Over the course of Black-ish, we’ve watched Dre grapple to overcome his urban, working-class roots, while still hoping to pass down lessons to his children. He’s always been proud of where he came from, even as he’s glad to no longer endure the poverty of his childhood. In “Black Nanny,” Dre is faced with a new kind of feeling about being well-off: guilt.
Bow and Dre can’t manage the household as well as they once did. They’re sending the kids to school with medical waste instead of lunches and burning iron marks onto the backs of their shirts. Bow argues that they need to hire a nanny, but Dre doesn’t want to do that. He thinks having a nanny is something for white people. He doesn’t like the idea of strangers helping to raise the kids, but Bow points out they don’t have enough close family around to help out, like Ruby did when she was raising Dre. Ruby is often out with her new, younger boyfriend, and Pops runs to Las Vegas every chance he gets.
So, Dre turns to his co-workers. Honestly, I’d forgotten all about them — it’s been such a long time since we’ve seen Dre at work, and his colleagues have remained their usual racist and sexist selves. Josh has become even more of a suck-up, changing his mind any time Daphne disagrees with him. Lucy is the only one who ever makes any sense, calling Mr. Stevens and Daphne out when they suggest Dre hire a foreign nanny because she’d work harder. The two bosses reveal their own creepy relationships with the nannies they’ve hired. Mr. Stevens married his nanny, then divorced her, and she went back to working for him. Daphne still has two nannies even though her children are grown, including one she keeps employed because of some compromising photo. Neither of them help Dre feel comfortable with hiring someone to clean his house; he still thinks it’s something reserved for white people.
Bow has already pointed out Dre’s hypocrisy about the things he loves that are typically associated with the white upper class — like Asian pears, Kenny G, and neti pots. His initial refusal to hire a nanny speaks to the premise of Black-ish: When you come from nothing, pull yourself up by the proverbial bootstraps, and gain access to a world previously beyond your means, how do you maintain your cultural identity when faced with a lifestyle both foreign and desired? Is there a way to combine who you were with who you are as you build a legacy for your children? Dre frequently has to face this challenge, and it’s often hard for him to let go of his past to accept his present life.
When it comes to hiring some help, Bow and Dre reach a compromise and hire Vivian, a black nanny played by Regina Hall. Vivian and Bow bond instantly, but Dre is still wary until Vivian makes some amazing macaroni and cheese. Bow and Dre later realize she’s been such an incredible help around the house that they actually have the energy to get frisky with each other. The next morning, Vivian notes Bow’s weekday-sex glow, and Bow blushes with delight. It’s like she has a new best friend who helps take care of the household.
As Bow and Vivian grow closer, Dre’s macaroni-and-cheese high fades and he begins to feel uncomfortable again. Vivian frequently makes comments that point out their class differences. He buys a lot of shoes, but she can only buy a pair a year. Dre has two BMWs, but Vivian’s bus pass just expired. He begins hiding his material goods and it stresses him out. Dre brings this up to his co-workers and Mr. Stevens welcomes him to the world of “white guilt.” Daphne clarifies, “It’s black white guilt. We used to be the help; now we hire the help.” It’s one thing for Dre to use his hard-earned wealth to buy shoes and cars, but it’s another for him to be … well, paying for a person.
For Dre, hiring Vivian is probably too close to post-slavery America, when blacks were still shut out of lucrative jobs and forced to take roles as domestic workers and manual laborers. The costs and consequences of American slavery are never far from Dre’s mind, and having a nanny makes Dre ever more aware of class distinctions.
At Vivian’s recommendation, Bow visits her nail salon and discovers that Vivian has been gossiping about all of the Johnson family’s business. Dre and Bow want to fire Vivian, but she’s really good with the kids — she even gets through to Diane, who admits to being dead inside. Junior and Jack love Vivian because they have crushes on her. Jack maneuvers his cuteness to get hugs and kisses for his booboos. Junior tries speaking with a ridiculous deep voice, but gets dismissed.
While Dre and Bow figure out what to do about the nanny situation, Diane is running for class president. Her campaign needs some help. Her opponent is Susie Kwest, a lovable, cheerful classmate. Even Jack wants Susie to win. Zoey steps in, helping to build a smear campaign. Susie fires back with a video of Diane being rude to a classmate. (She called him a meatball head after he almost ran into her.) Zoey crafts another attack ad. Despite Diane’s hope that it would lead to a knife fight, Vivian prevents them from posting it. She tells Zoey she’s too cute to do such a thing and tells Diane she needs to be a leader, not a bully.
Seeing Vivian handle the girls convinces Dre and Bow to sit down with her and establish firmer boundaries. What happens in the Johnsons’ household stays in the Johnsons’ household. Dre and Bow will be more professional as well. Bow won’t ask Vivian to braid her hair while she’s in the tub, and Dre will stop calling her Black Nanny. Everything seems to be resolved until we check in on Diane’s presidential campaign. She lost, and she’s blaming Vivian. The two exchange some icy passive-aggressive looks. Vivian vs. Diane: FIGHT!
With Diane Johnson involved, you know this rivalry will be something special. Whatever ends up happening between Vivian and Diane will surely remind us of her battles with Charlie, who will return at some point before the season ends. Diane needs a good foil, and when she’s bumping heads with other kids, it does seem like she’s being a bully. When she’s pitted against an adult, all is fair in war. Bring it on, Vivian.