An identity crisis can be defined as “a feeling of unhappiness and confusion caused by not being sure about what type of person you really are or what the true purpose of your life is” or “personal psychosocial conflict especially in adolescence that involves confusion about one’s social role and often a sense of loss of continuity to one’s personality” (Merriam). In my opinion, I feel that every color person that grows up in America go through an identity crisis. I was born and raised in Vietnam for eight years and the only two words I knew when I stepped foot on American soil were “hello” and “apple”. The elementary school that I went to was predominantly white (roughly 85%) and the only other Asian person I knew was a family friend, but she was two grades higher than me so she was not always there to help translate when there’s a language barrier. After I completed third grade, I was basically white washed; I wanted to be like all of my white friends. I started to respond to my parents in English at home and I would get in trouble doing so, also because my parents barely spoke English to understand me. I never wanted my mom to pack me lunch because the kids at school would make fun of me every time I brought Asian food from home. Lunchables were my savior, even though cheese and crackers were never fulfilling for a long day at school. I defined myself as an American, not Vietnamese American because I did not want to be affiliated with my Vietnamese culture at all since none of the kids at school seemed to understand anything that we do, such as using chopsticks, taking off our shoes inside the house, and eating stinky food. But to my American friends, I was just the “Chinese girl”, even though I was Vietnamese, but no one seemed to really care because “all Asians are the same”.
Then, in eighth grade, my family visited Vietnam for the first time since I left. I was 14 at the moment so I was already at the awkward stage of puberty and trying to find out who I am or who I want to be, and basically to fit in with everyone in junior high. So when I went back to Vietnam, I went through another identity crisis because people in Vietnam called me a whitewashed Viet and they saw me as an American, not as a Vietnamese person. However, being surrounded by Vietnamese people 24/7 for six weeks straight changed my opinion about wanting to be a white girl. I realized that the absence of being around other Vietnamese people pulled me away from identifying myself as whom I really am. Also, I grew up in Redmond where it’s predominantly white and the only Asians I was surrounded by were rich, whitewashed Koreans. So when I came back to America after six weeks in Vietnam, I absolutely hated being around white people. I associated with many but I tried to make more Asian friends and hung around them more. Up until today I still identify myself as Vietnamese and I would take as many opportunities as I can to be more involved in my community to remind myself constantly of my roots.
Thus, the cultural artifact that I chose is an episode called “The Nod” from ABC’s Black-ish sitcom and how it portrays black identity. For those not familiar with the show, Black-ish is a comedy sitcom that centers on an upper middle class African-American family and the main character Dre (Anthony Anderson) struggles to gain a sense of cultural identity while raising his kids in a predominantly white neighborhood (Black-ish). In the episode “The Nod”, Dre wanted to expand his son’s, Junior, social circle to include more black kids after he found out that his son was clueless about some black street codes, such as “the nod”, which was the “internationally accepted, yet, unspoken sign of acknowledgement of black folks around the world” (Barris). Then Dre realized that because he put his kids in a private school, the population was predominantly white so he was desperate to find black friends for Junior. His wife suggested him looking into The Leimert Social Club, an organization for rich black kids that promotes service, leadership and collegiality, but Dre misunderstood it as something like the YMCA. Then a new employee at work, whom happened to also be black, gave advice that the best way to teach Junior about black struggles was to take him to the hood to experience things first hand. But Junior was still not understanding why this was an issue for him because he identified himself as an American, not African American. Growing up and attending school with mainly whites, I totally understand where Junior stands in this case. When Junior finally found another black friend that had the same interests as him, such as making hobbit shires rather than playing basketball at the courts, Dre realized that black struggles came in a lot of different forms and Junior’s struggles were just different from his own (Barris).
