Why India can never make a sitcom like Black-ish

by - February 07, 2018

Can you imagine watching a television sitcom in India that showcases the prejudices of the upper caste communities and religion of India under the guise of a comedy show? No? Exactly why I labeled the title of this post as such.

The critically acclaimed American show 'Black-ish' stands apart from its peers for having cojones larger than any other show I've seen in recent years. For those who don't know, Black-ish is an Award winning comedy sitcom revolving around a well-to-do African-American (actor Anthony Anderson as Andre Johnson) and how he along with his wife (actress Tracy Ellis) and parents, try to imbibe a bit of his 'Black' heritage (and prejudices) to his children.

Yes, you may have seen episodes from various shows (Citizen Khan, Mind Your Language, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) which deal with racism but nothing like this.

In Black-ish. much like the title itself implies, race and all that it comes with is not the garnishing of the dish, it is the main course.

In Black-ish, much like the title itself foreshadows, race and all that it comes with is not a subtle garnishing but the main course of the dish.

In the show, we often get a glimpse into the fun side of racial stereotypes - why black men cannot swim or how black men make bad fathers - and yes, in showcasing these black stereotypes, you also see plainly the 'reverse-racism' of a black man towards the whites. And the lead is not let off the hooks by the writers of the show, often forced to face his own flawed prejudices by his children and wife.

Interspersed in between each episode - based on the theme of that episode - will be actual news footage of events ranging from the Tuskegee experiments where blacks were infamously left to die untreated for syphilis in the name of research by the United States government to the horrors of the Ku Klux Klan that sadly still roams America today.

Their own prejudices - how Black people never vote Republican - is hilariously depicted in this video.

It is not the fun episodes that I remember however when I think of Black-ish.

No, I remember the episode 'Hope' where the whole family sits in front of a television awaiting the verdict of a case of police brutality where a young black man was killed. Real victims of police brutality are name dropped throughout the episode to show the various moments where the law fails.

The episode was not one-sided though; various characters in that room speak for and against the black man as well as for how things were in the past and what awaits the young children in the future. When the controversial verdict results in riots in the street, the family is torn between staying indoors in the comfort of their house or having 3 generations of the family join the protesters.

This scene from 'Hope' was something I had never considered - how scared African Americans were for Obama after he won the elections.

The episode 'Lemons' was the first episode after Donald Trump was elected President and rather than being subtle, the show bulldozed right into the topic showing the fears of millions of African Americans with the rise of a leader aligned to White Supremacists and how Andre has to tackle friends who voted for Trump.

The Blackish episode 'Lemons' was the first episode after Donald Trump was elected President and rather than being subtle, the show bulldozed right into the topic showing the fears of millions of African Americans with the rise of a leader aligned to White Supremacists and how Andre has to tackle friends who voted for Trump.

In 'The Word', Andre has to deal with the repercussions of his small child facing expulsion from school for using 'the N-word' leading to a very debate on how the word meant different things to different racial groups and ages.

The Season 4 premiere takes on one of America's biggest holidays, questioning the reason behind celebrating Columbus Day when the whole world knows him as a blood-thirsty mass murderer and why 'Juneteenth' - the day black slavery was officially abolished - is not given prominence.

To make a show like Black-ish involves walking a very fine line - how far can you layer the truth of prejudices past and present without the majority race of a country feeling they are being accused? 

In today's India, where we struggled to pass PADMAVAAT - a movie based on a centuries old 'possibly real' queen - simply because a group of Indian terrorists (supported by ministers of all parties, either directly or by virtue of silence) decided this Queen was their pride and so they had to have a say in the screenplay, there is no way we will ever see a nuanced show focusing on the prejudices of generations gone by and those that still exist today.

There simply isn't scope where (following the exact same carbon copy of Black-ish) we could have a knowledgeable but prejudiced protagonist who engages in regular debates about caste and religious differences, forcing viewers to see both sides of the story through these debates.

As an Indian, you know of the prejudices that minorities face in our country. Debating these injustices invariably leads to the 'What-about' deflection, away from the primary topic towards unrelated incidents from the past, suggesting that a crime against person A is justified because an unrelated  crime occured against person B elsewhere. 

Whether we take it from a religious point of view or a caste-based point of view, you know the words - lynchings for carrying cow meat, killed for drinking water from the same well as upper castes, killed for loving someone from another religion or caste. Here's my question - what are their names? No, not the ones from the last three years but the infamous ones from all the decades gone by? What was the outcome of the court cases based on their deaths and brutalities?

You don't know. Neither do I. And what is worse - we don't want to know their names and fates anymore. We just want retribution. An eye for an eye. Not even against the actual perpetrators themselves but from anyone from their community. An innocent man walking down the street deserves to be beaten up because someone from his community in another state hurt someone from mine.

