REPRINT FROM NEW YORK TIMES - SIT COMS FOCUSING ON BLACK "DOWNWARD" MOBILITY - and why we should not make it a self fulfilling prophecy

By Gloria Dulan-Wilson

Hello All:

Well, here we go again - a series of sitcom, focused on the Black community, featuring "reality-based" scenarios, that purport to keep it real, while injecting just a hit of comic relief, pointing up the "plight" of the Black community.   In the effort to be relevant and to "keep it real" our writing geniuses have begun to replicate a series of widely watched and accepted (acceptable) television series that entertain and brainwash at the same time. Not that the intention was to brainwash - no.  But it's what's happening nevertheless - and will continue to do so, because the theme is more about an explanation of Black angst and aspirations than it is about any real triumphant pathway out of the situation.
And the unfortunate truth  is that if there was a situation comedy about Black truly overcoming and getting out of the ghetto via their own might, coalescence, ingenuity, intelligence  in any way other than by selling drugs, back stabbing, putting each other down, sleeping around, and a whole host of low life efforts - no one would watch it.  

I would dearly love to see a sit-com about "BACK TO AFRICA"  where a Black American family, fed up with there racism and the lack of opportunity, takes all they have, pulls up stakes and repatriates to an African Country - and the cultural adjustments they have to go through there.  Or one where, an African student comes to America, the land of opportunity, to live and find his fortune, and has to have a reality check via African American families in a middle class neighborhood.  Or how about one called "HOME SCHOOLED" that depicts brilliant kids who have been taught at home pitted against those who are victims of the broader education system that has been dumbing down out kids.  Maybe have one of the little 7 year olds have a conversation with the white teacher that is so far above her comprehension that she has to look up every other word she is saying in the dictionary in order to keep up with the conversation - (LOL yeah, I know - I have a weird sense of humor). Or maybe a take off on Sanford & Sons where he now is not just a junk yard dealer, but an entrepreneur who takes all that stuff and transforms it into high end antiques and merchandise with designers and developers paying him beaucoup bucks for them.  

I've recently been watching Tai Lopez's 67 Week Program - and found that he and I both have a great deal of respect for the Amish and their culture - where they survive and thrive while not using any f the modern conveniences and technologies that everyone thinks we must have.  Despite the ridicule of this culture on the part of the white uberstructure, they continue to thrive and grow.  So I thought, what if we had a sitcom called "BLACK AND AMISH" - where a Black Family or several families learn the ways of the Amish and set up their own separate community (either in the ghetto or in a rural area), learning to do the things the Amish did, completely independent of the welfare office, modern technology, and other stereotypical things they they say we must have to live.  That would be both comical, informative, instructional and inspirational.  

Don't get me wrong - I absolutely love "Black-ish!"  I also love "For Better or For Worse"  - they are mad funny - but what I don't like is the fact that they have become metaphors for what we as Black people are dealing with in this perilous economic and political system.  I think Anthony Anderson delivered what was  perhaps the most dynamic speech ever in reference to the T-Rump mess.  And if there is ever an episode that needs to be watched ands replicated over and over and over again, it's that one.  (Maybe Tracee Ellis Ross' character can be in the Women's March against T-Rump that takes place on January 21 - IJS).

However, we, as a people, need to become much more media savvy - RIGHT NOW - and much more ECONOMICALLY SAVVY - immediately if not sooner.  We are allowing Sit-coms to hardwire our reactions to the current situation we find ourselves in, and that's not good - because we make it a self-fulfilling situation.  WE don't know how to take what we see and move it into a solution - rather than having writer after writer after writer take the same theme and, in some sort of subconscious ratings competition, see who can out depict the conflict for the masses.  SMH

Fellow Blogger, Ernst Perodin, shared this NY Times Article with me - I'm posting it for your examination - but also because I want you to practice that art of refutation and transformation - i.e., don't just take it on face value because it appeared in the NYT, but begin to look at what it is we need to to sift our own paradigm from a downward slide to a triumphant rise.


Subject: Some TV Shows Reveal The Growing Class Crisis in Black America

What TV Says About Race and Money

Zazie Beetz and Donald Glover in “Atlanta.”

