I recently watched Aaron McGruder’s controversial sitcom, Black Jesus. Lawd have mercy. If folks found his Boondocks blasphemously outrageous, then Black Jesus will undoubtedly be–& I say this in the spirit of Black folks who repeat words to emphasize truth–for real for real blasphemously outrageous.
The 30-minute show, which airs on Adult Swim Thursdays at 11pm, is about a brother named Jesus who lives in Compton. Like the biblical Jesus, Black Jesus is dressed in long robe, wears sandals, has long hair, & hangs with neighborhood sinners. He also performs various miracles. Played by Gerald “Slink” Johnson, Jesus is loved by the Compton community whose members often seek his help–with purchasing weed, with roughing up white boy thugs, & with bar-b-quing at a residence that prohibits outside grilling.
Seemingly, there is no distinction between Black Jesus & the common Black folks he kicks it with. He curses, he shucks & jives, & he smokes marijuana. As a matter of fact, Black Jesus is spearheading a community garden project that aims to provide the community both fruits & vegetables aaaaaand weed. We gone be “smokin’ & drinkin’ & chillin,'” he says.
When I first viewed Black Jesus, whose first season aired August 7, I thought the show absurd. Although I use McGruder’s Boondocks series to teach rhetorical appeals, have been called an atheist by a few of my students, & maintain that the n-word should never be censored in artistic endeavors, Black Jesus initially offended me. I didn’t get it. I didn’t know what McGruder’s intentions were. I didn’t understand his concept. What message was McGruder trying to send with this profane Black Jesus?
I shared my confusions with w/my colleague-friend, who actually suggested I watch Black Jesus. She wanted my thoughts on it, she said. Well, after I watched McGruder’s premier show, I called her, & together we laughed about, questioned, & shared our impressions & assumptions about Black Jesus until– ta-da! As Socrates promised would occur when two or more people engaged critical discourse, knowledge happened.
Check it: Aaron McGruder might be too deep to be comprehended. This is how I see it–& keep in mind I’m forming my criticism based off of one show. Ultimately, McGruder’s Black Jesus exposes the hypocrisy of Black Christians. See, at first I didn’t understand why Jesus participated in the tom foolery that his friends conjured. Why was Jesus cursing? Scheming? Hanging w/”hood rats”? Why was he hittin the blunt harder than his homeboys?
My conclusions: If we (Christians) believe that we were made in God’s image, then every believer carries God in him or her via the spirit. Right? Our higher Selves are made up of Spirit–which, for Christians, include God the Son, the Father, & Holy Ghost–while our secular, sin filled selves are driven by ego. Heart & brain. According to Christian doctrine, Jesus was sent to earth to save its inhabitants from sin. So, Jesus–who was a man–traveled with other sinful human beings, living as they did, looking like they did, talking like they did, while spreading the Word. Aaron McGrduer’s 21st century Black Jesus does this same thing.
While Black Jesus appears to be just as sinful as his neighborhood disciples, unlike them, he does encourage love, peace, & compassion. He questions his friends’ loyalty, implying that his friends call on him when they need something, but often neglect him when all seems well in their world. Black Jesus is told–when his friends flee from cops busting them on drug possession–that they knew he’d work it out. & in traditional Jesus character, Black Jesus forgives them, & he turns the other cheek.
With all of that said, it seems McGruder’s Black Jesus is a response to the 21st century African American Christian who spends more time engaging in niggardly behaviors than he or she does in “holy” ones. McGruder is, undoubtedly, exposing both the hypocrisy and absurdity that Black Christians display on a daily basis. Of course Black Jesus participates in the obscene & ludicrous, for human beings who prescribe to Christian orthodox engage in the obscene & ludicrous, & we often call on Jesus to be the Savior that He was intended to be.
Although I can appreciate the message I believe Aaron McGruder is sending to his audience, I wonder if his approach is too preposterous to be taken seriously. While Boondocks is quite satirical–& therefore, its message quite accessible, for it pokes fun at truths & stereotypes–I think Black Jesus is too esoteric to be understood in a way that promotes awareness, transformation, & even appreciation. I am afraid that Black Jesus will further situate African Americans as minstrels–as sacrilegious fools who play too much. I mean, who watches Adult Swim? According to a couple of unofficial stats, men 18-34 top the viewers list. I am pretty sure, considering that the majority of Adult Swim writers are white, so are its male viewers. & so, the beat goes on.
Sadly, just as African Americans have waited for a Black president, we all have anticipated a Black Jesus in film & TV. While we have witnessed Morgan Freeman’s portrayal of God in the comedy, “Bruce Almighty”–& I stress the genre comedy–we have yet to see a significant film &/or television portrayal of God or Jesus as a Black man. I think Aaron McGruder’s premier portrayal of a Black Jesus is threatening to African Americans’ spirituality, humanity, & integrity. While I appreciate his desire to use art to reveal African Americans’ hypocrisy & self-degrading behaviors, I think McGruder’s comedic approach too ostentatious & abstruse to be enlightening. Alas, while Aaron McGruder’s high ratings may catapult him as one of the most viewed & read African American cartoonist of our times, his Black Jesus may also expand the Others’ ideas that Black people, particularly of the hip-hop generation, are clowns. & tho we must laugh to keep from crying, we are not (all) clowns.
But, I’ve seen only one episode.