Friday, February 26, 2016

Blackish: The Confluence of Hope and Terror

The ABC series Blackish created quite a stir with this week's episode about a very timely issue. Here's how Bethonie Butler described it at the Washington Post:
The episode, titled “Hope,” finds the Johnson family watching news coverage of a case involving an African American teenager. They grapple with how to talk to the family’s youngest members — twins Jack and Diane — about the community reaction to the case and others like it...
Dre (Anthony Anderson) and his wife Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) have varying viewpoints about how much they should tell the twins about the case. Dre argues that they should tell the twins “the truth” and says “they’re not just children, they’re black children.”
“I’m not ready for them to think and see the world the way that you do,” Rainbow replies.
That captures the challenge of what it means to be a Black parent in this country...something white parents almost never have to confront. In this episode, it reaches its climax with this exchange.


When I wrote about the life of Virginia McLaurin, I talked about how many Black families made Barack Obama a part of their family. What Dre describes in this episode is one of the consequences of that - the terror that he would be assassinated, which arrives right along side the hope he embodied.

Every now and then, as I watch the reactions of African Americans to events in our country and/or their own lives, I get a stark reminder of the way our history colors our vision of the present very differently. That was the subject of much discussion when the verdict in the OJ Simpson case was released. But what Dre talked about in that clip up above was another one that not a lot of white people were exposed to. We all witnessed the joy and the hope on Inauguration Day in January 2009 - many of us shared those feelings. But the terror was there too.

I witnessed the same thing when Barack Obama won the Iowa primary in 2008. As many have noted, that's when a lot of African Americans took notice. But as we were all celebrating the glimmer of hope that represented, I was also exposed to the reaction of many Black people like the one described by someone with the screen name "Hubris Sonic" in a blog post titled: Pride and Palpitations. He does a wonderful job of capturing the moment when the outcome was announced and his family all gathered around the television to watch Barack Obama give his victory speech.
It took an eternity for Obama to get to the mic to speak, and in that eternity, I felt the muscles in my neck tense up. The stepson wrapped his hand about his legs and bored in to the screen. And once Obama started talking, after about fifteen seconds, my wife suddenly flipped over towards the wall, covering her head and saying through the muffled blankets...
“I can't watch!”
And in that moment, she verbalized exactly what was on my mind, and I dare say what was on the minds of a considerable majority of the African Americans watching him call down verbal thunder in those minutes.
We...were afraid.
I found myself not unconsciously scanning the roaring crowd, praying to not see a weapon pop above the throng and point at him. I couldn't stop myself. When the camera lingered on him too long during stretches of the speech, I averted my eyes for a few seconds, fearful that I might catch a tragic moment playing out in horrific real-time. I'd look back again a second or two later.
I found I couldn't really absorb or analyze the speech as I'd have liked. I was too busy checking out cameras in the crowd held aloft, and wondering about security. “Jesus, he gets so many people at his events! How the fuck is he gonna secure the venues? Ohhhhh man...”
Just as with that clip above from Blackish, that was a moment when this white woman got a tiny glimpse into what it means to be an African American in this country. I knew then that, in order to understand my fellow Americans, I had to have some awareness about how hope and terror so often arrive together. One particular Black woman - Michelle Obama - obviously felt it too.

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