It’s Martin Luther King Day on Black-ish and the obsessive, overzealous, obnoxious but ultimately well-meaning aspect of Andre’s personality has returned in full force. Every year, the Johnsons celebrate MLK weekend with a family ski trip, this year, including Junior’s (white) best friend Zach (whose family usually spends that weekend teaching literacy at the local prison; “They’re white. They have to do extra credit”) and Andre’s coworker Charlie (Deon Cole). What is a supposed to be a simple, relaxing skip trip quickly becomes anything but when Andre realizes that Junior doesn’t know as much about black history as he should. The vacation group splits into two cars—Andre, Junior, Zach and Charlie in one and Rainbow, Zoey, Jack and Diane in the other—with a competition to see who will know the most black history by the end of the drive.
At first, Andre quizzes his son on black history facts but then it grows into something much larger. Junior has had a very privileged upbringing (money, good school, nice neighborhood) that has somehow been free of racism (I totally don’t think this is possible, but I’ll go with it). ”My son had no real understanding of prejudice,” pipes up Andre’s voiceover, realizing the best way to show his son what prejudice is like is to have him experience it firsthand. This is tricky because on the one hand, a parent wants to keep their children as protected from the cruelty of the world as much as possible but on the other hand, shouldn’t you prepare them for the shitheads that are out there?
Right on cue, a police officer pulls them over and Andre braces himself for some sort of racist showdown (who can blame him?) but it never occurs. The cop is polite and has a legitimate reason for pulling Charlie over. Andre continues to actively seek out intolerance in the world, next at a small store where he tries to make it looks like he’s stealing candy by actually stealing candy though even that doesn’t work because the candy is free.
At the ski lodge, Andre finally founds an opportunity in the flimsiest of excuses: a white couple got the last set of adjoined rooms, though Andre specifically requested them too. It’s all downright silly from here, with Andre trying to channel Martin Luther King Jr. by staging a sit-in protest on a luggage cart. It’s so telling that his children look on, not in surprise or abject horror as you’d expect but with a sort of weary resignation, a sign that they have put up with this behavior before (we’ve certainly gotten plenty of glimpses of it) and that they know they will have to put up with this behavior again. It’s a heavy sigh, but an accepting one. They acknowledge that they have one of the “good” fathers, but in a hilarious, almost mournful way: “We’ll wake up every morning and he’ll still be there. Trying.” As Andre is being wheeled away to ski lodge jail, he proudly yells “Junior, this is for you!” who replies, “I don’t want this,” which is up there for one of the funniest exchanges on Black-ish so far.
Practically everything in “Martin Luther Skiing Day” is just pure laughs but there’s such an important undertone to all of Andre’s antics, despite how out of his mind he seems throughout the whole episode. He truly wants his son to understand that racism still exists in this world because he knows that it’s important to prepare Junior. Sure, creating a huge (fake) controversy about being denied (but not really) a room at the hotel isn’t something huge and life-changing but it’s all Andre has at this point. “What are we supposed to do when something really happens?” he questions Rainbow and it’s a very legitimate concern, one that’s far more telling than anything else he says in the half-hour, and it sticks with you. But aside from a very real conversation—not these silly stunts—there’s not much you can do except continue to be around and be comforting when something does happen.
The only thing that lessens this episode a bit for me is the conclusion to the whole thing, a frustratingly simplistic parallel between racism and snowboarding. I get it and it’s clever enough—but not as clever as I’ve come to expect from Black-ish—and it’s a little too on-the-nose and cutesy. I mean, shipping the snowboarders to the back of the bus? Too easy. Sure, it gets Junior to learn a lesson (though it’s not about race) but I wouldn’t exactly say it’s “real” injustice nor is it a real comparison to being a second-class citizen. Then again, it is funny! And that’s what this show is supposed to be. I could do without the “free to thrash” chant but, again, I’ll take it.
All of that said, let’s talk about my favorite part of the episode: Rainbow, perfect human Rainbow, air quoting “Doctor” when talking about Martin Luther King. “If you were to have a heart attack, he would give a great speech and I would keep you alive. I just don’t understand why we’re called the same thing.” It’s such a great joke, one that aims high and lands, a perfect way to take a shot at someone so respect without being offensive. Also, Tracee Ellis Ross nails every line she’s ever given. MVP of the sitcom season for me.
- As much as I love Deon Cole, I was hesitant about Charlie sticking around the show because I didn’t like his first appearance too much. But he’s been definitely growing on me, especially in this episode, as we get more glimpses into his strange existence—like his terror of the cop going through his trunk.
- “DWB.” “DWUB?” “Driving while black, idiot!”
- “If you slip and fall, I’ll just have to find a PHD to help you.” Seriously, Rainbow is killing it.
- Aw, I love that little aside about how much the twins have grown since the last time they went skiing.
- Also, I am so intrigued by Diane vs. Charlie.
- I would watch an entire half-hour of Bow, Zoey, and the twins singing terrible songs in their car.
- Important black men, according to Andre: Obama, Tupac, Dave Chappelle.