Some of the most fascinating conversations about class anxiety aren’t happening on cable news networks these days but on a more unexpected place on televisionshows like “Atlanta,” “black-ish” and “Insecure,” which have explored a profound, if largely ignored, economic issue — Black downward mobility. 
On black-ish,” the Johnson family is led by Dre, a marketing executive, and Bow, a doctor.  They have four children in private school and a house in an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood in Los Angeles. They took a vacation to Disney World estimated to cost more than $20,000.  But despite the family’s seeming stability, “black-ish” is largely about class tension.  A central dilemma is Dre’s battle between his financial aspirations and racial authenticity, his moving-on-up and his loyalty to his working-class roots.

One of the best episodes this season, “Jack of All Trades,” opens with Dre (Anthony Anderson) and Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) learning of their young twins’ career test results: Diane (Marsai Martin) might be in a position of power in a political organization,” while Jack (Miles Brown) is likely to be a member of a unionized group of skilled laborers.”  Despite Jack’s obvious excitement about, and talent for, the manual trades, his parents become obsessed with redirecting his career trajectory, worried that he will be pigeonholed, like Dre’s live-in father, Pops (Laurence Fishburne), in a blue-collar job for the rest of his life.

GDW NOTE: [Mind you, the educational system, in its infinite ignorance, has seen fit to eliminate Vocational Education, while at the same time outsourcing those same trades to immigrants, who are making 10 to 20 times more money than most college graduates - while those of our youth with high school  diplomas or college degrees are begging for jobs-SMH]

Jay Ellis and Issa Rae in “Insecure.”

As Pop’s presence reminds us, while Dre’s parents worked hard to provide him with an education, Dre did not inherit wealth, making his upper-middle-class status both new and fragile.

This is a legitimate worry because more and more members of the African-American middle class are finding themselves in an economic downslide, with little hope that the next generation will earn more than the one before.  In 2015, the Pew Research Center released a report detailing that the number of American households earning a middle-class income had reached its lowest point in over 40 years.  And the gap between the wealth of white and Black families has widened to its highest level since 1989, according to a Pew report from 2014.

Black male children raised in middle-class households in the late 1970s and early ’80s have fallen out of the middle class at particularly higher rates than white male children after becoming adults, another Pew report found.

On shows like Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” on FX and Issa Rae’s “Insecure” on HBO, both about a group of late-20-somethings professionally striving and financially struggling (and both, along with “black-ish,” nominated for Golden Globes), the theme of Black downward mobility is put into high relief.

From left, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laurence Fishburne, Miles Brown, Marsai Martin and Anthony Anderson in “black-ish.”

Comedy in the Black community is almost always about struggle,” said Mary Pattillo, author of “Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril Among the Black Middle Class.”  And while exploring class differences is not new for Black sitcoms, it is important that these themes are reproduced and restaged for each generation.  The specifics might be different, but every generation returns to this theme because the precarity of the black middle class has not disappeared.”

On Atlanta, we meet Earn, a Princeton dropout who grew up in a middle-class family and who works at an airport kiosk.  He quits that job to manage his cousin, an up-and-coming rapper named Alfred Miles, known as Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), who has a song on the radio but makes a living as a drug dealer.  Earn’s economic instability is exacerbated when his on-and-off girlfriend and his daughter’s mother, Van (Zazie Beetz), loses her job as an elementary schoolteacher because it was the only constant source of income for the family.

“‘Atlanta’ offers up a realistic portrait of the vulnerability that the Black middle class faces today,” said Jessica S. Welburn, a sociologist at the University of Iowa who researches African-American downward mobility. While the election of the first African-American president gives many a sense of progress, racial disparities have also intensified and limited what has typically been a pathway to the middle class for African-Americans, like a college degree or a government job.  Knowing this, African-Americans still try to break through these barriers with obviously mixed results.”

“The Jacket,” the season finale of “Atlanta,” offers up one of the most pointed critiques of structural racism that I have seen on television this year:  Neither Earn’s middle-class childhood nor his Princeton education can protect him from the constraints that he and his friends find themselves under.  After Earn wakes up in a strange house in a strange bed without his jacket, we follow him on an increasingly desperate search in increasingly dangerous situations.  He finally arrives outside the home of the Uber driver who has his jacket, only to witness him being shot by the police.

From left, Ralph Carter, Jimmie Walker, Esther Rolle and Bern Nadette Stanis in “Good Times.”

As extraordinary as that trauma might be for most Americans, the show portrays the sort of everyday violence to which African-Americans and Latinos, of various classes, are vulnerable.

