“Parenthood” and the Complexities of Interracial Relationships
Parenthood made me cry today.
The show is fantastic. It’s superbly acted, well cast and it hits on a lot of problems that families go through. I’m sure that once I am a parent, many many moons from now, I’ll think back to “What did Adam Braverman do in situations like this”? And for better or for worse, I’ll know what to do. Or what not to do.
But that’s not the point of what I want to talk about. There’s another aspect of the show that hits very close to home for me. It’s not about familial ties or issues with siblings or growing up.
It’s about the complexities of interracial relationships.
From the beginning we see Crosby and Jasmine, old lovers who share a child. That in and of itself is enough to supply those characters with drama and excitement to last them the entire life of the show. But it’s the fact that Crosby is white and Jasmine is black that adds even deeper levels to this story. No matter how much we want to deny it, no matter how progressive we all want to claim to be, mixed couples look weird. It’s not “natural,” not “the norm.” No matter how attractive Dax Shepard and Joy Brant are, there’s still something a little off about looking at them together.
Now before anyone reading this gets all up in arms about the things I’m saying (again, see “We all think we’re so progressive”) know that I am black. Also know that I have never dated someone within my own race. So stories like this always mean a little more to me, always strike a stronger chord.
When the Bravermans first meet Jasmine the looks on their faces say it all: “Oh. She’s black. Didn’t see that coming.” That’s not to say they’re racist, they’re not. It’s just a shock. When most people hear about significant others that a friend or family member is dating, they naturally assume they are of the same race, and there’s nothing wrong with that. So it comes as a shock when someone isn’t exactly who you were expecting. I get it, Jasmine, I’ve been there too.
Luckily the Bravermans are very open-minded and loving and accept Jasmine into their family with open arms. So maybe we really are a progressive society. While I admittedly thought that giving Crosby a black love interest and a mixed (and incredibly adorable) child was a cheap attempt and progression when I first began watching, I’ve grown to see that the commentary is important. It is very relevant.
While they may look “different,” interracial relationships are not uncommon. And it’s not just black and white, the races or the subject matter. I can really only speak on this because of my own personal experiences, but know that it is much farther reaching than this.
While race has seemingly been put aside in the Crosby/Jasmine story, season 2 of Parenthood has introduced another. Haddie has fallen for Alex, the slightly older manager of a local food bank. He had a troubled childhood and is now going through Alcoholics Anonymous. And he’s black. Haddie’s parents, Adam and Kristina, don’t want her to see Alex anymore, but not because of the color of his skin. They take issue with his age and his past, but assure it has nothing to do with the fact that he’s black. It’s such a dogged assurance that it kind of makes them actually seem racist. Isn’t that always the tell of a racist? “What? I’m not racist! I love African Americans! Two of my very close friends are black!”
And it keeps coming back to that. In “A House Divided” Haddie is relentless in her assertion that the reason she’s forbidden to see Alex is because he’s black. Kristina’s comeback of “I love black men!” is somewhat comical and continues to lend to the aforementioned notion that adamantly denying racism is suspect. Whether they are or not, the accusation of such a thing is indeed troubling to them.
Of course when Alex learns of Adam and Kristina’s disapproval his race is the first thing that comes to mind. And that’s completely understandable. Alex, I have been there as well. It’s hard for one’s mind not to go to that place. It’s another hurdle to have to jump. When people have to ask you “Is race not a problem with you guys?” it makes you wonder “Hm. Is it? What do other people think? What do his/her parents think? What’s it going to be like for our kids?” Granted, these are questions that all relationships have to face, but again, there is an added level when race is thrown into the mix.
Again, The Bravermans are not racist. No matter how it may look, they do actually have very valid reasons for not wanting Haddie to date Alex. In “Opening Night” Adam tells Alex that they do like him; he’s a very nice and responsible young man. The fact of the matter is Haddie is 16 and they want her to be 16, live the life of a 16 year old. Dating an older guy with his own apartment who goes to AA meetings is not something a 16 year old should be doing. Race has nothing to do with it. Makes perfect sense. We also learn in “A House Divided” the source of Kristina’s frustration over this conflict: her parents ran away with each other when they were 16 and she doesn’t want that to happen to Haddie.
What we’re supposed to take from all of this is while race doesn’t matter, shouldn’t matter, it does to an extent. Max put it best (and most simply) in “Damage Control”: “You’re black.” No matter if that’s an issue or not, it’s a fact. One that comes with a whole new set of obstacles whether people want it to or not.
I know I’m not the first person who has ever felt this way. Or had to deal with these kinds of feelings or issues. All I really want to say is thank you, Parenthood. You’ve portrayed emotions and situations I’ve dealt with in the most realistic and reflexive way I’ve ever seen. It’s just another reason why you’re such a great show.
- February 7, 2011