Episodes like this one are a great reminder of why we need BLACK-ISH. What other primetime sitcom show could address colorism in the black community, making the topic accessible and hilarious at the same time? This week, Bow decides to protest after she finds out that Girl Story, an American Girl Place-type store, doesn’t carry a wide variety of black dolls for Diane, while Dre addresses his own biases while working on an ad campaign. The one complaint about this week would be that the other Johnson kids are shoved to the side in a disconnected-seeming subplot about playing spades with Ruby, but overall, this episode was the show at its most essential.
It all starts with Jeanine, as one could probably guess. Jeanine’s a great part of the cast, as she’s the oblivious, culturally appropriating, casual racist foil, always accidentally stoking Bow and Dre’s outrage. It’s Diane’s birthday, and she brings her a doll named Winnie, who’s supposed to be a wartime doctor. The only issue is that Winnie is white and Bow and Dre try to keep a strict black to white ratio with Diane’s toys. Bow drags Diane to the mall to return the doll. Diane’s not super into it, as she doesn’t even like dolls in the first place, but Bow insists that she needs to see herself reflected in her toys.
At Girl Story, they’re greeted by a superficially pleasant, if perhaps a little bit too doll-obsessed, employee Patrice, played by Casey Wilson. Casey Wilson is one of my favorite people on the planet thanks to her genius Real Housewives themed podcast Bitch Sesh and the late great Happy Endings, so I was already predisposed to like this episode, but she was actually hilarious. She proudly shows Bow and Diane their extensive collection of white dolls and “differently abled” dolls, but the store only has two black dolls.
The black dolls are named “Sassy Sadie” and “Sassy Selma”. Sadie is a runaway slave and Selma is a civil rights activist who marched on Selma. Bow goes in on Patrice, asking why with all the black history, they chose to focus on the oppression and struggle when there are so many role models to chose from. Patrice just has her write down her complaint in a book, but when Bow discovers that her legitimate grievance with the store’s lack of representation would be following a complaint about not enough icing on the cinnamon rolls, she tears up the book and goes home to plan a protest.
She wants to highlight people like Shonda Rimes and Misty Copeland, black women who are talented and successful. She makes some signs and drags Diane back to the mall to protest, setting a pile of dolls on fire. When Patrice goes to stomp them out, she catches on fire as well. The whole thing ends with Bow being banned from the mall and ordered to stay 400 feet away from Patrice at all times. The protest may not have been successful, but this episode did a great job of discussing why representation matters. Black people are most often portrayed as either criminals or great athletes, making it seem like those are the only two paths available to children.
Dre’s dealing with his own issues at work. He nailed an ad campaign pitch, impressing their client Boxable with a commercial featuring a family of four, touting the company as the gold standard in shipping. But after Bow reminds him that his job is important because he’s in charge of the images their children see, he begins to question why he chose a white family to represent the “gold standard”. He recasts the ad with a black family, but as Charlie and Curtis point out, it’s an incredibly light-skinned black family. They have all the conventional white markers of beauty, so it’s not much of a risk for Dre to use them in the ad.
Dre doesn’t think that he’s a colorist–after all, Lupita Nyong’o is on his free pass list. So he decides to go in the complete opposite direction, not only hiring a dark-skinned family, but dressing them in authentic African garb. It looks ridiculous, but at home, he realizes that revolutionaries don’t give up after one minor setback. He and Bow are going to keep fighting for representation and in the meantime, they’ll reinforce positive messages to their kids at home. It’s a sweet ending to an inspiring, funny episode.
Season 3, Episode 17 (S03E17)
Black-ish airs Wednesdays at 930PM on ABC
Jennifer Trofa | Contributor