When I heard ABC greenlit a show titled Blackish, I cringed inside. Traditional networks don’t have a strong track record of embracing diversity, and the title was, well, kinda problematic for me. I didn’t want to see yet another sitcom that presented a caricature of Black life to the masses. As the buzz grew, I decided to give the premiere a shot.
Before the opening credits even rolled, Blackish had me hooked. I couldn’t get to Tweetdeck fast enough to comment. From the start of the show, I found myself nodding along and shouting “yes!” to the screen. Why? Because for the first time, a show actually got me. Not only did it get me, but it realistically portrayed my experience.
The focus of Blackish is the Johnson family—parents Andre and Rainbow; their four children, teens Zoe and Andre Jr., and fraternal twins Jack and Diane; plus Andre’s divorced parents Pops and Ruby. Dre and Bow (as the parents are affectionately called) are both educated professionals, working as a marketing VP and doctor, respectively. Dre grew up in the hood with divorced parents, and now he’s a successful VP and able to give his children all the things he didn’t have as a child. Bow is the child of interracial parents, and she tends to skew towards the hippy end of the spectrum. Ruby is that familiar Black mama who loves Jesus and collard greens, while Pops doles out advice on raising the kids which generally involves some type of punishment. Zoe and Junior, the teenagers, are the classic cool kid/nerd kid dichotomy, while Jack and Diane serve as comedic relief, with Diane’s sharp wit and Jack’s adorable cluelessness. Each episode of Blackish is centered on some aspect of the American family in the twenty-first century, whether it’s helping their teenager choose a college, or Dre struggling in the office.
After that first episode, I made sure that I was home every Wednesday night to catch Blackish. I quickly banished my worries that the first episode was a fluke designed to reel me in. I laughed and nodded along because I shared the same experiences. I’ve been the only Black person in too many offices, and lived through the awkward conversations with coworkers, and the moments when you’re expected to speak for All Black People on some subject. I grew up with Kool-aid and collard greens, getting whoopings (not spankings), and causing a ruckus with my three siblings. Blackish has been exceptionally accurate, as it depicts the life of a Black family in the twenty-first century. Like Rainbow and Dre, I’m a college-educated Black American, and I straddle two worlds 24/7.
I was having a chat with a colleague over coffee, when she leaned over and asked me if I watch Blackish. She gushed about how much she and her husband loved it, and she proclaimed it to be the best show on TV. I was shocked, because said colleague is White, and honestly it hadn’t even occurred to me that non-Black people would enjoy the show. When I asked my colleague why she loved the show so much, she responded, “It’s so realistic and relatable, especially the interactions between the husband and wife.”
All this time, I’ve looked at Blackish as a “Black show” but it’s so much more than that. Yes, it’s a show with a Black cast, showing a Black family, but the story is universal, which is a mark of its genius. You don’t have to be Black to get the jokes, or love the family dynamic. You’ve got three generations living together, two highly educated parents navigating their marriage, and four kids growing up in the twenty-first century. In the parents we see a somewhat egalitarian marriage, with both partners working outside the home and fulfilling in-home duties. It’s a sitcom, but Blackish isn’t afraid to delve into serious topics, like their recent episode highlighting #BlackLivesMatter. Instead of making police brutality the background story, the episode portrayed what every Black parent is going through—figuring out how to explain traumatic current events to their children.
Blackish is a “Black” show by Hollywood’s standards, but its success proves that viewers can still relate to the show, regardless of race. For many years, Black viewers have asked Hollywood to stop with the over-the-top reality shows and unrealistic characters, and present a show that featured more realistic families. Blackish answers that call, chronicling the experience of a regular Black family. Ninety percent of the situations on Blackish are situations that all families face, from your teen getting their driver’s license, to navigating relationships with extended family. It’s kind of a weekly segment of “Black people, they’re just like us!” But the show doesn’t shy away from its place as a Black show. It celebrates Blackness and it’s various forms. Oftentimes Black families in the media are presented as monolithic but Blackish avoids that rookie mistake. The show also avoids trying to hard to appeal to non-Black viewers, which has been the doom of many shows with diverse cast. Each episode gives a feeling that it was written with a Black audience in mind, but with a twist that makes it accessible for all.
I expected the worst, but what I found was a smart, funny show. It gives the average Black family a chance to see themselves reflected on TV, which is still a radical thing, even in 2016. Yet the stories that the show presents are relatable to all. My hope is that with the continued success of Blackish, networks will continue to greenlight shows with diverse casts. But we need more than diverse casts—we also need shows that portray authentic experiences and aren’t simply pandering to a broad audience. In the meantime, I’m going to spend my Wednesday nights with the Johnson family and enjoy the laughs.