Black people can’t swim. PTA moms can’t be both successful in work and family life. Girls must be girls, and boys must be boys. Wednesday night’s episode of Black-ish is full of stereotypes and how to crush them. Once again, this show finds a way to take even the most important, polarizing issues and not only start a healthy conversation, but also poke fun at the idiocy of ignorance on both sides.
“Sink or Swim” is an appropriate title for this week’s episode and not just because it refers to Dre’s inability to swim and how he assumes the public views his lack of this skill. It’s also fitting to Bow’s teaching Junior and Zoey on how to live a fully enriched, fulfilled and happy life. The fact that the entire episode and its issues culminate in a pool party incident that turns viral is just icing on the cake. So, time to break it down. Man, have I missed this show for the past few weeks.
As most episodes of Black-ish go, the shenanigans all start thanks to Dre’s belief that someone is being racist. In this case, it turns out that the Johnsons’ neighbor Janine has been having pool parties for the last five months without inviting the family to come along as well. Dre stares out the window in clear jealousy until Janine stops by, asking if her guests can park their cars by the Johnsons’ house. Dre makes the bold accusation that the reason they probably don’t get invited to Janine’s pool parties is because she probably doesn’t think they can swim.
A Dre voiceover educates viewers that the “black people can’t swim” stereotype has been around for centuries, even during the time of African-Americans’ “300-year-long unpaid internship.” When Dorothy Dandridge (a.k.a. the Beyoncé of her time) attempted to go swimming in a hotel pool, the hotel drained the whole thing the very next day. Dre’s annoyances aren’t completely without merit; the stereotype is obnoxious and just plain offensive.
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But it turns out Dre actually can’t swim. What else can’t he do? Tell time on an analog clock. (But to be fair, that can be tricky from time to time… What? Don’t judge me.) Dre swats away this truth from his kids and wife by stating the one line that every parent utters at some point in their lives to their kids: “This isn’t about what I can’t do. It’s about the principle.”
When Dre takes his frustration to work with him this next day, his co-workers aren’t much help. Stevens immediately begins his racist word vomit by stating that Dre (and by extension all other black people) not being able to swim is just science because his “bones are denser” and he would sink. Dre’s not surprised, but he doesn’t make his point any better when he reveals to the gang that he actually can’t swim.
Daphne suggests another possible reason for why Janine doesn’t invite Dre (and the Johnson family) to the pool parties: She just doesn’t like Dre. “I haven’t known you that long, and I’m struggling,” Daphne adds. When Stevens adds that Dre is just “a strong cup of tea,” Dre stupidly asks him in what way that is an accurate statement. Unfortunately, his co-workers have a list at the tips of their tongues. Curious?
1. He’s loud and self-centered
2. He wears too much cologne
3. He takes up two parking spaces (Dre owns up to this annoying trait)
4. He throws his fish lunch in the conference room trash (gross)
5. He bleeds easily (well, this just seems like unfair criticism)
6. He touches every donut before picking one…or three…or six
7. He won’t back down on anything
8. He thinks everything is always racial (the gang immediately agrees this obnoxious trait should take the No. 1 spot…followed by the the parking space issue)
Dre’s had just about enough of this judgment, and he decides to get the answer straight from the horse’s mouth and asks Janine why the Johnson family is constantly given the pool party cold shoulder. Janine’s answer: She never thought he liked her…for very obvious and legitimate reasons. Dre once accidentally sent her an email with the subject line, “I don’t like Janine.” Yup, that would do it.
After clearing up this misunderstanding (i.e. LYING), Dre finally scores his coveted invite but lies to Janine about his swimming ability. She (definitely being at least partially racist or at the very least ignorant) tells Dre he has to sign a liability waiver. But the train is already in motion, and Dre immediately begins trying to learn how to swim through a YouTube vide. Unfortunately learning things on the Internet hasn’t worked in his favor in the past as Bow rightfully points out (hooking up a propane tank shouldn’t end in a conflagration).
Dre tries to hire a trainer for one swim class, who promptly tells him never to get back in the water, but once again, Dre does not listen. The stereotype has to be proved wrong, and he has to do it himself.
Unfortunately, when a rogue volleyball in the pool forces Dre to leave the comfort and safety of the pool ladder, Dre panics, believing that he is drowning. Diane does some quick thinking and jumps in the pool to rescue her father, just as Ruby comes screaming from the Johnson home for her baby thanks to “mother’s intuition.”
