“Black-ish” and its Realistic Representation of the Colorism Debate in the Black Family Dynamic

In light of the “Cosby Show” atrocity, “Black-ish” has emerged as the saving grace for a successful black family to exist within a predominately white social sphere. With the bravery to touch on racial injustice, police brutality, colorism, and slavery – “Black-ish” provides comfort in the representation of an overtly oppressed minority… even if that means to take a look at the black on black treatment within our own community.

Unlike “Good Times,” where Florida and James Evans and their children are constantly inundated with hardships, the Johnson family shines through the stereotypes and overcomes societal boundaries. The ever-loving father, Andre “Dre” Johnson, who is originally from Compton, pushed his way through college at Howard and became the advertising executive at Stevens and Lido. His bi-racial wife, Rainbow, is a prominent anesthesiologist with a glory of Afro-like curls – a statement to her natural roots. They are parents to four beautiful children – Diane, Zoey, Jack, and Junior – all of whom attend a private school in order to craft each child’s intelligence before applying to college. In addition, Dre and Rainbow take care of his parents by supporting them monetarily and allowing them to live in their house together, emphasizing the sense of familial love and togetherness that is not usually correlated with black families.

Though “Black-ish” touches on the wickedness of being black in America, one of the most important aspects the show highlights are the discrepancies within the black community itself – such as the dispute about colorism.

In season 5 episode 10, “Black Like Us,” creator Kenya Barris shifted the focal point of the episode toward the issues of complexion by spotlighting the youngest daughter, Diane, and Rainbow and Junior (both light-skinned), and puts them on opposite sides of the spectrum on the colorism debate.

Ruby Johnson, Dre’s mother, and Dre himself, constantly belittle Rainbow for her light skin and do their best to try to disparage her authentic blackness because she is part white. “Black-ish” showcases the cruelty and division between dark and light-skinned blacks, a prominent issue that was developed during slavery and still continues on into the contemporary era.

When Diane is not lighted correctly in a school photo, the audience is privy to the hardships and thoughtlessness of the truth behind the consequences of the different shades of blackness. Diane expresses the passing prejudice of everyday life by describing how she has been told that she is “gorgeous” for someone so dark, or how red lipstick is not made for women “like her.” (I would also like to take a moment and pause here to comment on the fact that colors were made for dark skin. Let’s be very real about that.) The utilization of Diane’s skin was clear, concise, and calculated, making the statement that discrimination against dark skin instills itself at a very early age and continues to live on.

To contrast Diane’s experiences are Rainbow and Junior. Ruby and Dre (both of which are significantly dark in comparison) argue that light-skinned blacks do not experience oppression and that the ridiculing comments made to both Rainbow and Junior on a daily basis are only meant to be seen as jokes. However, in this grueling process of trying to overcome prejudice, Ruby and Dre essentially attempt to reinforce the idea that Rainbow and Junior are not really black.

At the conclusion of the episode, Ruby confesses that the reason for her bigotry stems from her experience being dark and growing up in a Creole family. She was ostracized and belittled and in retaliation, harbored that abuse and targeted Rainbow in an attempt to overcome the oppression she was forced to handle at such a young age.

Though tough, “Black-ish” tackles sensitive issues head-on, and as a mixed, light-skinned black woman myself, the topic of colorism resonated heavily.

From having my identity stripped away from me by being told I am not black, or that I do not count because I am a “different” type of black, being able to witness this controversy out in the open, instead of being swept under the rug, from both sides of the colorism debate, has truly allowed me, and many others, to be able to understand that black is black no matter what.

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