Can I just say that 2014 was/hopefully 2015 continues to be an all-out bonkers banana bonanza year for network TV diversity? Three of the biggest hits have been about black Americans: How to Get Away with Murder, black-ish, and now Empire. But there's only one comedy among the three, and there's only one that will go after the big questions, like: what's the use of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day? According to the Johnson family, it's skiing, the one boundary left that hasn't been well-trod by black people. I, a black person, have indeed never been skiing, but that probably has more to do with my extremely small feet and the fact that I'm not and have never been rich. But that's just the window dressing to get into the real meat of the story: Dre's crisis about whether or not Jr. is a "bad black person."
I totally agree that Dave Chappelle should be canonized as a certified, official important Black Person. I don't agree that doing a retread of one of his best sketches ever, "I Know Black People," should have haunted the entire first half of the episode. But once it moved on from trivia to experiences, I began to enjoy the episode more, yet also began to wonder what it was trying to say, and, more importantly, how it was trying to say it.
There was a lot I enjoyed. I love Charlie, and his justifiable fear of Diane, souped up Fast & Furious car, and how there wasn't really any reason for him to be on this outing except that he's fantastically gross and funny. And Dre's white coworkers' white party made no sense but made for a fantastic visual. Bow and the kids? The more jokes, the better.
Okay, now the hard stuff.
It's hard to look at how much things have improved for this generation and how hard things continue to be. Dre grew up on the streets of LA during a time where that was explicitly unsafe. Now, his son may face hiring discrimination or be harassed by cops, but as a rich kid from private school, undoubtedly Jr. has had many advantages, and that might inform how he'd react to being pulled over or Whitey's free candy store.
I think the context is important, and while I'm not sure how much of this was intended, Dre has become as much of a caricature of his economic privilege as his boss is of white privilege. It's possible to pass through America as a black family without encountering daily reminders of racism. But while it's still pretty funny to watch Dre struggle through his bourgeois life, I certainly hope that any wildly uninformed white people who catch this episode watched it all the way through to the part where knowledge and a willingness to stand up against discrimination in all forms was emphasized, lest they get the idea that it's a cakewalk to be an actual black man in America.
No one should have to change the TV they're making to educate someone, but like the episode ultimately says, learning is crucial.
Image: Giphy (3)