Jeff Meacham Talks ABC’s ‘Black-ish’

ATM: How can someone from another culture learn more about the black community and less discussed cultures?

JM: The subjects on the show are often universal. There are so many things as a white guy who grew up in Connecticut and Florida and did not have a full understanding of what it was like to grow up as a black person. This first episode in season five, was about their child deciding to take a gap year and stay home. White, black, Hispanic, it does not matter, it happens to everyone. The beginning episodes are genius, they kind of last 30 seconds to less than a minute. You get this quick piece of history on Black America that most white people did not know. There was an episode like 2 years ago about black people wanting to go swimming. Black people were going to community pools in history.

There was a famous actress who dipped her toe in the pool, and they drained it. Or people throwing acid on people. These are horrendous things that I knew nothing about. This is brutal. The show is not barricading you or throwing it in your face, but it is saying, “Hey these things happen. You should know about it. We are not going to tell you in some super heavy way. We are going to tell you through a comedy and let you know that black people have always been treated like shit for an exceptionally long period.” We just go on with our lives. I tell everyone that I have learned from this when the question comes up about, “What did you learn from the show?”

I say, “I do not have a single clue of what it was like being a black person in America.” So now, when I see white people or people in the government voice their opinion on Black people, it is like we have zero clue what it is like to feel fear. Also, what it is like walking down the street, driving in a car, and getting pulled over by the police. Or to know that people judge you by the content of your skin. I have learned to keep my mouth shut and listen. I now say this is an insane story. I am often flabbergasted in the table reads, I say, “No way. Did this happen?” I say this all the time, “Are you kidding? No way.”

ATM: What do you think the “ish” means in the title of Black-ish?

JM: I have never heard a formal answer from the writers. Kenya and Anthony would have a much better solution than me. You have three different generations of people on the show. Pops comes from the civil rights era. Dre who is a young 40-year-old man caught in between of the two ages. You have these young kids who grew up in private schools and also went to private schools. There is a bright line in the first episode. The genius moment when they are trying to let their children know Barack Obama is the first black man to be president. To the kids, he is the only president they have ever known. It is not like they know of that history.

So Blackish indicates these different generations of being black in America during different time periods. It represents the difference of black in America at different time periods. For a person who is born in the 1940s, a black man or a woman, they experienced Black America very different than somebody born in the 90s.

ATM: What does your character being in the workplace say about conversations that are allowed for discussion in the workplace? What does it say about what is and what is not appropriate?

JM: This is one of the great things about our show. Mr. Stevens represents the people we are trying to stop right now in America with the most significant movement. They are saying whatever they want in the workplace. Also being able to get away with this in the workplace for many years became part of the norm. It is not appropriate to say these types of things. When you see it on television by a character that is so beautifully played by Peter Mackenzie, you say, “Oh wait, you are not supposed to say these things in the workplace. It is not right.” The things that we say to people do hurt and shape them. We need to start to know there will be consequences in what you do and say.

A character like Mr. Stevens beautifully displayed for all of America to see when watching this show. These are the things that should not be said. We have gotten away with it so long especially white men. Also, white men in power like in his career, he owns a business, and he feels a right because no one is going to fire him, that he gets to say these things. My character in the first few seasons, I used to say he represents the dumb shit white people say to black people on accident. Not in any way meaning to be racist. I define racism as people that hate. In no way does Josh hate black people, he wants to be cool like them. He says these inappropriate things because he hears it.

I was hearing the Megyn Kelly thing from the other day when she was talking about someone painting their blackface. She was not trying to be hateful, but she was like, “I am going to say this comment because why not.” But Kelly it is inappropriate, and you should not say these things, and you need to learn this. Josh is one of those people who is starting to learn this. He said more inappropriate things in the first few seasons. I always picture Josh saying, “I thought black people were_____” Whatever that is. These words will get you into trouble right there. You are not supposed to say comments like this. No one often says, “I thought white people were supposed to be better than _________” Whatever this “blank” is makes Josh get himself in trouble. He hears something and says it naively and we, say, “Josh you are an idiot.”

ATM: What does your character represent regarding how some white people try to appropriate to the black culture and trying to fit in a while in a majority black space? 

