The landscape of prime-time television will get infused with more diversity when ABC’s new comedy “Black-ish” premieres Wednesday September 24, 2014. The title is ambiguous and evokes the feeling of intrigue hued with confusion. Watching the pilot episode can leave the viewers with deep concerns about which direction the show is headed. For a show that is non-committal by name, here’s a commentary on why committing to watching, might not be the greatest choice.
There is a whirlwind of misconceptions that are reeling throughout the pilot. The protagonist, named Andre Johnson, is jumbled and inconsistent. He claims that he wanted a better life for his kids than the way his wife and he were raised. The audience here assumes that both characters came from lesser means. Their adult lifestyle is a complete contrast. They are nestled in the bosom of suburban, and portrayed here, white and American sprawl. Through various attempts at comical dialogue, the show suggests that blackness is something that is learned and earned, has to be maintained through acts of “keeping it real”, and can be shed based on your socio-economic ranking. This is a sentiment that resonates for some in the African-American community. However, Andre’s response to his children’s lack of “blackness” is disastrous and borderline shameful. He wears an African garb, attempts a tribal ceremony with his son, and later dictates assumed cultural terms. In an argument with his wife named Rainbow he tells her she’s not even black. Here questions arise such as: Does he mean black in race or her ability to “keep it real?” How is she not black? What is she? What is he saying?
The Johnsons have what is labeled as “colorblind “children. Children who have no concept of race or the stigmas that comes with it. This is a ridiculous notion to grasp. They have two teenage s kids named Andre and Zoey. They also have two adolescent children named Diane and Jack. To believe in this claim of blatant non- awareness the viewers would have to assume: the children have no depth, have no access to media, and even further their parents have somehow abandoned all ties to the society in which they themselves were raised. Later their daughter claims she didn’t know Barack Obama was the first black president because he’s the only president she knows. Here the audience is asked to accept a multitude of claims as true. They are asked to believe that her father who’s so obsessed with maintaining “blackness” and his fraudulent militant father named Pops never mentioned it and also that it never came up at school or anywhere, by anyone, ever. Andre Jr wants to have a Bar Mitzvah. Here it’s apparent that he not only has no notion of his own culture, but others as well. Children are reflections of their parents. If the parents were as culturally conscious as they claim, their kids would be. The question then becomes: Why are these parents so shocked if this is how they raised them?
The show asks viewers to shirk off the heavy handed and rigid lines around racial identifiers and instead accept cultural fluidity. A noble and righteous message but these messengers are wrong. This family is wrought with cultural dysfunctions. It’s hard for anyone to be critical of any show attempting to put African-Americans on television. There’s a feeling of, “Can the audience even demand better content when it’s so rarely seen?” But the infrequency of diverse shows should mandate clarity of voice and purpose for their viewers. Satires and comedies create so many blurred lines between humor and societal commentary that when left unfiltered by logic; misunderstandings will cloud the shows entire meaning. The title “Black-ish” suggests what it means to be kind of, sort of black. After watching the premiere, the audience is left in the dark when it comes to the show’s message and kind of, sort of, confused.