On some sunny day in 2014, I was standing in the security check point line at the Disneyland Resort. I often marveled at the masses of human bodies the resort attracts, as well as the amount of diversity of the crowds that Disneyland entertains. Most of the time, I wish America looked that way; diverse and, mostly in harmony. That day, I was mostly annoyed by the heat and, daunting quantity of crowds entering the park. I had to find something to focus on. So, I turned my focus to an advertisement the back of one of the DCA lot buildings. It was a huge, yellow ad that simply read… Black*ish. I am a bi-racial Black woman and, representation of fair-skinned African-American’s has been almost non-existent with a few exceptions like, Angela Davis. Therefore, I was excited and full of hope that Black*ish was about folks like me; underrated and often disregarded at not black enough yet, acceptable enough to make white people comfortable being around. I can happily report that Black*ish delivered, and still does to this day.
Black*ish is a comedic and, progressive family sitcom from Creator of Color, Kenya Barris. The show is centered around the Johnson’s, a (you got it) black-ish, upper-middle-class ménage of seven, who reside in Sherman Oaks, California. The mainstays of the show are Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson (Anthony Anderson) and, Rainbow “Bow” Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross). Dre is a prominent Advertising Executive. Bow is an Anesthesiologist. The couple are in the center of five children, Zoey (Yara Shahidi); Andre Johnson Jr. “Jr” (Marcus Scribner); Jack (Miles Brown); Diane (Marsai Martin) and Toddler DeVante. Also, seemingly in the care of Dre and Rainbow are Dre’s parents, Pops (Laurence Fishbourne) and Ruby (Jenifer Lewis). This may sound like a few other African-American families many of us grew up watching. I can assure you, Black*ish is not the same. It’s so much more relatable and not always so politically correct and wholesome as family sitcoms of the past.
So, why is it called Black*ish? There have been many speculations and opinions. Former President Barack Obama found the show to be like watching his own family on screen. I have to agree with him. As an avid viewer and admirer of the show, I find Black*ish to be relatable because it explores the conflicts and beauty of being black in America. Including, not being black enough and, too black. In the “Black Like Us ” episode, Dre and Bow are furious that Diane’s class picture is “lightened” to make her look more visible. Bow, who is bi-racial, takes the lead on dealing with the school about the picture. This sparks a comical and then serious debate between the Johnson family. The focus is not completely taken away from Diane’s picture but, Dre and Ruby, suggest that Bow isn’t black enough to handle the situation. This not being the first time the Mother and Son duo have poked fun of Bow and Jr.’s “lighter shade.” Bow and Jr. are the lightest skinned members of the Johnson family and they quickly defend themselves as they have experienced just as much adversity just from being black. Just one example, people in the Johnson’s neighborhood don’t believe she’s an actual Doctor. While unquestionably funny, “Colorism” is a tense and not often talked about issue that Black*ish calls attention to. Yet, The Johnson’s always seem to tackle these issues as family and often resolve the debates with love and, understanding.
Dre is usually poking fun at his children’s and Rainbow’s own lack of black culture. While living large now, Dre didn’t come from inheritable wealth. He paved his own path and is an intelligent, strong black man. Rainbow, grew up on a commune until she was 12. Her bi-racial parents also make appearances on Black*ish. They are usually attacked by Dre, Ruby and Pops for their very “hippie” and “vegan” lifestyles. Watching both families interact is hilarious and very familiar as it doesn’t sugar coat even the protagonists own ignorances. Another aspect that stands out about Black*ish is putting “white privilege” on display. Dre, and his co-worker Charlie (Deon Cole) are the only two black men at 'Stevens & Lido'. Both men are constantly enduring and often retorting to the blatant ignorance of their boss and other white partners. The things that come out of mouths of the entitled characters will have most shaking their head in disbelief and yes, there are laughs that accompany their ignorance. But, sometimes Dre and Charlie have to get deep with them and, you can feel the tension, sadness, pain and, anger from wherever you are watching. This is so important because Black*ish has been using comedy to highlight black and white issues in America. This happens a lot in many of the episodes. One minute you are in stitches from hysterical laughter. The next, you’re going deep within and thinking. This show sparks conversations. Ones that need to be had.
I can go on-and-on about why Black*ish is the best family show on prime time television. There’s something for every kind of family despite race or culture. The dialogue between the parents and kids is progressive to say the least. The scripts are so well written and the cast plays their roles so well, you think you are apart of the mix. The Johnson clan gather for game nights, breaking news stories, LGBTQ advocacy, Prince and, collaborate on impressive family Halloween costumes. The conversations they have, together, as a family plant seeds of knowledge that are relatable for any age and any stage during a family’s growth. Black*ish has been so successful that it gave birth to two spin-offs. In 2018, Kenya Barris and Free Form produced Grown-ish, which follows Zoe during her time at college. And, in 2019, to my delight, Mixed-ish was aired. Mixed-ish takes us back to 1985 and, highlights Bow's life experiences as a mixed teenage. We get to see a bi-racial family navigate life and, how our beloved Rainbow Johnson came to be the icon and role model that she is now.
That is what Black*ish does. It unapologetically confronts truths by blending comedy and realism to perfection and, is easily understandable. The show should be considered as a resource for those seeking to dismantle their own misunderstandings of black culture. Black*ish is an essential watch especially during these times we are living in. It provides glimpses of realities that black people face, even when privileged. I often wonder how many people were turned on to Black*ish by that giant yellow advertisement at Disneyland. I also wonder how many people decided not to even give it a watch because of the title. As a Black*ish woman myself, I highly recommend anyone reading give Black*ish a watch no matter what color you are. I can almost assure you that if you don’t find the show to be absolutely hilarious and, you don't cry from laughing, you’ll at least find something within one of the story lines that is relatable to something you’ve experienced somewhere in your life. You’ll probably be on the floor laughing though.
You can stream Black*ish and Mixed*ish on Hulu and ABC Live. Grown*ish on Hulu and FreeFrom. All are available On Demand through most cable network TV providers.