Are TV Shows “Black-ish” and “Mixed-ish” Racist-ish?

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Is there a trend in TV shows that promotes racism?

Consider the TV show “Black-ish,” which premiered in 2014 on ABC. It follows a black couple and their four children who are struggling with their black identity because they are very successful and living in a big house in an upper-class neighborhood. The father Andre Johnson, played by Anthony Anderson, worries that his family has culturally assimilated into the white community at the expense of their black heritage. His wife Raina Johnson, played by Tracee Ellis Ross, is biracial, adding to the family’s cultural dilemma. They don’t feel they fit the mold of the stereotypical black family.

“Black-ish” tackles such issues as colorism, upper class black privilege, workplace discrimination, and how to stay culturally black while succeeding financially and socially in life. Dre says he wants his family to be black, not “black-ish.”

Is that racist? Or at least racist-ish?

In one episode, the family goes out to dinner, where they meet Laila Ali (Mohammed Ali’s daughter). Dre’s sister tell Laila Ali that the children are afraid of her because she is “brown,” not because she is an undefeated boxer and the undisputed world champion. In another episode, Dre calls his wife “a mixed woman who isn’t really even black.”

Is that racist? Or at least racist-ish?

The show closely follows the real life of its creator, Kenya Barris, his biracial wife Raina, and their children.

Then came the TV show “The Neighborhood.” A white family from Michigan moves into a predominantly black Los Angeles neighborhood. The premiere episode has the Johnson family meeting their LA neighbors, the Butlers, who are surprised that they aren’t black simply because their last name is Johnson.

Is that racist? Or at least racist-ish?

“The Neighborhood,” which premiered on CBS in October of 2018, follows the tensions and comedy that ensue when the white Johnson family attempts to befriend their black neighbors, who don’t appreciate their mid-western neighborliness. Calvin Butler, the father played by Cedric the Entertainer, struggles with the friction caused by the cultural differences of his white mid-western neighbors and his own prejudices.

Calvin Butler tries to educate his new neighbors on how to live in a black neighborhood. Dave Johnson, the father played by Max Greenfield, learns for example, that blacks don’t slow clap, never wear short shorts, and can’t be racist. Then Dave learns that Calvin’s grown son can’t tell his father he’s dating a white girl because, “If she can’t use your comb, you don’t bring her home.”

Is that racist? Or at least racist-ish?

A spin-off show of “Black-ish” is “Mixed-ish,” a sit-com which premiered on September 24th, also on ABC. It follows a mixed race family that deals with issues in their daily lives based on how others see them. It’s based on the early life of the wife of the show’s creator, Kenya Barris. Raina “Rainbow” Barris, now an LA anesthesiologist, grew up in a mixed race family living in a commune in the 1980s.

The show opens with the “Black-ish” family watching TV. In commenting on Raina’s childhood, her husband Dre asks, “How did you ever survive your childhood?” That launches the show into Rainbow’s flashback to her childhood when she was 12 years old.

The “Mixed-ish” children face the dilemma of whether to assimilate into the modern culture or stay true to their hippie lifestyle after they move with their family from the culturally diverse commune to the materialistic suburbs. The three kids feel they must choose whether to identify with the black heritage of their mother or the white heritage of their father.

The children come home from their first day of school asking, “What is mixed?” After watching TV for the first time ever, the two youngest kids pick sides, with the son Johan dressing like a rapper and the youngest daughter Santamonica dressing like Madonna. The oldest daughter Rainbow is appalled. Then their Aunt DD comes over to the house and declares that the little girl looks like “a run-away house slave.”

Is that racist? Or at least racist-ish?

The show made many subtle references to the family’s core values. Rainbow shows her younger siblings her book about Che Guevera, the Marxist rebel who helped lead the Cuban Revolution that put communist Fidel Castro in power.

During a family discussion, the father holds “the talking stick.” Only the person holding the stick can talk. When one of the children makes a comment, the father asked, “Who interrupts?” “Fascists interrupt!” was the family’s programmed response. Later he asked, “Who conforms?” They all respond in chorus, “Capitalists!” You get the idea.

They also mentioned the Loving Act of 1967, a unanimous Supreme Court decision which struck down all state laws banning interracial marriage. This highly significant case came before the high court after Richard and Mildred Loving were each sentenced to a year in jail in Virginia for miscegenation (interracial marriage).

Tracee Ellis Ross plays Rainbow, the wife and mother, on “Black-ish,” while Arica Himmel plays Rainbow, the oldest daughter, on “Mixed-ish.” Anthony Anderson, who plays the father on “Black-ish,” was nominated for an Emmy as Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.

Another spin-off of “Black-ish” is the show “Grown-ish,” which has already been picked up for its third season on ABC. The sit-com follows the eldest “Black-ish” daughter Zoey as she goes off to college.

All thee “-ish” shows were created by Kenya Barris and are executive produced by Anthony Anderson. Barris was the co-creator, with Tyra Banks, of “America’s Next Top Model.” Barris recently announced he will be leaving ABC for Netflix.

Have you watched any of the “ish” shows? What do you think? Are they racist? Or at least racist-ish?

Kenya Barris’s wife, Raina “Rainbow” Barris, filed for divorce in 2014. But she withdrew her divorce complaint and they reconciled. The couple finally filed for divorce in August of 2019 after 20 years of marriage. Maybe Kenya’s next show should be called “Divorced-ish.”

 

Image from ew.com


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