University of Wisconsin–Madison

Parenthood TV Show Child Innocence

I recently started watching the show, Parenthood, on Netflix. The show follows the stories of four white siblings and their parents, all grown up, each of the siblings now with families of their own. One of the brothers is married to an African American woman, and they have a mixed race son. There is an episode that I just watched where the son hears a music artist use the N word. He is with his white father when he hears the word and the father does the best he can to try to explain this word to his son. However, he does not do a very good job and does not want to explain the entire context of where this word came from to his son. Later in the episode, the father tells the mother about what happened. She tells the father that she will handle it, and later talks to their son, trying to explain where this word came from in history, and why it is such a horrible word.

The father not wanting to get into detail in explaining the N word to his son relates to the keyword essay on Innocence, by Marah Gubar. Gubar explains what it could mean to say that a child is innocent in her essay. She discusses the fact that children don’t know about bad things yet because they are new to the world. This interaction that the father has with his son exemplifies Gubar’s point that there are specific cultural interactions adults have with kids to shield them from the wrongs of the world. The father feels uncomfortable explaining the N word to his son because of the cultural and racial differences the two of them have. He would prefer to just keep his son’s “innocence” by not revealing information about this word.

On the other hand, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, shows that innocence might not be this black and white of knowing about horrors of the world vs. not knowing. This can be seen in chapter 39 where Ellen’s mother tells her about her father, but Ellen had known all along. This proves that the innocence we are shielding children from, such as the Parenthood example, might not be necessary, as children are usually smarter and more aware than we think of the injustices in the world.

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