Okay, so I started watching #blackAF because who wouldn’t want to watch a Netflix original series about a family of black people struggling with something other than sports injuries, being broke, abuse, being chased by police, drugs, booze, sex or gambling addiction, and/or trying to survive in the face of unreasonable and irrational hardship. Yeah! I’m all in.
Spoiler alerts ahead… “Peacocking is in our DNA?” Good grief. The entire series – well, the first few episodes, ‘cuz that’s how far I’m into it so far – are literally awash with micro-aggressions, sarcasm, and these wonderfully deadpan delivered zingers like, “I fucking hate white people.” But beneath the humor are some important questions. Like, what’s the purpose of us spending every dime trying to dress up to curry favor with people who think we’re ridiculous because we dress up, and may or may not ever think we’re acceptable to begin with?
In retrospection about his flashy car and thick gold chain and very expensive athleisure-wear habit, the dad is wondering, “Am I a coon? Do I need to change?” and they’ve got Bradley Cooper – I think it’s Bradley Cooper from A Star Is Born – in the background singing, “Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die.” Dude. I frickin’ love it!
This series makes an excellent point: Even when you have money, you’re still a minority. You’re still black, and you still have to deal with assumptions and verbal judgments that come effortlessly, naturally and relentlessly because of your skin color.
But in the end – of episode one – this black mom and dad unite against the mental tyranny of the white gaze. Even if they’re colluding in BS, they’re together, and the general consensus is, be you. You deserve it. Be happy. Live your life.
It’s not a bad motto…*clicks on next episode.*
The thing that makes this show so funny to me is that it revels in stereotypes. I mean it rolls around in them, unapologetically and calmly tossing them out for public delectation like donuts. Only they’re not white stereotypes of black people. They’re black people as white stereotypes. Armenian people as stereotypes. Everyone is a stereotype. Those three words kind of gave me a tingle…
But seriously, it’s quite refreshing. Seeing a black man tuck in his chain because he’s scared a non-Black man might be tempted to steal it? Or a Black mom acting too young and not hip and it’s supposed to be funny, not sad or pitiful, just entertainment with a lesson or two slid in while you weren’t looking. That’s media gold. Pun intended. It’s ridiculous, but then it isn’t, and I love it. I think I said that already…
Everything in #blackAF is damn near a stereotype. The clothes, the dialogue, a good chunk of the music. But somehow it feels fresh. Maybe it’s just me – I doubt it, but it wouldn’t be the first time – but I love the idea of black people low key sticking their middle finger up at preconceived notions, limitations and boring ideas about who people are and how people should behave. Even if it’s a made up series on Netflix.
Even the episode titles fall into the gag: “because of slavery,” “because of slavery too,” “still…because of slavery,” There are messages in there, somewhere. Still? Still? We’re still talking about/dealing with/feeling/emoting/acting like that? Yup. We’re still on that, but at least now it’s funny. Until it’s not. Until we realize that minorities being viewed through a white gaze – or any gaze rife with judgment – can impact how we feel, how we act, and even how we raise our children.
Tony Morrison it’s not. That grand lady spoke of white gaze far differently, but each narrative delivery system has its place, I think.
So, “suck it, white gaze.” That’s a line from episode two.