Black-ish Recap: White Guilt

Yara Shahidi as Zoey. Photo: John Fleenor/ABC
Episode Title
40 Acres and a Vote
Editor’s Rating

Something is off with Black-ish. Maybe it has something to do with how crowded the show has become this season. Daveed Diggs as Johan is good, but he has been given few opportunities shine. And now, "40 Acres and a Vote" introduces another character: Connor (Nelson Franklin), Mr. Stevens's son. Does the show really need to add any more cast members? The ensemble is large enough as it is. With so many characters fighting for screen time, Black-ish feels way too busy.

Junior is running for student president. If he wins, he'll be the first black president in the school's history. Dre, emotional from realizing President Obama will soon leave the office, is determined to see Junior win. Dre doesn't want the country to lose all the progress it's made, so he wants to keep black presidents of any kind in office — a desire that leads to the episode's central family debate. Everybody in the family has various positions on voting, and while I can appreciate Black-ish for wanting to show many sides to an issue, it all seemed like overkill.

Ruby is voting Democrat, regardless of Hillary Clinton's positions or the fact that her ideals align so perfectly with Republican candidate Donald Trump that Diane's voting app assumed Ruby was him. Ruby always votes Democrat, plus she knows her priorities: Idris, money, and alimony. Johan and Pops refuse to vote because they think elections are rigged. Even Jack experiences what he thinks is a rigged election in his classroom. The students have to vote for a class pet, but because he received detention, he is no longer allowed to cast a ballot. Johan and Pops shake their heads at this felony disenfranchisement, another way to keep black voters from having a voice.

At work, Dre has to contend with Connor and Mr. Stevens, who are birthers and believe President Obama is the worst thing to happen to the country. Connor may not be the best person to listen to on these kinds of matters — or anything, really — since his nickname is the New Haven Ripper. It looks like Jeff Meacham's Josh has been demoted to a recurring role for season three, so Connor must be tapping in as the requisite idiotic white guy at work.

After Junior embarrasses himself by wearing a woman's pantsuit to present his campaign speech, Dre tells him to focus on "black cool" while it still has some value. Junior dabs to Desiigner's "Panda" but drops his phone, which begins to play some kind of uncool indie pop. Junior's failure goes viral, frustrating Dre. Charlie suggests Junior try the white guilt strategy. It worked for him, which is why the office now has Popeye's Fridays. We next see Junior looking like a modern Malcolm X, claiming to be the son of a slave, and adding images of the KKK in between slides of his vending-machine platform. The white guilt campaign works, sort of: Junior rises in the polls, but someone creates a smear campaign against him, claiming the election is rigged.

Junior wants to be himself, so he tells Dre he's going to quit. Junior is not cool, nor does he want to guilt his classmates into voting for him. Dre is disappointed but lets it go. In the end, however, Junior sticks to the race. He saw his opponent being rude to the janitorial staff and didn't want someone in office who would not be respectful of all people. In the meantime, Johan and Pops are inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama's rousing Democratic National Convention speech and vow to vote in the upcoming election. Zoey uses white guilt to write her college essay, turning the Johnson family into a sob story she needs college to escape from.

Not only is the episode a crowded house of cast members, but Johan and Pops are also watching O.J.: Made in America, which occasionally pops up to add a remark about "white justice" to the voting disenfranchisement debate. (The complete line, uttered by Simpson's childhood friend Joe Bell: "That is white justice in America.") So yeah, "40 Acres and a Vote" has a lot to juggle. Ostensibly, it is a long reminder to get out and vote when it's time to elect a president — with Ruby's narrow-minded views as admonishment of how not to vote — but the episode doesn't gel. If Black-ish had found a way to give us more Johan, more Charlie, and less time at Dre's workplace, maybe the episode would've gone more smoothly. As it is, the show needs to get its groove back.