If you came of age in mid- to late-20th century America when the civil rights movement gave way to growing consciousness of, and pride in being of African descent, the charge from within the black community that you were Not Black Enough was almost as wounding, even debilitating, as a racial epithet from a white person.
They're just thrown in as part of the movie's implicit challenge to the audience to look beyond whatever's obvious or shallow -- and not just in matters of race. But America had too many other things to figure out about black people back then to dig out this elemental truth: That there are as many ways to be black as there are to be white. It's a truth that "Black-ish," the new ABC sitcom, pokes at with, so far, erratic results.
There was much hype in advance about the "innovative" aspects of this series about African-American ad executive Andre Johnson, whose preference for being called "Dre" betrays his uneasiness with his fast-tracking lifestyle and whether sending his four children to elite Los Angeles schools disconnects his family from their black heritage, or, at least, those aspects of black heritage he thinks he's left behind in the working-class, predominantly black neighborhood where he grew up.
The great heavyweight boxer Joe Frazier went to his grave carrying the psychological scars from the often-vicious verbal abuse his great foil Muhammad Ali dealt him before each of their epic bouts, accusing Frazier of being an Uncle Tom and a "white-man's champion." And those were some of the milder (but no less dehumanizing) taunts that Ali later regretted and for which he repeatedly apologized to Frazier.
Yet that dismal transaction represents one of the very few times in history that wrangling over whether somebody is or isn't Black Enough extended beyond the parameters of the African-American community itself.
(CNN) -- I am black, though for most of my life, I've heard from various people that I wasn't.
From children with skin the same color as mine saying that my normal speaking voice was somehow faked and that I spoke and therefore acted "like a white man"; from a black woman who berated me for listening to the Beatles in my car because, in her words, their music "wasn't yours"; from strangers and would-be acquaintances of varied races over several decades who openly wondered if I was something other than African-American because of an eclectic range of interests (Jewish novelists, New Wave French movies, Wallace Stevens' poetry, etc.) that didn't quite jibe with whatever was expected from African-Americans.Yet, as with Lionel, she carries a portfolio of seeming contradictions, such as a white lover and a preference for Ingmar Bergman's movies over Spike Lee's.Neither these characters nor their creator Simien insist on reconciling or dismissing such seeming incongruities.There's also a gay nerd-outcast named Lionel, who wears a retrograde Afro hairstyle so big as to be compared to a weather system, listens to Mumford & Sons, loves Robert Altman movies and, as he puts it, "isn't black enough" for either the black or the white students.The most radical character is a mixed-race young woman named Sam White, a rabble-rousing radio jock and aspiring filmmaker whose acerbically funny barbs aimed at genteel racial stereotyping at mythical Winchester University sets off a nationalist insurgency among the black students.The most intriguing, revelatory moments in "Black-ish" are, thus, the smaller, more offhanded ones, most especially in the debut episode in which the two youngest children in the Johnson household say they can't see the significance of Barack Obama being the first black president because they've never lived in a time when there were white ones.