In our class discussion surrounding How to Be Black, we talked about the relationship between race and comedy and the way that comedy about race can be harmful, while some can have more positive effects on society. The new ABC family sitcom, “Black-ish,” is one example of this.
“Black-ish” is similar to How to Be Black – it’s funny but it also explicitly addresses specific issues centered around being black and middle class. The show delves into some serious topics such as using the “n” word and covers much of what Thurston discusses in How to Be The Black Friend and How to Be The Black Employee.
This video is an excerpt from the episode “THE Word” in which the use of the n-word is debated throughout the episode – at school, at work, and by the entire family.
“Black-ish” is also unique in that it brings up issues not only of being black but of being mixed race, as one of its main characters is biracial. Mixed race people have very little representation on television, seeing as they are usually portrayed as just one of their races, or their race is just not acknowledged. Tracee Ellis Ross, the actress who portrays the biracial mother in the family, describes her experience of being on “Black-ish.”
“For me personally, it has asked me to define myself before my race, because I am both. And yet, I identify as a black woman. And it’s really fun for me for the first time play a mixed person on television. Because I have never actually played that. On ‘Girlfriends’ I played a black woman. On ‘Reed Between the Lines’ I was a black woman. But [now] I am actually out as a mixed woman.”
Looking at how Tracee’s character experiences and interprets each of the racially charged situation alongside her fully black husband reminds everyone how varied the lives and experiences of different black people can be.
For this reason, “Black-ish” is not a regular family sitcom – highlights situations in which race relations take place and how black people navigate different environments. This brings us to the same question that was raised in class about How to Be Black: who is the audience supposed to be? Similar to How to Be Black, “Black-ish” seems to be meant for black people to relate to and for white people to learn from, using comedy to draw in and retain its viewers.