This episode of The Chi started with the dictatorial mayor Otis Perry (Curtiss Cook) lying in a pool of blood after being shot for his past as a ruthless gang lord. And yet, that wasn’t the most salient example of what The Chi was trying to tell viewers for this week’s episode: Black strength is a prison sentence Black people have to live through.
In the season’s most sorrowful scene, Dre (Miriam A. Hymansits) rests her hand on the knee of the ailing Jada (Yolanda Ross), who is fighting cancer, and tells her to “stay strong.” There were no signs of judgment or anything other than care in Dre’s voice, but Jada snaps back, “When are you going to give me permission to just be me.” She proceeded to list how she has to be strong instead of being herself in order for her son and everyone to feel good about her condition. Even as her body is betraying her, she can’t feel comfortable in her own illness because of the strong Black woman archetype the world has put her and so many others in
Society forces Black women to be strong before they can be themselves. Over the years, researchers have shown that Black girls are often burdened with an “adultification bias” wherein authority figures and the people in society view young Black girls are older than they are and in need of less attention. That’s likely the reason why New York Police Department officers handcuffed then-15-year-old Alexis Sumpter because she used a student MetroCard, and they didn’t believe she was her actual age until her mother came with her birth certificate. It’s also why doctors often disregard Black women’s claims of being in pain, with a 2016 study revealing first and second-year medical students believed Black people had thicker skin and experienced less pain than their white counterparts. Jada wasn’t just tired from having to maintain her strength to mask her illness; she was tired from existing as a Black woman in a world that makes strength a prison for Black women.
The Chi usually does a great job of showing the universality of the Black experience, and this idea of having to be strong to survive wasn’t just exclusive to Jada. After Kevin is suspended from school for accidentally bloodying a teacher’s nose, his stepmom Dre sits down with Kevin to explain the repercussions of his actions and how these are pivotal years of his life that he is wasting. She puts the weight of a future he knows nothing of on the decisions of today, a weight so palpable you can almost see Kevin’s processing thoughts weighing his head down, forcing him to not look up to meet Dre’s gaze. That’s when Kevin says arguably the most heartbreaking statement he’s uttered this season: “What if I just want to be a kid?” At that moment, Dre had to look away and hold back the tears before telling this young Black boy that he doesn’t have that luxury.
Dre doesn’t say him being a Black boy means he doesn’t have the luxury of making mistakes and staying a kid, but it was heavily implied by the racially charged events Kevin was the victim of in this season and the world The Chi is based on. That same “adultification bias” that strips Black girls of the innocence of their childhood is as ever-present in the lives of Black boys. Research published in The Essence of Innocence:
“Consequences of Dehumanizing Black Children by Phillip Atiba Goff, African American Studies professor at Yale University, demonstrated how Black boys are more likely than their white peers to be misperceived as older and falsely accused of committing a crime. Pair that with the fact the high school graduation rate for Black boys is the lowest in the United States at 59% and Black boys have to treat high school as their last chance at a good future before the world snatches it from them.”
When Kevin asks if they will ground him, Dre tells him he’s free to do what he wants because those punishments don’t seem to work with them. Kevin is even shocked when his apology to the school principal doesn’t prevent his expulsion from the school. With Jada’s cancer making her come to grips with years of having to be strong and Kevin seemingly stumbling into a life of having to be strong, The Chi is setting the rest of this season up to see who crumbles and who doesn’t under the strength of their own.
Relive the episode through photos in the gallery below:
The Chi Season 4 Episode 6 "Candyman" [Detailed Photos]
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“The Chi” Season 4 Episode 6 Shows How Strength Can Be A Prison For Black People was originally published on cassiuslife.com