is it the affluent lifestyles of reality stars? Is it images of the basketball player's cars and their houses? What happens when rappers go Hollywood? The world has borrowed or taken "Black" culture characteristics. "Sista's" aren't the only ones with a big butt and a smile. But everybody borrows from each other. How does Kanye West really fit behind the closed doors in the Kardisian world? The world is a mixture
Black-ish presents an honest discussion on race and culture across generational lines. Change is clear and social progress has been made, but to what degree you might ask. This is a show of melting pot integration and how diversity looks today in our lives. How Blackness looks to the hip hopper is different than how it looks to the millennium or the boomer, is the essence of the first episode. Times have changed. Society has changed. There are a large percentage of 20 something's who don't have a clue or appreciate the struggle of some of our black icons. Hopefully "black-ish" will provide nuggets here and there. Blackish will provide history lessons infused with life lessons on who we are, who we have become and how other races perceive us. It also will be interesting to see how we make ourselves adapt into new worlds. Do we allow name changes? Do you allow others to make comments about black images seen on television, in the media and in reality?
Can you be happy and insulted at same time?
Black-ish examines a lot of issues that plague the middle/upper class African-Americans, issues that whites are probably not even aware of. How do you make life better for your children and their children without losing a sense of who you are? How do they not feel "the struggle" and still understand what it is to struggle? So many parents never want their children to feel the pain of racism. So much of Black culture has come out of hurt or triumphs from injustices never for their children to experience "racial pain." So we leave the "ghetto" and move to the suburbs. We put our children in the best schools, that are usually predominately white, and they never know about the troubled environments you left behind. In doing so, you leave one troubled environment for another.
You become "a different kind of Black person" or " not really Black," like being Black is terrible and because you are not a stereotype you are an anomaly. You go from Andre to Andy, and instead of being a Senior Vice President of the company you only get the "Urban" Division. The mother's character's name is "Rainbow" presents an interesting view, regarding her husband's promotion. If they didn't give the position to a Black person you would be upset, and you have the position you are still upset. It's difficult to be happy and insulted at the same time.
As a young woman contemplating a family, I struggle with how I want to raise my children. I will probably move to the suburbs and have the big back yard for the kids to run around in without the constant sounds of sirens. It is our jobs to preserve our culture. We have to teach our children that they are not anomalies, and to teach people who have only encountered black people on television that we are a great race of people. Where ever we go and what ever we do, it's always a "struggle" we have to learn how to adapt to this one.
Blackish is comedic with serious overtones and will open a lot of eyes. Already I have heard some say they don't like it because it establishes new stereotypes or it presents an unrealistic view on Black America. Black-ish is new and it's forthcoming episodes will probably be controversial. It WILL make us look at ourselves regardless if you're ages 5 to 80 or white or black.
I look forward to the new episodes this fall season.