Premiering in September of 2014, Blackish, stylized as Black-ish, is an American sit-com that focuses around an upper-middle class African American family. The show stars Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, who play Andre Johnson and Rainbow Johnson respectively.
The show has received mostly positively reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, who gave the show an 86% rating based on 56 reviews. Unlike other shows of a similar genre, Blackish engages a non-target specific audience, while simultaneously focusing on issues of racial equality and cultural stereotypes that are prevalent in American television.
However, despite its best efforts, Blackish has come under fire for indulging in casual homophobia, as well as cheapening what it means to be African American.
In the second episode of the first season, Anthony Anderson’s character tries explaining to his eldest son the ins and outs of sex, a commonplace trope in American television that usually pits parental-styled awkwardness against child knowledge in an awkward and delightful mixture. However, during the moments before the talk, Laurence Fishburne’s character comments that the way his son is stretching looked “a little gay.”
On the surface, the comment seems harmless, mainly because of how casually it’s delivered. However, understanding that the African American culture is fraught with generations of ingrained homophobia brings to light an entirely different concern. Instead of continually stigmatizing an already highly frowned upon topic, Blackish could have used the opportunity to demonstrate that there’s nothing inherently wrong with being gay, and that words like “lame” and “stupid” aren’t interchangeable for gay.
Similarly, Blackish seems to portray the one and only effective means of being black: keeping it real. In this way, being African American is little more than the commonplace sports and fried chicken that are typically associated with African Americans, but in a more demeaning fashion. Instead of reflecting what it means to be African American, by demonstrating that African Americans are people with thoughts, dreams and desires, with motivations and fears, the producers of Blackish cheapened their characters by reducing them to basketball and fried chicken.
On the other hand, lead actress Tracee Ellis Ross commented that because of her role on Blackish, she was forced to reevaluate herself, not only as a person, but as a black woman. In her previous roles, Ellis played black women. However, on her role as Rainbow Johnson, Ellis plays a bi-racial woman, which caused her to look at herself in a different light.
As the premise of the show is the satirical question of whether or not the Johnson family is black, or blackish, Ellis’ questioning of herself seems to be the point of series, even if delivered in a comical formula. The Johnson family is black, not because of the food they eat or the neighborhood they live in. they’re black because of their unique history that’s shared with others, others who identify themselves as African American. They are a people who share a history, who share a reality of struggling in a country full of racial and ethnic inequalities. Despite their skin colors, their socioeconomic standing, they are African American.