Anyone who knows me knows I love the television show “Blackish.” It is a sitcom that features the upwardly mobile African-American Johnson family.
The show’s main character, portrayed by Anthony Anderson, is Andre “Dre” Johnson, who is an advertising executive, and his wife Rainbow, played by Tracee Ellis Ross, is a doctor.
The Johnsons often struggle with the assimilation of their black family and what success means to their children as they live life in a mostly white suburb.
I love how the half-hour comedy manages to weave history into many of its episodes. Superbly written by Kenya Barris, the show provides conversation starters with whites about touchy issues such as racism–that ugly word that just won’t go away–and police brutality.
The show also gives words to issues black folks have within the race as well such as colorism, HBCUs versus majority institutions, biracial identity, etc. With humor, depth and wit, every week they bring relevant issues to the forefront most often with historical perspectives.
My favorite episode is the season four premiere dealing with Juneteenth. In a musical presentation entitled “We Built This,” they creatively demonstrated black people’s contributions to this nation.
In less than two minutes, it reminds—or in some cases teaches–us how enslaved Africans provided the free labor that built the foundations and institutions of these United States. It stresses the agriculture and cotton industry that was the basis of the southern economy; railroads, universities and colleges, and even more importantly the White House, the Capitol and many of the monuments in Washington, D.C., the seat of government for the country.
As I reflect on the episode, I am reminded that Michelle Obama brought this often forgotten fact up to the nation in her 2016 speech at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
“That is the story of this country, the story that has brought me to this stage tonight, the story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving and hoping and doing what needed to be done so that today I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.”
Buried history reveals that both slaves and free blacks helped erect the nation’s capital. The Smithsonian Institute documents this history such as Phillip Reid, an enslaved man who cast the Statute of Freedom that sits atop the Capitol building.
Another buried black historical figure who helped build Washington, D.C., is Benjamin Banneker (1731- 1806). Without Banneker, Washington would not exist as it does now. After the Frenchman (Pierre L’Enfant) that George Washington hired to design the city suddenly quit the job after a year–taking the plans with him by the way– it was Banneker who from memory reproduced the layout plans in detail in two days, which included the streets, parks and monuments.
Because of the transatlantic slave trade, us Africans living in America have a complicated and painful relationship with this country. We have accomplishments and brilliancies in our story despite the horrendous means that brought our ancestors here.
And make no mistake about it, we built this!
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