Okay, so let’s talk about NBC’s Parenthood
Wildly underrated but managing their fourth season, Parenthood impressed me again with a very significant discussion: a half African- half Caucasion American living in a “post-racial” America. In 4x04 “The Talk”, recording studio owner, Crosby, gets flustered when his young son, Jabbar, overhears gangster slang from a recording artist and subsequently asks: “What’s a nigga?”
With a family of mixed race, it’s almost expected for this narrative to develop, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking. As per the history of drama dealing with television and race, you almost always expect either one of two things: the white characters shows his progressive and saviour-y ideals as he preaches equality to fellow whites or the black character searching for guidance OR the outraged black character screams equality because hello, racism!
Parenthood did neither. As the episode progressed and Crosby and wife, Jasmine, faced the issue, the resolution was neither an aggressive rhetoric on equality nor patronizing sympathies but a quiet discussion at the dinner table echoing a very similar one decades earlier. When Jasmine brought everything out on the table by briefly summarizing the unfair treatment of blacks in the past, you understood that it has to be said. But what she went on to say was that despite the past, the present was better and the future even more so. That when she was Jabbar’s age, her own mother sat her down at the dinner table and told her that she dreamed that one day there would be a black President of the United States. “And now we do! Obama!” chimes Jabbar.
More impressively than educating 8-year-old Jabbar on modern day social justice was educating Crosby that, despite his position as Dad, was helpless in the discussion. While earlier, Crosby was seen to rant to his brother, Adam, about how unfair it was that Jasmine decided to take the reigns on the “the talk”.CROSBY: “My opinion’s not being given any weight, and you know, I think it’s because I’m white.”
ADAM: “Yeah… well it’s… [straight face] it’s hard being a white man in this country.”
Later, Crosby learns that there are aspects about his son that he can’t relate to. There are harsh realities in the world that he can’t shield his son from. And while Crosby consistently tries to protect Jabbar’s innocence, he learned from the dinner table discussion just how irrelevant he was. That no matter how much he tries, he can’t sympathize or relate or understand just what it feels like to be considered racially inferior. And that was what made Parenthood’s “nigga” discussion just so moving. That instead of charging through the issue because this is a “post-racial” society, they delved into the much more personal aspect of facing racial slurs in this day and age. And even more significantly, it highlighted black people’s active fight against it - not a white person’s.
While the episode dropped hints of other issues revolving racial slurs and racism in modern day America:CROSBY: “He was still confused because Double D said [nigga] and he wanted to know why he wasn’t allowed to say [nigga]. […] Well I got kind of flustered and I said he’s allowed to say it because he’s black and then Jabbar said ‘I’m black.’ “CROSBY: “But he’s also half-white.”
JASMINE: “Right, which he can use his white card when he gets pulled over by the cops for driving while black.”
… the lesson of the discussion didn’t get so bogged down that it was a thesis on racism in society. It showed an acknowledgement that these issues exist and that there are no sure-fire solutions besides the mere act of having these discussions, educating people who are otherwise unaware or ignorant of the persisting issue in society.
This is the best show you’re not watching. Fix that, fast.