JM: Looking at it in one sense, it is a comment to a group of black people that a white person is trying to fit in to be cool. This is the ultimate idea behind it. It is like, “I know myself when I am with a group.” I have gone to the Image Awards. I have been there while being a part of a hand full of white people. You are around these unbelievable cool, well dressed, and beautiful black people who are badass and cool. You feel not cool. I know I am not cool of a guy. I find it as a comment in a way that white people find a way to change. “Guess what? We are not as cool as you are.” Some people feel a fear in this sense and that is a way for there to be a backlash.

ATM: Do you believe the white people who are unaware of black history and the black people who do not understand that white people are aware, is a part of the social disconnect between these two cultures?

It is not as simple as typing on google about black history. We are  taught white history is everything else.

JM: I think your first part is a great point. I am thinking back on my childhood and how I learned about black history. I remember it, but I do not remember what we learned. I was in high school in the 90s. Did I learn about black history during this period of time? Maybe as the student, you have the highlights. Maybe the highlights are what sticks in us. We hit World History in general. It is definitely the nuisances, the specifics, and also the little things we do not remember. A show like Blackish is something to teach us. An example is Juneteenth. I had no clue what this was about at first. It is a holiday to celebrate the day slavery was abolished. I had no idea there was a formal celebration for this. After hearing about it and doing the episode, I was like, “Holy shit. This should definitely be a holiday. This is a huge thing in American history.” This is another thing in America. You can walk up to any white person or a person that is not white, and ask, “Did you know there is an actual celebration for when slavery ended?” Most people would not know this. I am trying to think off the top of my head the many times I had reacted in a way of not knowing. This is a big thing. It is not talked about and people do not know these things.

Years ago, I watched a Netflix documentary called Crips and Bloods: Made in America. I thought it was going to be cool. It was about these two gangs. As a white person, I have never met only one like this. I live in LA, but I do not know anyone with this life. Because of my love for action films, I thought it was going to be cool. I watched this documentary, and the only ideas that came into my mind were, “Oh my God, white people are terrible.” I had no idea when slavery got abolished or what black people went through actually to have a citizenship in this country.

Also, to make a family and have a job. I just had no idea. I was shell shocked. Instead of it being a thing, I thought it was going to be really cool, but instead, this film opened my eyes. When I speak now in conversations with people, I dare say, my father, who is not a racist. He does have racist opinions about thinks from this old age. He was born in the early 40s. He has the perspective of, “If you work hard, then you move forward. So, when I say lazy black people, I blame them for being lazy and not for being black.” This is a generalization of what he says and also from our arguments through the years. “You have no idea or clue or what you are talking about how hard it is for a black person to make their way in America.” These the things I keep learning. I keep my mouth shut.

ATM: This is where I come into context with the social disconnect. To a black person when some people say remarks that classifies as ignorant, which is not the same as how white people might see it. To a white person, they are just voicing their opinion.

JM: Right.

ATM: Do you believe that some white people are unaware that they are  “unaware” about not knowing these things?

JM: You spend your life in a bubble. Everyone spends their life in a bubble. This is why, I feel people who live in cities are more aware. When people are caught in this bubble, they know no different, and just know this world. It feels like a melting pot for those living in cities. We experience and learn. They are just unaware and completely naïve.

Again, circling back to Josh’s character and Mr. Steven’s character, these are the representations that happen in them. They are just incompletely unaware. Most people do not go back and say, “I should learn about this.” No, they go on with their lives. They build their opinions about things and watch the news.

ATM: From all that you know now, how do you feel to know your ancestors treated blacks?

JM: This is a great question. Of course, the answer is terrible. I feel awful. For history you only learn things based on the “good things” people did. These “good things” are our history while in school for the most part. You learn so and so might have given us this, but by the way, they were also a bigot and a terrible person and a racist. The thing I can do is teach my children in different ways. Make people aware of the mistakes of what we did and say we do not want to be like this anymore. We hope the next generation continues to get better. I am  lucky to live in Los Angeles. For the reason of working on this show, I can afford to send my child to a wonderful private school that has an amazing mission statement.

It is about all being one. Everyone is one, it does not matter if your parents are white, black, gay, straight, or transgender. It does not matter who you are, but it is all about having a good character. My son who is in kindergarten, this is six years into his life, he does not know that someone is black. He thinks his friends are brown. This is the color of a black person in his mind. It is not black, but it is brown. We have one of these moments where he says he has a this black friend. When I ask, Oh, can you describe your friend Theo in class. He says, “He has black hair and brown skin.” It is wonderful that my son does not call him black.

