Kenya Barris, the Emmy nominated showrunner, broke the mold when he created ABC’s Black-ish. The hit sitcom debuted to rave reviews in September, 2014 for its storytelling and humor in racial discourse, or lack thereof, in America. Some issues the show tackles include the perennial n-word challenge, colorism, police brutality, Donald Trump’s election, and Juneteenth. The series stars Anthony Anderson as Andre (Dre) Johnson, Tracee Ellis Ross as Rainbow (Bow) Johnson, Yara Shahidi as Zoey Johnson, Marcus Scribner as Andre Johnson Jr., Miles Brown as Jack Johnson, Marsai Martin as Diane Johnson, Laurence Fishburne as Pops, Jenifer Lewis as Ruby and Deon Cole as Charlie Telphy. The show has received 19 Emmy nominations, and one win for the “Hair Day” episode in 2020 for Outstanding Hairstyling. In 2020, the sitcom swept up six NAACP Image Awards, winning a number of categories, including Outstanding Comedy Series, and Supporting Actor and Actress.
In 2021, it is one of five top series nominated for the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Comedy Series. Here are 10 woke moments from the vanguard sitcom.
“The Word” episode of Season 2 begins with Jack rhyming to a Kanye West song, and letting the n-word slip at a school talent show. The word sparks the threat of expulsion for Jack and a debate among the characters about whether or not the word is acceptable to use. Bow's stance was pretty clear that no one should use it, while Dre disagreed. Meanwhile, at the office Dre's co-workers debated other labels, including African American and colored. Check out a clip of the the alternately funny and poignant discussion below:
The Season 2 episode of "Hope" focuses on the Johnson family's reactions to a court case involving an African American teenager who was the alleged victim of police violence, writes The Hollywood Reporter. When the children begin asking questions about the incident, Dre and Bow are conflicted about how to address the matter. Meanwhile, Dre’s parents (played by Laurence Fishburne and Jenifer Lewis) want to offer an “unvarnished look at how the legal system has treated black people, while Bow opts for a more hopeful message about what could be,” THR writes. Watch a clip of the intense scene below:
The “Lemons” episode of Season 3 follows the Johnson family as it reacts to Donald Trump’s win as president. The household struggles to overcome disappointment amid pressure to be conciliatory toward whites. Zoey (Yara Shahidi) and Junior (Marcus Scribner) make lemonade of the situation, re-enacting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech to relieve tension with white classmates. Watch a clip of the moving episode below:
‘WHO’S AFRAID OF THE BIG BLACK MAN?’
Long before Beckys and Karens were outed, Black men knew the perils of being caught alone with white girls, or women. In this Season 3 episode, when the elevator opens at Dre’s office when he finds a young white girl alone, staring up at him. After peering around, he skips the elevator instead of getting caught alone with the child. Dre’s bosses, however, fail to understand his motive as they review the security camera tape, and are dismissive as he tries to call on history to prove his point. But he gets off the hook when Charlie walks in and excuses his lateness by saying there was a “snowflake” in the elevator and he had to take the stairs to avoid her. “Careful, Dre,” he warns, “someone’s setting traps,” Entertainment Weekly notes. Watch a video clip of the hilarious moment when art imitates life.
‘ONE ANGRY MAN’
In the Season 3 “One Angry Man” episode, Dre is part of a trial for a young Black man named Antoine, who’s been accused of robbery. Antoine’s public defender confuses him with another case and enters the wrong plea before making the correction. “As soon as Dre realizes he’s the only Black person on the trial, he decides to make sure Antoine gets a fair trial, even if it means he’s the only one who votes ‘not guilty,’” Vulture writes. He lets the other jurors know he wants to make sure justice is served, refusing to allow yet another black man to be wrongly sentenced. Watch a clip of the emotional episode below:
In the “Juneteenth” episode of the Season 4 premiere, the Johnsons celebrate the importance of the holiday. The Roots band reenacts the history of the end of the slavery in the animated sequence, "I Am Slave.” Juneteenth is a celebration of the day that slavery was officially abolished in Texas on June 19, 1865. As The Roots note, the celebration happened two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863 and months after the Civil War ended. Texas farmers, however, decided to break the law in order to use free, enslaved labor for another harvest. As Questlove’s character points out, this was “not cool.” Watch a video clip of the episode below:
In the Season 4 episode, “Public Fool,” Dre tackles systemic racism in the U.S. public school system when Junior is expelled from the private school he loves so much, Valley Glen Prep. Bow and Dre worry how he will fare in public school. They worry if his educational future will be harmed, and can he come out from the experience unscathed? Watch the informative clip below:
‘BLACK LIKE US’
“Black Like Us" episode in Season 5 tackles the issue of colorism, “an advanced form of prejudice where people are discriminated against based on their skin tone. Simply put: It's the bigoted notion that lightskin is good and darkskin is bad,” making it a touchy subject, The Hollywood Reporter writes. Diane is one of the darkest-skinned members of the TV family. “So when the school improperly lights her for a class photo, the family is triggered. What ensues is a passionate discussion/argument in which the older members of the family make cases for how they have or haven't been respected on the basis of their complexion,” THR writes. Watch a clip below of the moving episode.
“Despite what the world tells us, all Black hair is beautiful,” Rainbow Johnson tells her daughter Diane in “Hair Day,” the Emmy Award-winning episode of Season 6 that follows the teen as she considers wearing her hair “natural.” “Black women and our hair have been at the center of economic, social, political and cultural movements in this country, [but] the story of that is not often told,” Tracee Ellis Ross, who plays Bow Johnson, told Variety Artisans (presented by HBO) in a conversation with the show’s Emmy Award-winning hair department head Araxi Lindsey. Watch a video clip of the important episode below:
‘PLEASE, BABY, PLEASE’
"Please, Baby, Please" which aired in August, 2020, was originally scheduled to air on February 27, 2018, but was pulled by ABC at the last minute due to “creative differences.” The episode shows Dre talking to his toddler son about political unrest and racism in the country in the form of a bedtime story, and he expresses many of his concerns about the state of the country a year after Donald Trump––whom he calls "the Shady King"—was elected, according to the BBC.
Watch the 52nd Annual NAACP awards on BET on Saturday, March 27, 2021 at 8/7C