Kenya Barris created this show in 2014 and since then had produced two seasons. While this show targeted African Americans because it was dedicated to represent African Americans, there have been many critics as to why some people might not like the show. D.C. Livers, a podcaster and journalist, posted an article that discussed the five reasons why she won’t watch Black-ish.: 1 & 2) Were criticizing the cast and how some people did not fit their roles; 3.) Livers pointed out that the script and characters were weak because not many black people can relate to those on the show; 4.) During these past few years in America, there has been an increased in racial tensions, especially in the black community and the start of #BlackLivesMatter. To create a show that includes a privileged, “good” black family can make the tension arise in that blacks are being underrepresented in the media; and 5.) Since ABC owns less than 10% of its marketing budget with Black-owned media outlets, mainstream media would make millions, assuming that all blacks will watch the show. Livers also made the statement “Why can’t Black people just be Black people anymore? Do we always have to come with a label that says ‘we’re not really Black’ so we’re good just to be on TV or the big screen?” (Marc)
Even though this show is in modern time, we see this type of underrepresentation and flawed views of blacks in entertainment and media since the early 1800s. When we watched the film Ethnic Notion in class, they talked about minstrels, which were a band of white entertainers that would blacken their face to perform songs and music ostensibly of black origin. Minstrel started in 1843 and was America’s first form of popular entertainment. One of the most famous black face performers was Bert Williams, whom was actually African American. Williams got his foot in the door when working at a theater and since then kicked off his performance career doing minstrel shows. Williams was also the first black comedian to ever appear on cinema because he worked hard to overcome the obstacles against blacks in media. Although minstrels were mainly white actors that would paint their faces black, Williams did it anyway to be likeable for his performances, “’I have never been able to discover that there was anything disgraceful in being a colored man. But I have often found it inconvenient – in America’” (Padqett). Despite his popularity at that time, Williams still struggle with racism, such as having to wait outside a venue for a white person to escort him inside because blacks were not allowed to go into those types of places alone (Ethnic).
This time period was important for African Americans because they were angered towards the stereotypes and labels that were given to them through media and entertainment and they wanted to take any chance to show people that they were not all vicious or any of those assumptions. Thus, they would do anything to get their foot into entertainment, such as Bert Williams doing black face. The labeling of African Americans as bad and ugly affects them internally and externally. During the Great Migration and Jim Crow era, whites tried to steer away from the idea of integration with blacks. So when people are given any sort of chance to fit in with whites for better opportunities, they don’t want to identify themselves as African American. During slavery, race was what it meant to be black (a slave), but Jim Crow defines race as a second-class citizen (Pittman). In Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow article, she talks about the creation of the racial stigma that all blacks are criminals and how that prevented many from succeeding for better opportunities. This stigma would put blacks in positions where they would lie about their association with any family members that were an ex-felon, just so they could be more acceptable by their white counterparts (Alexander).
Because of the labeling and the racial stigma that blacks are criminals, inhumane, animalistic, rapists, etc., not many African Americans want to identify themselves as black, but rather as an American. Since blacks have always been underrepresented, especially in the media, it is important that if any shows or movies were to help represent, it was to be used with effective methods. The imagery of what a black family look like in Black-ish is flawed view by the creator. Although some of the issues, such as identity crisis are pointed out, the whole show really is weak in showing the true characteristics and struggles of black families in America. I can see identity crisis happening even in times of slavery and is continued until today because of the inequality that whites create for people of color. It can happen to anyone and people shouldn’t be judged towards whom they want to identify themselves as.
Alexander, Michelle. Feb 09, 2010. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New Press, The, New York.
Barris, Kenya. “Black-ish: The Nod.” ABC. 2014. Television.
“Black-ish.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2015. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3487356/>.
Ethnic Notions. Dir. Marlon Riggs. 1986. Youtube. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6DlRuEz2_K0>.
Marc. “Why I Won’t Be Watching ABC’s “Blackish” Sitcom.” Polite on Society. N.p., 17 Sept. 2014. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. <http://www.politeonsociety.com/2014/09/17/why-i-wont-be-watching-abcs-blackish-sitcom/).>.
Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/identity%20crisis>.
Padqett, Ken. “Bert Williams.” Blackface. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. <http://black-face.com/Bert-Williams.htm>.
Pittman, LaShawnda (2015). The New Jim Crow [Powerpoint Slides].