My God it would be wonderful if the world would eventually become like this someday. Looking back on history, of course, I feel bad. Now, I think my grandparents we mostly racist and also their parents before them. In some capacity, who knows. I have a very liberal mother and brother. Also, sisters who are making huge drives at work. It is a left company. I see that there is no black or white. There are just assholes and non-assholes. When someone judges somebody for the color of their skin and actions, you might just be judging their character. It does not matter if they are black or white, there are good people and there are bad people. People say, “Oh, people are giving black people a bad name.” No, they are just an asshole. We should just look at it in this way. We should start to not define people because of the color of their skin, but on their character.

ATM: What goes on in a white person’s mind when they grow up in not receiving the chance to get educated or know anything about what black people go through?

What was your thought process when growing up? Was it white white” and are you just in your own bubble? What was your mentality like before knowing the difference between whites and blacks?

JM: It is just naivety. Not knowing or thinking about it, this is just the way it is. In a white person’s life, for the most part, you are not consciously aware. There is no world we have ever lived and say to ourselves, “I step out of the door every day as a white man in America.” No, this thought process never crosses a white person mind.

ATM: So, it is like the black sector of the world’s problems does not exist?

JM: I cannot only go off what I knew. For this matter growing up, yes.  You see the difference in black or white when learning out racism and race, and also if you have a racist parent. Then again, it is not about the difference between white and black, it is just black. An episode on the show called the “Talk” impacted me about the idea of at some point a black parent has to tell their child, “Hey listen you are going to go out into the world and people are going to literally judge you for the color of your skin. It is not about you.”

Could you image? Well, you could. There was none of this as a white person. The talk comes in other ways. In my character, my parents gave me a talk about food. This is not in comparison to when you are an overweight person or maybe if their child has a deformity. No white person has to ever sit down and say anything about the color of your skin. It might be a racist family saying you are superior. I cannot image.

ATM: This is another social issue. Some black people consciously think a white person knows about their culture. They assume white people know. What a white family eats for Thanksgiving is for the most part is different than what a black family eats. 

JM: Generalization is one of the sea problems we have in this world too. When you assume and generalize. Do not make assumptions, but ask questions.

ATM: This show is making this change. With this show, you get to see how a black family maneuvers through society whether they live as high or low class. I do not think a black person’s social status takes them out of the moral context of their race in America. You could be a black person who is a millionaire and still have the N-word painted on your property. Money does not fix racism.

JM: I am sure there are many white people who do not call it a black show. They do not sit there is and say, “Oh, I watch this black show.” Maybe there have been other shows that fit in this bill. To know that the majority of the characters are black, many white people do not watch the show as a black show. This show takes universal subjects and filters it through some of the black history and black culture. So many of the subjects are universal. I liked the episode on religion. We a tremendous open and universal discussion about religion in the black culture. Also, about how going to church was so important. When they asked my character, he says, “He did not have religion. I does not need it.”

ATM: In the black community you get dressed and go to church. Whereas, in the white community you wake up on Sundays to play video games. 

JM: My character said, “I do not need it, I have my yoga and doggy daycare.” It was like, “I find peace in something simple that does not need to be complicated. I do not deal with racism, strife, and strain that my life is two steps back because of the color of my skin.” It is fascinating that for the most part that the middle-class white person is like, “I do not have any problems unless I create them.”

ATM: It needs to be more addressed that there is a white and black world. These points describes some points on race America. Some people never make it out of the black world, and some white people never socially understand the black world. Some white people are just comfortable with their good house, nice job, and think knowing about these things will not benefit them. Whereas, some black people are intimidated.

JM: It is when you shut yourself off that makes bad people off. As in the documentary I watched, some of these gang guys have never been to an ocean in LA or west of them to see the ocean. Their neighborhoods keep them trapped in their bubble. This goes for a lot of America. We are a big country and people keep themselves small.

ATM: Honestly, some people’s America is just on their block and only what they know on their block. It is sad because America is so more significant than this. For some reasons, some people never make it out of the socialness in their quadrant. It shows in how they speak once they are in diversified settings.

JM: Even though I just stated a million opinions, my opinion is that I do not know anything. I am constantly learning. My job on this show, for the most part is to shut my mouth, listen, and take it all in. I have my mind blown a lot of times. I am first to admit I missed the boat on a lot of things that happened culturally in this world. Now, I am a 39 man who feels like I am learning for the first time.

ATM: I would not come off as feeling sorry. I would blame some of society and also the information society let’s white people know.