I’m a black man in America and I don’t get to play by the same rules. - Dre

Fuck Chris Brown. Fuck. Chris. Brown. I know, we live in a world where Casey Affleck can win an Oscar and Sean Penn can beat Madonna and go on to have an illustrious career, so why shouldn’t Chris Brown be able to guest star in a sitcom as a rapper trying to expand his career with sponsorships? Well, because fuck Chris Brown. Fuck Casey Affleck. Fuck Sean Penn. In a perfect world, none of these men would have careers after their abuses. They would pay their dues and fade into obscurity. But, we don’t live in that world. We live in a world of double standards and “Richard Youngsta” makes it clear that Black-ish is aware of these double standards and what they mean to black men…sort of.

Advertisement

Like the show says, black people have a different burden. There are fewer of us on mainstream television. There are fewer of us directing movies. There are fewer shows that focus on the diversity and complexity of our culture. So, the few shows that do exist, unfortunately, have the burden of representing an entire race for the majority. Dre is right, he should be able to make whatever commercial he wants. Tyler Perry should be able to make problematic movies that, actually, have a close relationship with the history of Black Theater and the Chitlin’ Circuit, but guess what? The white gaze is real and Tyler Perry and Dre can’t escape it. White audiences at a Tyler Perry movie aren’t paying tribute to the historical experience of black theater, they’re laughing at a black man in a dress with a funny accent. The second Janine was brought in to view Dre’s Oovo commercial with Chris Brown playing the rapper Richard Youngsta, I knew he’d get the point.

White audiences will glaze over the “nuances” of Dre’s work (as nuanced as a commercial that uses alcohol to turn a black woman white can be) and enjoy it for being a cartoonish stereotype. When white audiences see black people enjoying Tyler Perry, he becomes “a black thing.” They don’t ask “why do people think Tyler Perry is funny?” Instead, their question is, “Why do black people like Tyler Perry?” They view it as a communal cosign to Perry’s antics. That’s the burden black artists, writers, and creators have. Every week, you trust me, a black person, to know what Black-ish wants to do and I have the responsibility of speaking from my culture, while also understanding that I absolutely do not speak for all black people and I do not represent the opinion of the entire black community when it comes to Black-ish.

Black-ish can’t escape the white gaze either, so the same double standard applies. There is, however, a slight difference between Dre, Tyler Perry and the show. For three seasons now, Black-ish has acted as an educational tool for white viewers on the black experience. The show has always done a fantastic job of addressing topics like colorism, interracial dating and the politics for audiences of all colors while keeping the black experience at the forefront. As Dre says, “I have the power to know what my people want, but the responsibility to give them what they need.” Black-ish has this same power, but “Richard Youngsta” is a misstep. Black people do not need a man who beats black women and continues to harass women on their family sitcom.

Advertisement

I have no doubt, that there are black people who enjoy Chris Brown and want him on TV shows, but Black-ish has the responsibility of knowing better. Dre has to double and triple check every depiction of black people in his work and so does the show. Chris Brown turning black women white with champagne does not pass the first check of what I want or need from Black-ish. I don’t think it would for most black women. Two weeks ago, I said Black-ish struggles with women’s issues. But “Richard Youngsta” proves that Black-ish may not even be considering black women at all in its responsibility to give black people what they want and need.

Stray Observations

  • The latest in Chris Brown coverage:
    Cool guy Chris Brown ordered to stay away from ex he allegedly abused
    Ever-witty Chris Brown calls Aziz Ansari “Aladdin” in response to SNL joke
    Thank you, Black-ish. I suppose as long as Chris Brown isn’t pouring champagne on black women in real life, all is fine.
  • And while this is a conversation between two white people that doesn’t take into account Brown’s status as a black man and the power structures at play there, it still explains why we shouldn’t let Chris Brown get away with funny guest spots on family sitcoms.
  • We’re supposed to see Jack pouring Oovo on Diane as Dre’s moment of awakening, but the show is still giving a platform to a man whose actions shouldn’t be replicated by any young boy or man.
  • Bow is a bad mom. Ruby has criticisms. This B-plot is tired and it’s even more tired when the only other plot is a messy mix of hypocrisy. Yes, I laughed at parts of this episode, but there was a distraction the size of Rihanna’s black eye that made it impossible to call this an enjoyable B-plot.
  • The history lesson on Stepin Fetchit was great and made a fair point: Yes, he was a coon, but he was also the first black actor to be a millionaire and paved the way for others. On the other hand, like Ruby, I also do not feel comfortable napping in front of white people.

Advertisement