Over the past year and a half, I’ve witnessed many writers, critics and ideologues state with disdain that Black-ish “isn’t the Cosby show” — and they’re all right.
Black-ish is not The Cosby Show — it’s the show that the black community needs right now.
And last night’s episode on police brutality is undeniable proof.
Black-ish delivered an absolutely stunning, emotional, hilarious and insightful episode on state-sponsored violence and how we, black families, attempt to cope and deal with the issues that arise from it.
I’m still moved by how the show’s creators and writers tackled this topic — especially given the criticism (albeit unfair) the show received before it even premiered.
On one hand, white folks (and Stephen from Django Unchained type brothers) were opining that Kenya Barris’ creation was the embodiment of “reverse-racism” because it dared to feature a predominantly non-white cast.
But beyond that troubling attempt to frame blackness as being inherently anti-white — there were also attempts to base the show’s ultimate success or failure on whether it lived up to The Cosby Show.
While Barris’ admitted that he would be honoured to share the praise that Cosby Show and the Bernie Mac Show received, he was instead handed the challenge of outdoing the social impact Cliff and Claire had on the black community — an almost impossible task.
Before and after the premiere episode, think piece after think piece after think piece flooded the internet with declarations that this show simply could not live up to their lofty Cosby expectations. While I’ve always felt that sitcoms need at least a couple episodes (hell, even a couple seasons) of scrutiny before one decides whether or not the program is trash, I do believe it’s fine to simply not like a show.
But my problem with these complaints was that they were loaded with the ideology that Black-ish simply couldn’t present blackness with the same effectiveness that The Cosby Show did. The show didn’t fail on its own merits as much as it failed, in a couple episodes, to encapsulate the beautiful struggle of being black in America.
So when I first heard that Black-ish was going to address police brutality, a topic I’ve been researching and reporting for over a decade, I instantly grew nervous. While I have faith in the show’s writers to deliver tear-inducing hilarity on thoughtful, nuanced subjects, admittedly, there was a part of me that wondered if this topic was just too intense and temperamental for black folks to want portrayed in a situational comedy.
Unarmed black men, women and children are being added to the list of “police-involved shootings” every day, and the racial climate has reached a boiling point. And considering the oft-capricious nature of “Black Twitter,” I feared I would witness a great show get dragged online for attempting to lift subject matter far too heavy for them.
But my fears weren’t just disproven — they were wrong as hell.
Not only was I pleasantly surprised to see how well the show took on issues of distrust and specious hope, but I was shocked that the episode provided an unforgettable moment of black realness.
In one epic monologue from Anthony Anderson (“Dre,” father of the family) he explains his fear for Barack and Michelle Obama when they got out of their limo to walk around freely and greet the crowds following his inauguration.
When I heard that, we went from being fans of the show Black-ish to the Johnson’s extended family members.
As Dre expounded on his fear of seeing Barack Obama fall to an assassin’s bullet before he had an opportunity to bring forth the hope and change he promised us, my heart cried. It was a feeling that I’ve never expressed to another person and have never even expressed in my writing. To hear Dre recount his feelings, my feelings and the feelings of our collective black community in that instance provided me with an heavy emotions I’ve never felt from a black sitcom, or any sitcom for that matter, in years.
This was Will asking Philip Banks, “How come he don’t want me, man?”
This was George Jefferson screaming “you bastards!” after throwing a chair through his own storefront window after learning Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated.
This was Dwayne Wayne in the jail cell saying, “And you people still look at me as just another ni**er.”
The sheer brilliance of the writing, the directing, and the acting of Black-ish in this episode, combined with its record of creating hysterically funny TV, officially cements this show as one of the shows black folks need today. For its ability to provide hilarity during trying times and to fearlessly address everything from our seemingly minute everyday microaggressions to large scale systemic problems, this is the program we need today.
The Cosby Show will always have a special place in our hearts, but it’s time to let go of the past. The Cosby Show was what we needed in the 1980s, and Black-ish is what we need today.
End of story.