“Black-ish” Season 2 kicks off with one of its most ambitious episodes yet. The sophomore season begins with a hard look at possibly the most controversial word in the English language — the N-word.
While the rules of who is allowed to say it and when has been covered by every major stand-up comedian, “Black-ish” brings the debate to a family setting. It’s little Jack (Miles Brown) that says the word while performing Kanye West’s “Gold Digger” at a school talent show. Due to the school’s zero tolerance policy for hate speech — instituted by Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) the year before — Jack is looking at getting expelled. The controversy forces Dre (Anthony Anderson) to examine his own usage and feelings about the word.
As each episode of “Black-ish” does, the issue gets examined by each generation in the house as well as Dre’s clueless white co-workers. For the older generation, it’s used to differentiate between different sections of the black community, or self-hate as Dre points out. Bow is firmly against any person saying the word due to its negative, racially derogatory roots. Dre is adamant that his generation reclaimed the word as a colloquialism of power and thus black people using it in such a context should be allowed to say it, but no one else.
The most poignant argument for the phrase comes when Dre has to defend Jack at the school board hearing and points out that Paula Deen said it and “got a little flack for it” but inevitably wound up with $100 million in funding. Quentin Tarantino used it without an ounce of shyness in “Django Unchained” and won an Oscar for best original screenplay, but an eight-year old boy with completely innocent intentions is getting kicked out of school for saying it? Something doesn’t add up.
In the end, the show doesn't try to make the decision for anyone on whether the word should be banned completely or used in only specific contexts. Jack is told to hold off from saying it until he's old enough to understand the history of the word and make a decision for himself about whether he wants to use it -- which is solid advice for anyone questioning if the N-word still has a place in 2015.
"Black-ish" airs Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.