A recent episode of the hit ABC sitcom Black-ish has been celebrated for evoking rivulets of tears among fans of the show for its thought-provoking commentary on the U.S. presidential election. Words like “powerful” and “historic” have been conjured up by some viewers to describe the episode, called “Lemons,” while others were rendered speechless by the performance of the show’s star Dre Johnson, played by the talented Anthony Anderson. Millions of fans across America of all colors and creeds sat captivated in their living rooms as Johnson recited an emotionally stirring speech that addressed the election of Donald Trump and was punctuated by images of slavery and civil rights oppression.
Yet, Anderson’s performance was just that: an act, strong on emotion and totally lacking in factual substance. Just the type of Hollywood performance that enthralls and motivates the democratic base, with the precise composition of fireworks, star power, and production wizardry to send viewers back in a liberal time machine and convince passengers that they are living in the 1800s Jim Crow South.
In other words, the Johnson’s are conflicted over exchanging their inherent black coolness for butt-clenching white awkwardness.
Such Caucasian social incompetence is on full display when a bespectacled, cardigan-sporting co-worker with a boyishly nerdy comb-over sets up the Johnson monologue by asking him, “Why do you not care about what’s happening to our country?” He is woefully unprepared for the Obama-esque lecture which is to follow.
Johnson theatrically responds with his keynote address on social justice as moody, grieving singing is heard and still images flash across the screen depicting the (50-60 year old) civil rights movement:
“What did you say to me? You don’t think I care about this country? I love this country even though at times it doesn’t love me back. For my whole life– my parents, my grandparents, me, most black people–this system has never worked for us. But we still play ball. Tried to do our best to live by the rules even though we knew they would never work out in our favor. Had to live in neighborhoods that you wouldn’t drive through. Send our kids to schools with books so beat up that you couldn’t read them, work jobs that you wouldn’t even consider in your nightmares. Black people wake up everyday believing that our lives are gonna change even though everything around us says it’s not.”
“Truth be told, you ask most black people and they tell you no matter who won this election they didn’t expect the hood to get better. But they still voted, because that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
“You think I’m not sad that Hillary didn’t win? That I’m not terrified about what Trump’s about to do? I’m used to things not going my way. I’m sorry that you’re not and it’s blowing your mind, so excuse me if I get a little offended because I didn’t see all of this outrage when everything was happening to all of my people since we were stuffed on boats in chains. I love this country as much–if not more–than you.”
Johnson executes a de facto microphone drop as he gets up from the table from which he was seated and leaves his colleagues in stunned shame. A slow clap seems appropriate here…
If the gushing, fawning fans prostrating themselves on Twitter and Facebook are any indication, the multi-layered hypocrisy of Anderson’s performance is lost on the masses.
Both Anderson and the character he portrays are anything but downtrodden. The prevailing theme of the show is that black Americans are unprepared to deal with their equality. ABC describes their Golden Globe winning show:
“Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson (Anthony Anderson) has a great job, a beautiful wife, Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), four kids and a colonial home in the ‘burbs. But has success brought too much assimilation for this black family? With a little help from his dad (Laurence Fishburne), Dre sets out to establish a sense of cultural identity for his family that honors their past while embracing the future.”
So what exactly did Johnson mean when he said, “For my whole life…this system has never worked for us?” Surely the system is operating with maximum impartiality and fairness if Johnson’s greatest concern is avoiding becoming too white. “Too much assimilation” is an insulting way of criticizing dull and flavorless white American culture.
Perhaps this is why Trump took exception to the hit television program long before the airing of this episode. As far back as 2014, the future president objected to Black-ish for the racist undertones inherent to a show that looks so derisively at white people.
How is ABC Television allowed to have a show entitled "Blackish"? Can you imagine the furor of a show, "Whiteish"! Racism at highest level?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2014
Both Dre Johnson and the man who plays him are, relatively speaking, privileged elitists. The character portrayed by Anderson is a successful advertising executive whose peers and superiors at work are often afraid to press him on certain issues for fear of being racially insensitive. Anderson himself is a career actor, unfamiliar with rejection since he began training as a comedic performer in high school and college, landing successive roles on television and the big screen with very few periods of unemployment.
Likewise, Johnson’s wife Rainbow (the name checks out, she is of mixed racial heritage), is a medical doctor and mother of four. Of course, she identifies as a black woman and is upset when her eldest son brings home a white girlfriend Incidentally, Dre Johnson is overjoyed that his wife feels this way because, as he puts it, they can both “distrust white people together.” He even jokingly remarks that their mutual disdain for white people could save their marriage, using humor that is typical of the show.
A recurring theme on Black-ish has Johnson antagonizing the multi-ethnic Rainbow for not being black enough. Lola Bakare of the Daily Dot finds this, and many of the show’s other themes, extremely off-putting.
“For every person of color who has ever been accused of ‘talking white’ or ‘not being black enough,’ this notion is utterly cringe-worthy,” she says.
