2015 is the Year for (Racial) Tolerance (On Television)

Chad White, Black Guy, Full Chad

In a year filled with surprise acceptance of different races, America (and even the world) is slowly becoming less hateful of those who are different. The past few months alone have helped incite calls for equality. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly speaks truths in that even a kid from Compton can rank among the elite. The song “Alright” is an indication that things will be better once we join together and confront our problems. With that in mind, people are finally coming to terms with gays being a force in this world. Nintendo, for instance, is testing the waters with their latest entry in the Fire Emblem series. In Fire Emblem Fates, gamers will be allowed to participate in same sex marriages. The big N is typically a conservative (albeit non-politically) company focused more on gameplay than specific factors as such. Even those who change their gender are considered champions (see Caitlin Jenner).

But where it really matters, in terms of numbers, is the wide world of television. TV is far reaching and viewers are able to relate to one another via commonly enjoyed shows. Two of 2014’s breakout hits are quickly becoming the new normal. No, it’s not the show The New Normal; that was canceled a long time ago. ABC’s Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat sound like typical sitcoms at the base level.

  • Family of four or more? Check
  • Clear leading character? Check
  • Dumb, funny fathers/ hot, strict mothers? Check
  • Kid that doesn’t fit in? Check
  • Extended family? Check
  • Father has funny coworkers? Check
  • Narration? Check

However, there is one thing that makes these two shows stand out: they both feature minority lead families. Black-ish of course has a black leading family while Fresh Off the Boat has an Asian family. The latter is actually making waves as the first US network series following an Asian family since Margaret Cho’s 1994 sitcom All-American Girl. Who knew that ABC would be the network to do this? For years, Modern Family has been the perfect show for them. It covers the family aspect and everyone is funny. Black-ish and Fresh Off the Boat get into racial territory that Modern Family rarely, if ever, steps into. True the hit show has two characters of Latin descent but jokes are often made at their expense. Sofia Vegara’s accent is often the butt of those jokes. And, while it may be nice and tight, it can get boring and tiresome.

Black-ish broke the trend by introducing the television world to a relatable black family. The last time there was a significantly large leading black cast in a sitcom was some junk shows from Tyler Perry, Girlfriends and The Bernie Mac Show – that is if you don’t count The Boondocks. Before those, there was Moesha.

Black-ish is different in that it’s tackling a slightly more tolerable world. Stereotypes aren’t lampooned; they’re explained and handled with in a smart manner. Sitcom mainstays like the sex talk, family gatherings, and midlife crises are explored along with newish -- ha -- topics like the “nod” (when black guys who don’t know each other nod as a sign of acknowledgement), becoming the first black senior VP of a company, and a MLK Day episode. Even the season finale strays from conventions with a flashback episode to the prohibition days. Black-ish has received critical acclaim -- all of which it deserves. The Laurence Fishburne produced show is stating that a high income black family can exist on the same level as its white predecessors.

On the other end of the money spectrum comes a show about culture. ABC’s other hit multi-cultural comedy, Fresh Off The Boat, is equal parts funny to Black-ish. Following an Asian family from Washington D.C. now relocated to Orlando, the show is more about authenticity – some would argue against that -- to heritage than it is about celebrating diversity. A constant push of being faithful to family ties is present in each episode, mostly coming from the patriarchs of the family. It does so with earnest thought as the narrator easily introduces viewers to the Asian culture.

Over the course of the first season’s thirteen episodes, the family “loses” their heritage and the finale discusses this. The detail is subtle but welcome as the family has to learn to split hairs between “white culture” and their personal ways of life. Fresh Off The Boat is a surprise hit after coming in at midseason. No one expected it to do well. Randall Park himself figured the show is overdue. As the star puts it “it’s Asian people on TV not being the butt of the joke.”

The time has come for a more tolerant world. Television and movies are universal languages albeit more visual than spoken. The joy, sadness, and anger from a show can be experienced from here to Timbuktu. It’s now becoming commonplace for shows to take viewers out of their comfort zones. Women are important facets to the creative process now. Race is more acceptable to explore as a story or even a full show. It’s a shame it took so long.