“‘Empire’ and ‘black-ish’ Show Why Diversity Needs to Be Deep, Not Just Broad”

“Last fall’s TV diversity revolution, in which several of the broadcast networks’ best new shows featured minority lead characters, was long overdue. It was also just in time. With racial controversies, especially those involving African-Americans, increasingly making headlines over the past year, it would have been that much more glaring if there were only lily-white TV families to answer back.

“The Word,” Wednesday night’s second-season premiere of “black-ish,” demonstrated both what a terrific show that ABC family comedy has become and how lucky we are to have it. At a school talent show, Jack, the youngest son of the Johnsons, performed a dance and rap of Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” — and not, as his twin sister, Diane, begged him, the radio edit.

 Which means that in front of a horrified crowd of parents and teachers, a smiling, innocent Jack used the racial epithet for an African-American, the broke variety of which the song’s subject ain’t messing with. (Yes, I am avoiding using the epithet, which risks investing it with that much more power. The “black-ish” episode bleeped it as well.)

The incident sparked a fallout worthy of “South Park,” as Jack was threatened with expulsion for “hate speech” for using a slur against his own race. But the true brilliance of the episode, like many “black-ish” episodes, is that it used the premise to demonstrate that there’s no single “black” position on the word — any more than there is among any group on any issue.

Here, the divide cut across cultural and generational lines. The family’s mother, Rainbow, the liberal child of a racially mixed marriage, is zero-tolerance on the epithet. Andre, the family’s patriarch — well, it turns out he shared the song (his favorite) with Jack. Gen-X Andre is a believer in “reclaiming” the word “as a term of colloquialism and power.” That put him at odds with his parents, who do use it, but only, in his mother’s inimitable words, as “a judgment said with disdainful indictment.”

Likewise with his daughter Zoey, who doesn’t see why her white friends shouldn’t use it…”



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