Why You Should Be Watching ABC’s Blackish

If you missed last night’s season premiere of ABC’s family comedy Black-ish, than this is an oversight you want to correct ASAP.

Last night’s episode reminded me that network TV occasionally produces programs that are thought-provoking and hilarious – a balance not easily achieved.

If you avoided the show because of its content, than you missed insightful (and, yes, funny) dialogue about the use of the N-word in America. Here are just a few issues the show gets you thinking about:

* Generational differences in how words are used. The Johnson family has very different
perspectives on how the N-word should be used – and who can use it. Pops Johnson
(Laurence Fishburne) argues that the term is derogatory, while Dre claims that his
generation has reclaimed it for their own purposes. Not unlike the B-word, Dre
contends that it the N-word can be empowering – a point with which his parents
vigorously disagree. Dre gets caught off guard when his daughter, Zoey, mentions that
(presumably white) boys at school use the term all the time but that they are not
using it in a derogatory way.

* This fits with the second thought-provoking point; what terms should white people
use? In a hilarious meeting at work, Dre debates the N-word with his black
colleagues. When his white colleagues and boss weigh in on the conversation, other
terminology including African-American enter the terminology mix. While the exchange
is very funny, it pinpoints cultural tensions over terminology.

* The episode also points to the role of social status in the use of controversial
words. At the center of the episode is whether young Jack should be expelled for
dropping the N-word during his talent show performance. As Dre points out at the end
of episode, the consequences associated with using language varies dramatically by
social status. Paula Deen drops the N-word and suffers virtually no consequences,
while a child trying to navigate the mixed messages of language is facing expulsion.
This scene is excellent.

As with life, there are no easy answer. But, if you want to laugh and think, this is an episode you really must see.

About Double take Sociology

I am a Professor of Sociology, a Research Associate in the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, and an Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Community Engagement in the College of Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University. I research (and write about) social movements, mass media and politics. To find links to my research, visit www.DeanaRohlinger.com.
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