How does television influence parenting skills in a modern world of privilege and prejudice? Ernest Roberts examines the impact of ABC’s hit show, Black-ish.
When I was a child, my parents didn’t take time to gather our family for an intimate discussion about race. There was no coming of age speech, warning us of all the inequalities society had laid out for us. Nor did they inform us of the potential to be treated differently in the classroom, not be invited to parties, or given the benefit of the doubt if we were accused of breaking the rules—better yet the law. To them, the only thing that mattered was hard work. If approached with an issue, we discussed it, learned from it and moved on with our lives. Dwelling and/or generalizing any person or group of anything was out of the question—we were disciplined. “Ernie, just do the best you can do, and that’s all you can do” is what my mom says to this day.
It’s an approach I find admirable of parents, even in an age when there are clear issues we face in this country. Some so problematic it’s nearly likely breaking news like drug abuse, killings, and the Achilles heel in today’s climate, police brutality will reach the fingertips for children before a parent has time to text them a simple “hello.”
Almost as if he predicted the moment, during Black History Month, writer Peter Saji of the ABC series Black-ish took this beast of an issue and drove it into the ground, while staying true to form.
Cleverly titled, “Hope” the cast of some familiar faces including Anthony Anderson (Dre), Tracee Ellis Ross (Rainbow), and Lawrence Fishburne (Pops) are huddled in their living room with their kids awaiting the verdict of a fictitious police brutality case. Doing their best job of keeping their little ones Jack (Miles Brown) and Diane (Marsai Martin) occupied with menial tasks (menus for dinner), they inevitably fall victim to coming up with a solution to disclose what is developing before them on the news.
Do I side with Dre, the patriarch of the family who deems it necessary to tell his children the truth and let them, “Know the world they are living in.” Or do you side with Bow, an endearing mother who values being young and innocent, and wants her children to be children, “For a little while longer.”
In the 1:30 segment that took place in their corridor, myself and I’m sure many viewers around the country did not see black or white. They saw parents grappling with a decision that will shape their children’s views and perspective of the world they live in.
As the episode nearly expires and the verdict is only minutes away, you see the parents summarize what they are watching on television with conflicting answers. When one of the children asks if police are the “Bad guys”, Dre and Pop answer “yes.” Mom simultaneously answers “no.”
Eloquently driving her message that while cops are out to protect communities, there are some bad cops out there, and they will be punished for breaking the law.
There was no accusation of police officers sharing these feelings, or capable of committing the same crimes. There was no warning of future threats in the black community or in the school system. It was not necessary for her to base the plight of America on the bad apples who continue to shame those who choose to protect and serve. She has faith in the system.
As the scene wrapped up it was clear that—despite this being heavily touted as a black issue—it is anything but black, white, or gray— this is an American issue. And as Americans, as parents (or future parents), it is our job to parent without prejudice, without falsehood, and without extremism. It is our duty to provide them a world they so innocently deserve, while protecting them from harm’s way.
Goodness will things ever be perfect and undoubtedly will we have more crimes that surface. But if every person does their job, just maybe we can raise responsible children who grow into men and women of the law who respect people and enjoy their work. Quite possibly could we educate our youth so fiercely they wish to impose laws as politicians if/when such actions occur. The point is, we need to do better, we have to do better, and we can do better.
Black-ish is an excellent start to build a conversation about this issue, but it will take everyone to “Do the best they can do”, and know that’s all that we can do.
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