The Johnson’s fear of assimilation is, ironically, the source of many black American’s present struggles. The rap culture that glorifies the pursuit of multiple sexual partners and results in too many single black mothers is a far greater threat to black prosperity than any systemic obstacles to success. The celebration of gangsterism and the objectification of women, two prevalent themes of urban rap culture, must be exchanged for assimilated values in order for some black American segments of society to emerge from the depths of poverty, crime and despair. Of course, this does not require black people to adopt a purely white way of living, as Johnson seems to perpetually fear; the multitudes of positive traits unique to black culture need only be emphasized and adapted to modern circumstances.
Instead, television shows like Black-ish succeed only in perpetuating the self-destructive aspects of black American culture. After some pensive reflection on what the election means for America, Johnson remarks, “I’ve been lucky enough to raise four beautiful children in a world that showed them Jay Z and Beyoncé as king and queen, a black family in the White House, and a woman run and almost win the presidency of the United States.” While the obsession with identity from the Left is worthy of condemnation, the true fault in Johnson’s conclusion is that he finds himself lucky that Jay Z and Beyoncé, two pop culture icons, have been coronated by the White House and serve as role models to black children.
Jay Z and Beyoncé are close Obama supporters, present at numerous fundraising events and practically fixtures on the campaign trail. Obama has consistently remarked about his personal closeness to the rapper, inviting him to private, invitation-only parties at the White House, and allowing daughters Sasha and Malia to attend his profanity-laden concerts.
For the writers of Black-ish to celebrate the social standing of the pop star duo and their familiarity with the Obama family is a sad commentary on American values. To make a role model of Jay Z is to disregard his troubled past as a crack dealer and self-professed street hustler. The millionaire rap mogul also shot his brother and stabbed a record producer in 1999.
If Anderson wishes to see conditions in “the hood” improved, a prudent place to start would be with denouncing artists like Jay Z who use the word “bitch” in over 50 percent of his songs. Perhaps Anderson and other black leaders should reevaluate the value system of a culture that venerates the denigration of women. The popularization of such disrespect results in 72 percent of black children living in single parent homes against a 25 percent national average.
Black-ish is undeserving of the gushing praise that media outlets like CNN, the Washington Post and Vox are excreting. Just because “there’s no Clinton cheerleading,” as Vox writer Alex Abad-Santos claims, does not mean that the episode should be applauded for taking a look at the election from all vantage points. Johnson’s colleague Lucy (Catherine Reitman) is immediately shouted down and condemned for admitting that she voted for Trump, and other characters in Johnson’s life are a picture of sadness and depression even two months after the election. Meanwhile, nameless white men are seen high-fiving in the corridors of Johnson’s workplace or mercilessly harassing minority workers, exalting in their Great White victory. It is a surreal image and a distorted view of post-election America that will likely become more fantastic as the Trump presidency progresses.
If there are competing narratives on the election offered by Black-ish, as so many in the media and Twitter inexplicably contend, they certainly are not about partisanship. The supposedly groundbreaking tolerance exhibited by the show is concerning just how racist America really is, or just how much to care about the election or fear a Trump presidency. These are all variations, though, of a decidedly intolerant, liberal disposition with little room for any real alternative political voices.
Remarking on the diverse variety of political opinions that the Left is claiming the episode portrayed, Anderson says, “It captured not only the voice of Andre, but also the voice of concerned Americans, and the voice of those who are also pro-Trump. This isn’t an anti-Trump script at all. It’s just a script about our reality in terms of what this election meant to us and what it means moving forward for the next four years.”
Surely, those who are pro-Trump would dispute Anderson’s claim that their views were represented by the episode.
When Lucy, who reluctantly admits to voting for Trump, defends herself against her coworker’s implications of racism, she makes the mistake of claiming to have black friends.
“I’m racist? I’m a racist? I have black friends,” Lucy responds. “They’re real. They’re real.”
Citing one’s black friends as evidence of tolerance, according to social justice advocates, is a social faux pas and is itself and indication of bigotry. Perhaps this is the pro-Trump voice to which Anderson refers? A foolishly misguided voice that is ignorant of its own innate racism, apparently. Black-ish has no space for a character actually committed to conservative principles, however, and Lucy admits that she voted for Obama in the last two elections, and only reluctantly selected Trump out of a distaste for Hillary Clinton and her failure to offer any new ideas.
Hailed for bravely displaying a diverse set of political expressions, in the end Black-ish really only succeeds in accommodating the spectrum of Leftist voices. From Rainbow Johnson on the far Left, who grieves the loss of Clinton like the death of a child, to Lucy the turncoat democrat, who grudgingly accepts Trump despite her numerous black friends, the story told is a decidedly liberal one.
When Johnson reflects on the way forward after over 50 million Americans voted for Trump, he offers this: “I don’t think that all, half, or even most of them are nuts.”
Unfortunately, this episode, and just about every other Black-ish episode ever aired, spent the last twenty minutes contradicting Johnson’s claim and characterizing the other side as anything but sane.