Last week on The Chi, Brandon and Kevin bonded over a haircut and the very different ways they grieved losing a father, displaying the multitude of the black man’s character. Both are affected by death—one sheds tears, the other remains stoic, and yet they are both genuinely black.
This dynamic black experience becomes central to Ep. 6 within the first few minutes. Keisha runs through the different parts of Chicago in her track uniform, passing black people of all ages before ending her route in the bathroom to change and get dolled up for her new boyfriend. For a city pejoratively dubbed “Chiraq” by national media, comparing the city’s gang warfare to that of a war-torn country like Iraq, Keisha’s casual run sheds light on the diversity of blackness in Chicago that gets routinely homogenized in bloodshed.
To elucidate this point, The Chi consciously places its black characters with similar looking life situations in scenes together before making it clear how different their lives are. Emmett and Brandon work in the same food truck and are both young black men struggling to make their futures work. Inside the truck, Emmett complains about the mothers of his children requesting that he provides the child support they deserve. Once Emmett mentions to Brandon about wishing he had a mature, stable woman like Brandon has in Jerrika, their experiences diverge.
Emmett really is the catalyst for the most profound reinforcements of the varying black experiences. In one scene, Emmett declares he is “grown” and says his absent father is one to talk when his father dismissively tosses the letter from the child support office towards him. That small jab at his dad reinforces in our minds that the two characters are different versions of the same black absentee father. Emmett’s father literally gives his son two options on how to deal with his child support situation—either lie to the system or work with it. Those two choices can eventually lead him down two different paths to be two different types of fathers.
The stigma of absent black fathers has been permeated throughout film and popular culture for decades. Seldom are their complexities explored, even if they’re more rooted in reality than the stigma. According to a 2015 paper from National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black fathers who did not live with their children were nearly twice as likely to bathe and dress their children than their white counterparts. So, when Emmett and the three mothers of his children come to a child support agreement outside of the system, it becomes a testament to how black families are not monolithic arrangements of misery.
Then, Jerrika comes face to face with the same Alderman Bonner (Phillip Edward Van Lear) who chastised her for working with Ms. Brown and excluding affordable housing from Brown’s new property. This time, they meet outside a protest on Ms. Brown’s private property, which Jerrika accuses the alderman of manufacturing. Jerrika advises Ms. Brown businesswoman against calling the police against the protestors because of how police treat protests in Chicago. However, when speaking to Bonner, she calls those same protests “rental riots,” showing how the same black woman can be both for and against the people, depending on her audience.
But, it’s not until the alderman’s insidious plan is revealed that we see that the he and Jerrika are two sides of the same coin. Bonner, who is depicted as a champion of the community and paragon of righteousness by his dismissal of Jerrika and Ms. Brown’s decision , uses black protests as a way to extort money from Jerrika, a woman he thinks is not helping the community. However, to complicate matters, the money he wants is for a community center.
The people of Chicago have had to deal with the moral ambiguities of their elected officials for decades. Chicago has had 30 aldermen convicted of crimes in 47 years, with the most recent conviction of South Side Ald. Willie Cochran over misuse of campaign funds occurring less than two months before this week’s episode aired.
At one point in the episode, Jake is accused by his teachers and the principal of posting a standardized test and its answer key online. Using the street smarts he says he acquired from the TV show The First 48, he knew to ask for a lawyer since they needed his confession to resolve the issue. Small caveats like these don’t just simply sustain an episodic theme, but also help broaden our understanding of The Chi’s characters as well as the black experience, in general.