*The second season of ABC’s “Black-ish” kicks off with an episode that may force viewers to examine modern-day use of the controversial N-Word, and while the topic has become tiring for most, the hilariously engaging episode titled “The Word,” approaches the subject with the type of light appeal that’s not preachy, nor will it make you shift around uncomfortably in your chair.
We chatted with series star Anthony Anderson and “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris ahead of the premiere, and both men shared their conflicting views about the word. Anderson admitted that he uses the word “as a term of endearment among my peer group,” but never around mixed company. He also explained how his personal beliefs compare to that of his character Andre (Dre) Johnson.
“Dre is an amalgamation of himself, of me, of our friends, our family – it’s closest to who I am more so than any other character that I’ve portrayed so far. The word is almost like learned behavior. Growing up in the inner city, these are the words that I grew up hearing,” he said.
However, Anderson also confessed that he’s always left “hurt” when he visits Africa and the locals greet him with “Nigga!”
“That’s the first word out of their mouth when they greet me. The first time I heard it-it was like fingernails across the chalkboard. I thought back to Richard Pryor when he said the first time he went to Africa, and how he would never say nigga again because he didn’t see any niggas when he was there. That’s how I felt. Getting off a plane in the Mother Land and being embraced by my people and the first thing they say to me is, “Nigga!” It hurt, even though I know they didn’t mean any hurt behind it.”
How much do you hold the Hip Hop community accountable for making the N-word trendy to use by everyone as a term of endearment?
“I can’t blame the hip hop community because you and I are the hip hop community,” Anthony said. “We are what made it cool. I can’t pigeonhole it and say they are responsible for it because they are us. We are them. So we made it cool, as a collective.”
Kenya admitted that when it comes to the use of the N-word, he struggles “back and forth with artist responsibility.”
“I want to be able to tell my stories in the best and most honest way that I feel,” he said. “I think the same for a rapper or a singer. I feel that music is for mass consumption.”
He continued :
“Jay Z is my favorite artist and I recently went to a concert and he performed “Niggas in Paris,” and it was an audience of mostly white kids, and they were singing the words, just as loud as Jay Z. I struggled with; ‘They paid their money for this concert. They paid their money for the music. The music is for mass consumption. Are we then suppose to tell them that they can’t use all the words?’ That’s like an author selling a book and telling certain groups of people you can’t read pages 15-18.”
80% of “Black-ish” viewers are non-black, and Barris attributes the low viewership among blacks as being a loss of interest in comedies. We noted how black folks are bombarded with racial topics daily, and considering that race is the DNA of the show, we asked Barris if he also considers ‘facial fatigue’ a factor.
“I don’t think that has anything to do with it. If you look at “Empire,” the core of it is race relations, inner city struggles and things that are completely driven by race and culture in a much more in your face way than our show, and there’s no comedy to take that down with, and that show is huge. I think that black viewership in terms of comedy departed some years ago and we’re trying to get them back. I think we’re at a time now where the conversation needs to be had about what’s going on in the world more so than ever.”
“Blackish” airs Wednesday 9:30/8:30c on ABC.