CONTAINMENT CULTURE IN BLACK-ISH

blackish

 

Black-ish (2014-) is a sitcom that follows Andre “Dre” Johnson, a black, upper-middle class man, who is struggling to find a balance between appreciating his culture and assimilating into “white life” in order to improve his successes. Dre receives a promotion at his predominantly white office as senior Vice President, however is surprised and disheartened when he is named as head of the firm’s Urban division. Furthermore, the difficulty to balance the cultures is conveyed through his wife, Rainbow. Rainbow is a doctor who has received criticisms and doubts for being both biracial and female, and therefore incapable.

Dre’s family identity clash is also emphasized by his son Andre who prefers to go by Andy, because “it says I’m edgy but approachable”. Andy also decides to try out for field hockey rather than basketball, much to his dad’s dismay. When his son suggests he wants a bar mitzvah to celebrate his 13th birthday, Dre instead decides to throw him an African manhood initiation ceremony. This idea is quickly forgotten when the grandpa states, “we are not African, we’re black”.

Throughout the show, Dre struggles with the binary thoughts created by containment culture, and the notions of “us against them”. He explains how when sitting in a conference room there is a clear divide against “us”; the diverse lower level executives, and “them”; the upper level white executives, with that divide being manifested in both the snacks they have and the respect they receive. The reality of the tragedy of forced assimilation is conveyed when Dre explains his motivations of how as a kid from the hood he dreamed of providing his family a better life than what he experienced. Acting more white and less black, or “hood”, was the catalyst to society’s acceptance of him as a successful man.

While society has made progress in segregation and racism since the Cold War era, there are still improvements to be made. Gone is the 1940’s inability for African Americans to move to the suburbs, but still prevalent is an underlying tone of suspicion regarding those who are unlike the white, middle- classers; that difference lying in race, religion, or social status. The idea remains that there can be no ambiguity in safety, one is either dangerous or they are not. Most are no longer on the hunt for communists amongst “them” but that overall distrust still remains, and was furthered post 9-11, conveyed by a surge in xenophobia.

The forced assimilation and resurgence of containment culture that is faced by the Johnson family is best summed up by the line, “behold a mythical and majestic black family out of their element in the suburbs”.

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One thought on “CONTAINMENT CULTURE IN BLACK-ISH”

  1. First of all, I would like to compliment you on this excellent analysis. I love the show Black-ish, and it was a great idea to apply it to containment culture in this way.

    I found it interesting how you pointed out the “us vs. them” attitude in Dre’s life. Dre was just as suspicious of the white executives as they were of him. While the show presents this in a funny, satirical way, it most certainly echoes Cold War rhetoric and the problem of the impending threat. Everyone, no matter their background, had this ever-present fear of the “other” and how that entity might destroy them. The containment culture created distrust on both sides of the conflict, even within America. In fact, that distrust extended beyond race lines and seeped even between different families, as neighbors were encouraged to and actively kept surveillance of each other.

    Again, I really enjoyed reading your post. Thank you for giving me a different perspective on something I’m so fond of!

    Like

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