If race is intimately tied to class, so is gender, as Ms. Rae’s “Insecure” so poignantly reminds us.  The main conflict on the series is its female protagonists, Issa and her best friend, Molly (Yvonne Orji), navigating the muddy waters of millennial dating.  We first meet Issa, who works at a nonprofit, and her live-in, long-term boyfriend, Lawrence (Jay Ellis), on shaky ground.  Despite his Georgetown degree, Lawrence is an entrepreneur unable to finalize his business plan or find a corporate job.  He settles on working at Best Buy, and later, with encouragement from Issa, sets aside his dream of developing an app to take a gig at a tech start-up.  And while the season concludes with a cheating-related breakup, their relationship was perhaps doomed from the beginning, by his inertia, his unemployment and their economic insecurity.

Through Molly, a lawyer who brilliantly code-switches between corporate and colloquial vernacular, the show explores how class mobility often differs for African-American women and men.

After a string of disappointing romantic encounters, Molly ends up dating Jared (Langston Kerman), a witty, caring guy whom Issa jokingly calls “Rent-a-Boo” because he works at Enterprise.  Molly ends their relationship (the first of two times) after she and her friends find out he did not attend college.  
          GDW NOTE:  [Another stereotype that every brother that does not attend college is not    intelligent - and that "blue collar workers" are to be looked down upon.  There are some Black men out there who are far and above those with degrees - It's our own internal discrimination.]  

From left, James Avery, Will Smith and Janet Hubert in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

Averil Y. Clarke, author of “Inequalities of Love: College-Educated Black Women and the Barriers to Romance and Family,” said: “Middle-class Black women are plagued by a very common racial problem.  They, like most women, are encouraged to pursue the middle-class script: Go to college, get a good job and get married and have kids.”  She added, “But, when it comes to dating, Black women’s class aspirations are more likely to be unfulfilled than white women, their femininity and sense of value more likely to feel under assault.”

Historically, whether it was the striving of “The Jeffersons” or “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” or the working-class settings of shows like “Sanford and Son,” “Roc” or “Thea,” class differences have dominated Black sitcoms in the post-civil-rights era.
That these three recent shows are all created by African-Americans (Kenya Barris created “black-ish”) might enable them to attend differently to these nuances of African-American lives.

Ms. Rae said in an interview with Vox, “This isn’t a show exclusively about, like, the struggle of being Black.”  Instead, “It’s just regular black people living life.”  By setting her show in South Los Angeles, she is able to reveal the spectrum of African-American class diversity, as she noted in an interview with The Daily Beast: “Yes, there’s poverty there, there are gang members there, but there’s also affluence, there’s middle class, and everybody meshes together.”

Likewise, Mr. Glover said in an interview with Vulture, “I wanted to show white people, you don’t know everything about Black culture.” In that same interview, he underscores that one key difference is how he depicts class diversity.  When Mr. Glover heard a suggestion that Paper Boi live in a run-down, “traplike” home, he refused.  We were like: ‘No, he’s a drug dealer, he makes enough money to live in a regular apartment.’” He added, There were some things so subtle and Black that people had no idea what we were talking about.”

Taken together, these sitcoms remind us of the centrality of race, not just to our conversations but to policies around income inequality.  That the coming years may yield a hiring freeze on the federal work force, the continuing decline of unions, and more suffering for both middle-class and working-class African-Americans is no laughing matter. But, as the adage goes: Sometimes we simply have to laugh to keep from crying.

Salamishah Tillet is an associate professor of English and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania She is a co-founder of the nonprofit A Long Walk Home.

As you can see, there are a lot of things we have to be cognizant of, if we are not going to allow ourselves to fall in the pit they (and to some extent we've) already dug for us.

I know you've heard me say this before, but it bears repeating until we finally get up off of it and begin doing it - we have some great leaders in the past, as well as some contemporary ones, who have been in the throes of and forefront of working to bring about Black economic autonomy -  Marcus Garavey was and is still relevant - his methodologies are still applicable and well worth studying.  Likewise, The Rev. Jesse Jackson has long been a proponent of economic parity and autonomy.  His 20th Anniversary of the Rainbow PUSH Wallstreet Project is coming up in February - but he and his staff diligently work throughout the year trying to inform and implement information and programs that African Americans can utilize to first level the playing field, and then start a whole new game.

If nothing else, susu and other forms  of economic consolidation have been used throughout the Caribbean communities to underwrite finances when local banks would not.  There are so many ways that we can become our own salvation and then we can sit back, look at those sitcoms and laugh because they are funny to watch - but are not who we are any more.  


Stay Blessed & 


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