That is where we fail today as a country. And sadly, not just us but so many countries still choosing to give power to castes, sects and religious supremacy over basic humanity.

We refuse to have the important talks anymore, choosing instantly to hate someone based on political, cultural and religious biases and automatically labelling them as being the same as the worst of their type. True, the generations gone by may have done some pretty awful stuff to one another but does that really justify teaching this generation and the next to hold on to the burning charcoals of hatred and never consider re-integrating as one nation?

Is the concept of India forever doomed to be united only in supporting a cricket team? Or can we actually talk about the horrible things done in the past and even today and reach a common ground, agreeing never to let it happen in the future instead of using 200 and even 2000 year old events as justifications for revenge?

The day a character representing a minority in India can talk like this in a show, ridiculing the oppressing religion or caste and openly naming names while speaking the truth of their crushed past without having the show or actor attacked by faceless mobs, that day India will finally mature.

Black-ish is unique because it uses racism not as a means of hatred but as a mirror to both sides of society - the transgressor as well as the persecuted - forcing both to look beyond what they are taught about each other. It forces both sides to accept what went wrong and then - MOST IMPORTANTLY - move forward, learning from the past to ensure the future is better for all.

Sadly, there will never be a Muslim-ish, a Dalit-ish or a Christian-ish in Indian television. Not in a country where the Supreme Court of India has to step in to force state governments to prevent terrorists from stopping the release of a Bollywood movie.

Someday, I hope there will be an Indian-ish though that looks back on all the mistakes we did and lets the next generation understand that discrimination is never an answer.

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  1. Oh no theres no hope of this .Atleast not yet .Maybe after the triple talaq bill is passed will I even think of such a possibility .Education is the first step towards removal of prejudice.

    1. That is the problem though. People don't want to hear of things that might be bad about the ones they support whether it be in the present day or a history lesson.

      Cannot move forward unless you learn from the mistakes of the past

  2. In the United States, we complain that a program like All in the Family (a 1970's sitcom not sure if got to India or not) could not be made today. In truth, I have never seen Black-ish, mainly because I find little nowadays in "network" TV to be excited about. Nor are the events you mention reported in our media. Americans tend to be self-focused, which is not a good thing for many reasons.

    1. It is sad in some ways because some of the hardest hitting shows are now coming out, demanding introspection

  3. The basic point is that we Indians lack a sense of humour. We have such large egos that we cannot think of anything objectively and sadly religion is the opium of the masses. We also do not respect one another’s right to express what he wants to say. Basically we have just ONE collective brain and do not like to confront our truths , shortcomings and failures .
    Loved your article..

  4. Considering the hell that was raised over Padmaavat, yeah we are decades away from something like Blackish.

    Btw, thanks for introducing this show - I hadn't heard of it, but I'm definitely going to check it out now.

  5. I love watching this show. Most people in India do not get sarcasm and satire unfortunately. Something like Blackish will be nipped in the bud.


    1. sadly, it would not even get past episode one without some idiot filing a case

  6. What you say is so true Roshan. But the India I grew up in was not like this. Growing up in Mumbai with so many communities and religions, it never affected us. But, if I was a minority, I would be a very scared person. Even as a majority I am scared to voice my opinion as you never know which goon is offended. I want to watch this serial now.

    1. I am a part of the majority too. That is why it is people like you and I who have to ask these questions.

  7. I haven't watched this show. I am so out of sync with everything TV since we have only Baby TV playing!!! And with everyone having an opinion these days i have no idea what we can or cannot make!

  8. Couldn't agree more on this Dr., the problem with us (Indians) is we lack basic trust in each other and deficient sense of humor. Why can't a jibe be taken as a jibe! No, it either be colored as race, caste, creed, religion, history or some other metamorphosis.
    Politicians has started it, but the fact is we as society accepted it with open arms.

    1. Ironically, the only one who is allowed to insult blindly are these politicians.

  9. Yes I agree that we Indians have diversity in unity on one side but so much hatred on the other side. We are always fighting on the basis of racism. We can never take this issue as a joke

  10. I have not watched black ish but these racjal prejudices exist everwhere even within castes and classes within India.... Case in point the current Padmavat issue. I guess it will be very ddifficul to make a show on similar lines in India.

    1. Today's Padmavaat is what brought this thought in my mind

  11. Prejudice are so rooted in our society that it'll takes decades to eradicate. But I agree the show like blask-ish definitely needed in today's scenarios

  12. Dalit's one can agree have been given short end of the stick, but neither of the minorities have had to face the atrocities that leftist liberals accuse the majority of doing. There are other people in the majority community who are definitely not bhakts but abhor the way tgeir religion is maligned


Let me know what you think.