NEXT: Girls vs. boys
BOW, ZOEY, AND JUNIOR
While Dre attempts to show his principles to his family, Bow attempts to teach her older children about the right way to live a full, happy life. Unfortunately her own prejudices come in the way of her theories.
Bow’s pre-conceived notions of PTA moms, or the school mom mafia as she calls them, lead her astray in “Sink or Swim.” She originally tries to find the silver lining in not getting invited to Janine’s pool party: This way she can avoid the “school mom mafia” and their yoga-doing, “mentoring” activities that basically teach girls bad morals and low standards of what women can do. Blair in particular pushes Bow’s buttons as she continues to hound Bow on “finding time” to do other activities with the other moms, even though Bow works many hours a day at the hospital.
When Zoey explains that she created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for a new Chanel backpack, Bow is surprised and saddened by Zoey’s and Junior’s blasé attitude about being “women of leisure,” who Bow believes do not contribute to society and do not live in a way that is fit to be a role model, especially for young women. Her prejudices get worse and worse, until finally Bow blows up at Blair during Janine’s pool party for not being able to “find time” as she is a working mother rather than sitting around feeding her husband shrimp (as Blair was doing just a few minutes before). Unfortunately for Bow, Blair actually does live a rich and fulfilled and happy life. Not only does she make time for her husband and kids because she likes to do so; she’s actually taking time out of her equally busy schedule as a fellow doctor. Blair reveals she is actually a neurosurgeon.
Blair tells Bow that she’s happy in her marriage and that Bow should focus on her own marriage, as her husband is drowning and Bow has yet to notice. Thankfully for us all, Blair records the entire footage of Bow’s freakout on Blair and Dre’s subsequent not-at-all drowning, which instantly goes viral. Internet, can we get a GIF of this stat? Please and thank you.
In the end, both Zoey and Junior reveal that their role model is not one of those women of leisure, as she feared: Their role model is Bow herself.
JACK, DIANE, AND RUBY
Ruby, Ruby, Ruby. What more is there really to say? Ruby decides to take the younger Johnson kids, Jack and Diane, to a new program called Rovers, which is divided into boy and girl groups. Diane complains that the girl Rovers don’t have as fun activities as the boy Rovers have: The boys get to go sailing, study astronomy, learn wood-carving. The girls learn babysitting, manners, and “eating for beauty.”
In fact, while Diane likes the boys’ activities, Jack is more interested in the girls’ activities. (What does eating for beauty even mean?) When Ruby hears this complaining, she utters the most obnoxious stereotype about gender heard over and over and over again in the last several decades: “Boys need to be boys, and girls need to be girls.” In Ruby’s mind, if this is not the case, things go all “higgledy-piggledy” like that Danica Patrick or Ronda Rousey.
Eventually though, Jack and Diane do whatever they want. Jack learns to make the most perfect casserole while Diane gets to learn how to tie knots. But when Ruby comes around, they switch their activities as if they are following her particular gender rules. When the Johnson family makes their way to the pool party, Diane takes credit for Jack’s casserole, but her “boy skills” are shown front and center when she saves her father from drowning. The kids both reveal their particular sets of skills, but of course, Ruby doesn’t approve. Oh well, these kids are still awesome.
BEST LINES OF THE NIGHT
Zoey: You are a beautiful doctor and an amazing mom, who takes one for the team every day by staying married to dad.
Junior: She’s not wrong. The man was hauled out on a child gurney from a neighborhood swim party.
“Yeah he’s basically just there to witness your drowning” —Junior, striking fear in the heart of his younger sister for no reason at all.
Dre: This isn’t about what I can’t do. It’s about principle
Diane: I hope when you’re drowning, someone throws you a principle.
“Yeah, what boy wouldn’t want to learn about eating for beauty?” —Jack, asking a great question (but seriously what does this mean?)
“Mom, that’s the ecosystem. I give girls stuff, and they don’t recoil when I say hello. Fair exchange.” —Junior, who was on fire tonight
“This isn’t about liking people or having fun…” —Dre just being Dre (and a typical dad)
“I recommend you drain your pool and drink from small cups” —Dre’s swim coach with some rather strict advice.