“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…” as said by the great Mark Twain. In other words, travel is the only treatment for ignorance.
Traveling allows an individual to see experiences they wouldn’t normally come across, from people in a different corner of the world to people passing them on the street. Opening yourself up to the events that others go through is the only way to understand another people and truly sympathize.
The African-American experience is one unlike any other. People of color, not only African-Americans, have faced unfair treatment in the United States since we were first shipped over here from our homelands. To say any differently, is to ignore what has transpired in America in the past few centuries. What some people are unaware of or incapable of seeing is that African-Americans have also continued to face unfair treatment in recent years.
With today’s technology we can expose ourselves to more representations of differing life ordeals than ever before. This is a chance to enlighten ourselves on prominent concerns. Take advantage of the opportunity to walk in another person’s shoes. Educate yourself on the struggles and tribulations that plague African-Americans. While you can not develop a complete understanding of another person’s culture or heritage simply from watching a television series, you can begin to make yourself aware.
As Black History month comes to an end, we give you a list of eight television series that have dared to comment on African-American issues.
8. The Boondocks
The first entry on the list is The Boondocks, an animated series based on the original newspaper comic of the same name. Most adult animated series tackle sensitive subjects these days, but Boondocks finds a spot on this list because it revolves around different aspects of black culture.
The Boondocks satirically pokes fun at our world by hyperbolizing the prejudiced attitudes present. So the show does make everything into a joke, but it does it in a way that makes it easier to discuss these matters. Its comical nature is why the show finds itself at the bottom of this list, but it still deserves praise for attacking reality in a way that most shows avoided in the early 2000s.
7. The People vs. OJ Simpson
Of all the cases to be remembered in Contemporary America, the People vs. OJ Simpson is one of the most renowned. The high-profile murder trial even spawned the phrase, “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”
This case represented a significant racial divide in America at the time. Race relations were already in poor condition, especially after the Rodney King beating that happened earlier. A large section of white America felt that Simpson was guilty while a large chunk of black America felt the opposite. When O.J. was acquitted, much of black America relished it as a victory for their community for a black man to have been released. The American Crime Story representation of the trial portrays the sensationalized trial accurately and provides more details than shown before.
In this series, Olivia Pope takes charge as a political crisis manager. Try to think of a dynamic black woman as a lead without a male lead hogging the spotlight and you’d find it difficult to populate a long list.
Olivia Pope is not the only powerful black woman on primetime tv, but she does hold one of the most influential positions among them. After all, she’s pulling strings and cleaning messes from within D.C., that’s a level of power I had yet to see a black woman in up to this point.
Although Scandal has drawn some backlash in the past due to certain decisions, there has also been great praise to counter it. Scandal can also attribute its inclusion in this list to a specific one of its episodes, “The Lawn Chair,” which was themed around the wrongful death of Michael Brown in Ferguson three years ago.
The life of the Johnson family offers a fresh perspective that many black viewers will find surprisingly relatable. The Johnsons live in an upper-middle class neighborhood and defy stereotypes in every way. Andre and Rainbow Johnson allow for a very comfortable lifestyle for their four children as an advertising executive and an anesthesiologist, respectively.
While black sitcoms have been scattered throughout primetime for decades, not many today depict the subtle everyday problems of an African-American person in working class America. This show addresses these consistently while also handing us a pleasant presentation of black excellence. Not to mention, it’s pretty funny. Of course with Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross commanding so many of the scenes in this show, that’s not very shocking.
4. The Get Down
Unlike most of the entries on the list, The Get Down takes place in a different time, the late 1970’s to be exact. It revolves around the decrepit slums of New York City at that time and the culture of 70’s black society. It displays much of the grit and misery, including the drug and gang lifestyle present in the urban areas that seldom receive attention. Still, it’s not all bad.
There is also a great focus on bettering yourself and achieving notoriety by properly taking advantage of the tools at your disposal. In this way, this series relates to so many youth without the same opportunities granted to some. It shows them that they can be great if they are able to aim higher with a great resolve and a resourceful attitude.
Empire centers on a family run musical empire and the struggles that come with trying to separate family from business. This show examines many ideals within the black communities, some great and some ignorant. The show comments mostly on mental illness and sexuality within the black public.
In the black community, masculinity is very important and treasured highly. Therefore, ignorance has led gay men to be seen as too feminine to be considered men. In fact, not much has to be done for an action to be considered gay. Complete ignorance and paranoia at its finest.
There are varying degrees of mental illness, as well as emotional conditions. However, in the black community, these are either not acknowledged at all or only in harsh extremes. All of this makes it more challenging to reach out and find the support you might need. Empire captures all of this perfectly and evaluates it. Since the series centers on hip pop and rap, it takes advantage of the chance to criticize the way both music genres attack homosexuality.
2. Orange is the New Black
Shonda Rimes’ popular adaptation of the autobiography Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman delivers some excellent character development. The adaptation is complex, as it builds background for the characters by showing who they were and how they got here.
A good part of the cast is ethnic and an adequately sized group of them is African-American. These women each boast intricate pasts that are less typical caricatures and more accurate portrayals of realistic struggles.
For a cast to be as fleshed out as this is already flattering, but to show several black women each with drastically different pasts is an important message that there are more differences between us than one might initially believe. It helps that they each offer humor that keeps the show engaging between its heavier moments.
1. Luke Cage
Marvel’s most recent television series, released as a Netflix original, is not just number one because of its comic book origin. Luke Cage offers some social commentary that almost no other Marvel television series has attempted to.
The show revolves around Luke Cage, a man with impenetrably tough skin and super strength, being forced to be the reluctant hero to his Harlem neighborhood. What renders this show so important to the black public is how it calls attention to the several race-driven tragedies that have happened recently.
Let’s just mention first that Luke Cage’s super abilities may not be rare or original, but what makes them so amazing is that they’re the powers that we need as African-Americans just to grab a bag of skittles from the corner store. Every young black teen wants to be bullet proof because it seems to be the only way to guarantee they won’t meet an early end at the hands of a police officer, who’ll get off scot-free anyway. While delivering kernels of knowledge and pride of African-American culture, this show takes every opportunity to discuss the recent killings of unarmed black men by police officers.
All of these shows offer unique contributions to the social dialogue on racial controversy. They discuss the things society has found it hard to discuss and they inspire anyone looking for hope or answers. They take pride in who we are and implore all of you to as well. Some of them travel along harder routes than others, but there is no denying that they each pursue awareness in their own right.
Think anything’s missing from this list? Let us know and leave a comment below or just leave one if you have anything else to say. We’d be glad to hear it.