Black-ish “Keeping it Real” with an “African Coming of Age Ceremony” Nullifies Authentic Black American Culture

Black Ish African Coming of Age Ceremony

So I’ve recently started watching Black-ish.

It was fun, goofy, light-hearted and happy-go-lucky but somehow in the midst of doing all of that, it went for the cultural juggernaut. Let’s talk about the “African Coming of Age Ceremony” bit.

The first problem is that André couldn’t think of any better way to celebrate the unique culture of African-AMERICANS/Black AMERICANS than by inciting the mythological cultural adage of a generic “African Coming of Age Ceremony.” Not a specific ceremony linked to a specific place, time or ethnic group in Africa (which is a massive CONTINENT and NOT a culture that should ever be generalized), but just a ceremony “of” Africa to mark his son’s coming of age in a way he frames as authentically black.

I thought this interesting turn of events resulting from his son’s desire to have a bat mitzvah to be quite fascinating.

First, note the questionable looking African clothing, the fact that the ceremony took place OUTSIDE, and the backdrop of a light tribal-sounding music (probably being played via mp3). His table is lined with a few books with “Africa” printed boldly on the covers, along with several “ingredients” he will use to perform the ceremony. He reads from the book which calls for the bones of a live goat and instead decides to throw the bones of a dead chicken (comedy ensures) at his son as a replacement.

I know the show is a comedy, but this essentialization of what it means for something to be “African” is culturally problematic.The exotic, tirbal Africa bit should die a painful death. But although the issue is related to what I’m discussing now, it truly deserves a post all its own.

Back to where I was:

When his father asks him what he is doing, André tells his father that he is connecting to his culture and getting in touch with his roots. His father promptly reminds him that he is BLACK not African. He even throws in a shrewd aside stating that Africans don’t even like Black people (I’m paraphrasing)

I found this example to be quite sad, like the many other instances in the history and media surrounding African-American people in which all concept of the unique culture that African-Americans possess seems to be invalidated or “invisiblized” (to quote a friend’s new term recently employed in an anthropology course here at Georgetown). Whenever black people have to talk about their history or culture it seems like nobody can come up with anything other than slavery, hip-hop, soul food or basketball.

This issue proves the extent to which black culture is invalidated by the world but also American society and black people themselves. Although some black people, like André, reminisce back to Africa to feel the deep cultural void they feel for their perceived lack of unique and MEANINGFUL traditional styles of music, dance, song, dress, etc, some feel as though Black Americans have NO culture and are “just black.”

I HATE the concept of “just black.”

The ideology of black Americans as “just black” is a dehumanizing tool that society perpetuates to keep black people feeling inferior. By calling black Americans “just black”, society simplifies black life and culture to something that is prefaced with “just” – something small, insignificant, “just” there.

It sweeps our deep, deep history and culture and PROMINENCE in this country right under the rug, just like André’s decision to have an “African Coming of Age Ceremony” to get his son back in touch with his AMERICAN blackness.

I hope this rant doesn’t come off too offensive towards Black-ish and its writers. Clearly, its a comedy show and its something I am definitely going to continue watching. I just hope that the show will, at some point, validate black culture in a true and positive way that doesn’t feel the need to draw on a generic, abstracted “African” lineage or over-reliance on the played-out trope of how all black Americans are so “urban” (whatever that means). As much as I would like to say that black culture needs no validation, the reality in my eyes is that it does. It needs to be showcased and appreciated and acknowledged.

But what do you think? Wiill you be watching Black-ish? What do you think will come of it? WIll it create more stereotypes of what it means to be black in America or nullify them? Let me know what you’re thinking about what I’m thinking.

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14 thoughts on “Black-ish “Keeping it Real” with an “African Coming of Age Ceremony” Nullifies Authentic Black American Culture

  1. I completely agree with you, and I do believe it will only create more stereotypes of what it means to be black in America mainly because it’s based on black people belittling themselves. But that is due to ignorance. I strongly believe that in this generation, there is too much ignorance, and networks should be making more of an effort to conceptualize new programs based on truth while the opportunity is there to teach and inspire the current and future generations.. instead of taking the easy way out and perpetuating incorrect notions that get us nowhere. But maybe that is exactly the goal: To get us nowhere. We need more leaders.. and better ones.

    Sincerely,
    -Myra

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you make a really interesting point: what exactly is the goal of many of the television programs targeted at black audiences? If they do have goals (besides entertaining and turning profit) they definitely don’t seem to have the best interest of those they affect at heart. Check out my new post on Black & Sexy TV though and let me know what you think about that. Definitely a very different message than the majority of Black TV. http://theafropologist.com/2014/10/15/black-and-sexy-tv-the-new-black-netflix/

      Like

  2. To be honest I absolutely without a doubt, HATE Black-ish……. I know it’s supposed to be a comedy but as a black man, from the Caribbean no less, I find it insulting the way hollywhite continues to denigrate and disrespect our black identity.

    “First, note the questionable looking African clothing, the fact that the ceremony took place OUTSIDE, and the backdrop of a light tribal-sounding music (probably being played via mp3). His table is lined with a few books with “Africa” printed boldly on the covers, along with several “ingredients” he will use to perform the ceremony. He reads from the book which calls for the bones of a live goat and instead decides to throw the bones of a dead chicken (comedy ensures) at his son as a replacement.”

