Black Boys and Black Men, The Chi Sees You
When The Chi premiered last year, I didn’t have Showtime and wasn’t able to watch live. I missed it. However, after getting Showtime and binging the entire season in two days, there were certain things about the show that resonated with me the way no other show has. I haven’t seen myself, personally, in the show but I saw many of the Black boys I went to school with. I saw many of the Black men that I interact with from day to day. And they were being shown in a new light, a nonjudgmental one. A light that just wants to tell their stories. Which is one of the most refreshing things I’ve seen in a long time.
I wanted to write about the season 2 premiere of The Chi, but the last five minutes of the episode shook me to my core and it was the only thing I could think about. I honestly still am not really sure what happened in the first episode, I see scenes and hear bits of dialogue in my head but everything always reverts back to the last five minutes. I can’t stop thinking about Ms. Ethel’s attack. And when I tried to write a small piece about that, my hands shook too badly to type.
So I’m skipping to episode two, which premiered last night. Ms. Ethel is going to be okay, which I’m grateful for. However, the ramifications of her attack have already started to trickle throughout the neighborhood and affect everyone. Whether they know it or not.
Starting with her grandson Ronnie, who is in jail for murdering Coogi in the first season. He’s trying to do the right thing and serve his time, but the news of his grandma’s attack sends him reeling and the only thing he can now think about is getting out. He’s starts making deals that will more than likely land him in trouble but, if it gets him out he’s willing to take that risk. He holds firm in the idea that he doesn’t want to have to paint Kevin out to be a liar, since the teenager is the only witness to him killing Coogi, but with the murder charge hanging over his head it might be the only way.
As Ronnie plots his way out of jail, Kevin struggles with the pressure that’s building on him. The police want him to testify against Ronnie, he’s the key to keeping him in jail. But Kevin doesn’t want to be a snitch, in the streets the worst thing a person can be is a snitch. All he wants is to go to school, reluctantly go to therapy and get put on Jake’s snack hustle. He just wants to be a kid. It seems though, like the way of the South Side won’t let him.
Meanwhile, still in the South Side but seemingly miles away, Emmett struggles to find a place to sleep. After being kicked out by his mother, turned away by Keisha and jumped by his third baby mama Tiff’s brothers, he goes to the only place left: his dad’s house. Which is already full to the brim with his fathers’ other kids, the couch is there though if Emmett wants it. And he does. But after he shares dinner with his fathers new family, Emmett can’t handle the fact that his father actually takes good care of the kids he has now. While all Emmett and his mother Jada ever got was a child support check. Speaking of which, Emmett finds himself in a legal situation with his Tiff. She won’t let him see his son but she wants him to take care of them financially. So she has him served child support papers. Another bullet point on a long list of things that Emmett needs to figure out.
In the midst of all this Chi-town chaos, Brandon and Jerrika continue to try and fix their relationship while she hopes to secure a new high profiled client. At an event where her parents are well known and respected, the older couple and their daughter argue about where she’s going in her life. They claim to like Brandon but feel as if he’s beneath her because he’s a chef. It upsets Jerrika but also gives the impression that maybe she might be with Brandon because they disapprove, especially after she gets antsy with Brandon for helping the catering company at the event because they’re short staffed. And as stressful as all that is, Brandon has his own problems. He can’t escape Reg, who refuses to let the debt between them be settled. He won’t take his foot off Brandon’s neck. We know though, that’s because there’s a foot on Reg’s neck and as he’s slowly losing air he’s going to make sure that others lose theirs too.
The Chi keeps me on the edge of my seat every episode. Even the ones where the drama is tame and the jokes are flying. Because I know what’s it’s like to exist while being Black. Our moments of joy rarely last long, we’re always prepared for the worst. Which is upsetting when you think about it, but regular and normalized to us. I like that The Chi brings this into the light and hasn’t shoved the idea to the back and forced a false narrative. Everyone on this show is struggling, in some way or another and that struggle can sometimes be life-threatening. However, I think The Chi’s portrayal of the way Black people balance our struggles and our joy is very accurate. We’re a complicated group of people by design. But we aren’t so different that understanding us is lost. Other groups can pretend that it is, but this show is here to say different.
Between Ronnie, Brandon, Emmett, and Kevin we have four Black males that aren’t just examples of toxic masculinity, they’re allowed to have feelings. Brandon cries a lot, which was weird to me at first because I’m used to anger over tears but it’s what led to him becoming one of my favorite characters in the show. Brandon is emotional and it’s okay. Kevin is going to therapy for the trauma of having seen someone killed, him being against it at first is the way most Black people are. We don’t think therapy is for us. But Kevin is learning that it is, and through him maybe a little Black Boy watching will have the courage to ask if he can start seeking therapy. Ronnie, who might be my favorite of them all, was painted at first as just a drunken bum. Then we learned that’s actually a war veteran and suffering from intense PTSD, that he probably should have sought out therapy for. Instead, he was just sent home and forgotten about. Which happens more often than anyone is ever going to admit.
Even Reg, who is almost textbook definition of the gangsta trope, has his valid reasons for being the way he is. He’s trying to survive and in the streets sometimes survival is doing horrible things. It’s a part of life. It sucks but no one is sending any kind of help to the streets of the South Side, they (we) are on their own.
What I like most about The Chi is the way it paints a picture of Black Men. Every Black male in the show is different. Some may have stereotypes attached to them but they’re all unique individuals, they’re all human.
And The Chi makes sure we know that.