Blackish: The Word
“Thank you to all the straight white guys who dominated movies and TV so hard and for so long that stories about anyone else seem kind of fresh and original now.”
Alan Yang, Master of None co-creator
As a Puerto Rican living in the United States I gravitate toward the television shows that portray what is like to live in a country as diverse as the United States is. A same sex couple, a young Chinese American family, and an older white man married to a Latin bombshell 20 years younger are some of the characters I watch each season. Stereotypical characters and situations are never scarce in these shows much like they are in real life.
Recently, the second season of Blackish, one of my favorite shows, started. Its first episode, “The Word”, discusses in detail a word that had divided American society for generations. It turns out that Jack, the youngest son of Andre and Rainbow Johnson, an upper middle class African American couple, had decided to show off his dancing skills at the school talent show to the beat of the song Gold Digger. Against the recommendation of his twin sister, he used the original version of the song as opposed to the radio edit. All of the attendees are having a great time until the n word is heard in the song. The teacher freaked out, turned the music off and the kid, who does not understand the baggage of such a word, got suspended from school following a zero tolerance policy previously established thanks to Rainbow’s activist spirit. We also learned it was Andre the one responsible for his kid to sing the n word outloud.
In trying to prevent the six year old from getting outed from the private school he attends, Andre discovers the different meanings and perceptions that surround the word that until now he had thought he and his generation of black men and women owned. These meanings and perceptions are dependant on age, the color of the skin, social classes and cultural experiences. The quest only gets funnier and more complicated when his black coworkers explain their white coworkers who is and who is not allowed to use the word. “Dominicans: yeah, Puerto Ricans: it depends. JLo, Ricky Martin, and Menudo Puerto Ricans are off limits; but Rosie Peréz and Fat Joe Puerto Ricans are cool.”
After going through the rules of the game as established by the black characters one might get confused as everyone who was involved was. As a Puerto Rican, who is not planning to use this word, I tried to understand if the rules were based on the color of my skin, my street savviness or something else. After all white Dominicans do exist, Jenny is from the block and traveled on the 6, and Fat Joe has very light brown skin.
Initially, I saw this messed up explanation as a lost opportunity to help the audience understand what the word really means for the black population in the United States. I later understood it was done on purpose to help Andre conclude he is confused too and “Americans are schizophrenic” when it comes to the n word.