    You see, this is what it has come to, this is what our roots have been relegated to,
    ambiguous paraphernalia and backwater Voodoo rituals.

    Even here in the Caribbean, our black consciousness is does not extend anywhere beyond slavery, carnival, caribana, Mashramani, Crop-Over, fungi and saltfish, playing church and speaking broken…….

    it’s a really sad state of affairs for the black community the world over.

    Like

    1. Thanks so much for your response. I, too, wish that black consciousness encapsulated more than the imagery we often see. Hopefully Blackish will dig a little deeper in future episodes or it may tarnish its reputation in the black community. And we all know the black community is a HUGE television consumer base.

      Like

  3. First and foremost thanks for liking my post on Blackish which led me to this critique of the show. I love the the show and although I understand where your frustrations lie concerning the African coming of age ceremony parodied, I disagree with a few key points of your article.

    I, too, hate the term “just black.” However, I hate it even more when people within the African diaspora won’t let Black-Americans construct and define there own culture. My family is very similar to that of the show. I don’t understand the disgust with the mentioned aspects of black culture. I am proud that my culture brought hip-hop to the world. I am proud of the food that is a staple within black households. I am proud of HBCU’s, black greek-lettered organizations, dance moves, movies, slang terms, hairstyles, all of which I am very happy to say have their roots in Africa.

    I feel that every time Black-Americans try to distinguish themselves, the way that our Caribbean brothers have been allowed to, we are faced with backlash. Black culture is very young, especially when it is compared to other dominant cultures in the world. I understand that the facets of Black culture may look crude and juvenile, begging to be framed within a historical context, but I believe that Black culture should be celebrated for what it is just as much as we celebrate culture for where is comes from.

    Hope to read more from you! Definitely subscribing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thank you so much for this thoughtful response. I hope it is apparent from my post that I, too, love all of the aspects of African-American culture that you mention in your commment. I am wondering if it is the statement that “Whenever black people have to talk about their history or culture it seems like nobody can come up with anything other than slavery, hip-hop, soul food or basketball.” that you are disagreeing with. I am not trying to express disdain for any of these institutions – I am trying to express that although these institutions have been powerful in shaping black history and identity, there is also a lot more to be seen and discussed and celebrated, ie many of the things you mentioned.

      Just to clarify, I have no problem with any of these aspects of black culture OR any of the aspects of black culture portrayed on the show. Rather, what I am upset at is the fact that Blackish does not seem to be EMBRACING ANY of THESE aspects in its search of authentic Black culture. Instead of using any of the examples you gave, it resorted to an “African Coming of Age Ceremony” which is problematic and herein lies the invalidation.

      What I am proposing is that Blackish try to actually validate and acknowledge aspects of a truly black American culture that is swept under the rug a lot of the times. For example, why not have André sit his son down and make him watch old episodes of Soul Train to get him to get in touch with his “blackness”? Why look to the unique culture of another ethnic group rather than paying homage to the culture of the African-American/Black AMERICAN ethnic group that has such a rich yet undervalued cultural repertoire….get what I’m saying?

      I definitely don’t want to come off as under-appreciating black culture. What I want Blackish to do is celebrate MORE authentic Black culture that is truly Black American and the product of Afro-descendants in the U.S. rather than elsewhere in the Diaspora because as you were saying, these cultures are the ones typically celebrated and along with that, I would like to see a greater appreciation for all that has come out of the U.S. (Especially given the reputation Black American culture has in the Diaspora and the world stage in general) 🙂

      I am DEFINITELY subscribing to your blog, too though! Would love to engage in dialogue with you again in the future and I am looking forward to watching your opinions/reactions as the remainder of this first season unfolds.

      Like

  4. Wow. I wish i read this before i wrote my post. I feel like i didn’t delve into the problematic nature of the show enough. As an Australian black culture and its representation is a bit foreign to me, thank you for writing this it really opened my mind. Can i link this post in mine? Obviously i will credit you via intext referencing, hyperlink and a full reference in the reference list. Looking forward to your next post!

    Like

    1. Hey,

      Glad you liked my post. I hope it wasnt too critical of the show and what its trying to do. I definitely like the show, I juet want it to celebrate the richness of black american culture in unique, truly authentic ways that are often times not seen or acknowledged in the media and its portrayal of blackness as often as some of the aspects of black american history and culture I mention in my post.

      I am excited that you will be reading though! I am definitely interested in learning more about you and your culture as well 🙂 Hopefully there will pics, too!

      Like

  5. Thanks on your marvelous posting! I really enjoyed reading it, you are a great author.
    I will make certain to bookmark your blog and definitely will come
    back later in life. I want to encourage yourself
    to continue your great posts, have a nice holiday weekend!

    Like

  6. You’re so cool! I don’t believe I’ve read anything like that before.
    So great to discover somebody with some unique thoughts on this subject matter.
    Really.. thanks for starting this up. This site is one thing that’s needed on the internet,
    someone with a little originality!

    Like

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