Let's Talk About Raising Dion

Let's Talk About Raising Dion
Courtesy of Facebook

It amazes me that something can be lurking in the subconscious of ones mind, without any realization of it, until it is thrust into the conscious mind.

I feel like that’s what happened when a friend sent me a video on Facebook.  I had no context for the video, other than it was shared by the profile for BlackDoctor.org.

It starts with scenes of a woman and child, both black, playing.  Then a voiceover starts:

Have you ever wondered, what it’s like to raise a super hero?

Following this statement, you see the young man making the milk and cereal in his bowl levitate, to which his mom says “Put it back, right now!”

followed by the cereal splashing down, onto the table and her.

I thought, “Now this is interesting.  Cute kid…beautiful mom. I’d watch this show.”

“How do you give him a normal childhood” it continued on.

And then, 29 seconds into the video, the relevance of why I was sent the video, other than it being a trailer for a really cute and interesting superhero show or movie, became apparent.

While the mother is drying off the boy, he transports from under the towel, and down the hall, to which she quickly retorts,

“Dion!  I’m not playing!”

“Well, let me tell you how I raised my son, Dion.”

At this moment, an amazing smile leapt across my face.  I don’t think it’d be too strong to say that I was instantly giddy.

Now, you have to understand, Dion isn’t the most common name.

From what I can tell, and what I’ve always been told, Dion is a short form of the name Dionysios, sometimes spelled Dionysius.  In Greek mythology, Dionysius was the god of wine, revelry, fertility, and dance.  While generally Greek in origin, it has been used as an American given name since the Middle of the 20th century.  Source: Behind The Name 

Now, I’ve met a few Dion’s in my day, but not many…and most of them had alternate spellings.  Of course, there was “Primetime” Deion Sanders. He was pretty big when I was a kid.  Then there was Dionne Warwick.  She was pretty big in the 80’s.  Before that, Dion and the Belmonts!  Of course, Ms. Celine Dion…oh look, the same spelling. I actually came across a woman on OKCupid whose name was Dion, which we both were tickled pink by.  We chatted for a while, and were both fascinated by the idea, if we got married, both our names could be “Dion McGill”.  Unfortunately, she didn’t live in Chicago, and I didn’t even get a first date, let alone a marriage proposal.

The trailer went on for about another 60 seconds, and then abruptly cut off.  I had no indication where it had come from, or what it was attached to, but here is where my initial statement about the subconscious comes into play.

I was excited.  Like really excited, and I watched the video (1:20 of the full 2:39 video) about 3 times, smiling like a fool.  I couldn’t quite understand…didn’t even give it a thought in the moment, but couldn’t quite understand once I did reflect on why it made me so excited.

So what?  It’s just a kid in a video with the same name as you…right?

And as I sat, thinking about it for a moment…it dawned on me:

As a middle-aged man, nearing his 40’s, I have never seen a TV character with the same name that looked like me.  In essence, I had never seen a black male on television with my name.

Stop and think about that for a moment.

I’m sure there has been at least 1 character, at some point in history, who was black, with the name Dion.  Has to have happened right?

But, as I sat and thought, I couldn’t think of one.  But if there was, what was the context of the character?  Was he a ne’er do well, or a hustler, pimp, gang banger, drug dealer, or the many tropes that we see black characters played in popular media? What were the chances that he was a super hero?  The closest that came to mind was the character Dionne (played by Stacey Dash), in the film Clueless. Black? Yes.  Male? No.

And so I had to address the question, “So, why does this make me so happy?”

I’m not sure now, 4 days after my initial exposure to this video, that I can succinctly answer this question.  However, a few thoughts came to mind.

  1. It’s something I’ve never experienced.  Some people hear their name all the time.  The only time I ever hear my name is when people address me directly, and most of my friends don’t even call me Dion.  I did notice while watching the clip how weird it sounded to me to hear my own name.
  2. It was someone who looked like me, or as I used to look, and he was doing cool shit, and not some dumb shit.  Beyond my enjoyment concerning the name of the character, he was standing there as a positive black role model, being raised and cared for by a positive female black role model.
  3. I could instantly relate to it.  My mom still uses that same tone of voice to say my name, ad nauseum.

And of course,  someone will undoubtedly ask, “Why does it always have to be about race?”

Well, I live in America, born and raised.  It has always (always) been about race.  Furthermore, in the currently political climate and discourse, my thoughts seemed to fit in perfectly.

As I sat pondering a little more, a statement popped into my head

“People will ask ‘Why do blacks get their own colleges (for the record, white people can and do attend Historically Black Colleges), or their own fraternities (for the record, white people can and do join black fraternities), or have their own TV station? If you made White Entertainment Television, people would go crazy!”

Well, the sad reality is that a vast majority of media, in perpetuity, has been White Entertainment Television.  Those scant few shows that did feature, and even occasionally STAR blacks, they were often people of meager means or a permanent underclass (Sanford & Son, Good Times, What’s Happening!!), and the few blacks who didn’t fit that mold were often fatally flawed of character either through their behavior, or their consistent struggles to attempt to mold themselves to fit into a “white” world (The Jeffersons).  Of course there are many other examples…this list isn’t exhaustive by any means, but these were some of the biggest shows of their day.

If you stop and think back, it was for these reasons that the Cosby Show was such a groundbreaking and culturally relevant show; A show about an upwardly mobile black family helmed by a successful doctor/lawyer duo with 7 children, one of which had already been groomed into a successful college graduate. It’s also interesting to note that the original pitch of the Cosby Show was about a limo-driver and stay-at-home mom.   (The cultural relevance of the show will remain to be seen moving forward as the legacy of Bill Cosby has been destroyed by his egregious behavior that has come to light. And no, I personally do not think the revelations of the personal life of Bill Cosby diminishes the cultural relevance of the show, it does however diminish the enjoyment of watching said show, if I choose to watch it at all moving forward. )

In any case,  It hadn’t been seen. Some people thought the show was unrealistic.  I remember hearing those conversations as a kid.  But we all watched.  We all laughed, and sometimes cried, along with the characters.  Parents would tell their kids, you can be like those kids…yeah, you can go to college too.  Here is a short article that discusses How The Cosby Show spoke to race and class in 80’s America.

If I wanted to find a black kid named Dion on TV, I was much more likely to find it on BET than NBC.

And so, I found myself thinking all these thoughts, and so, I had to find out where the video came from.  I simply Googled, “TV show about Dion superhero”…and what did I find?

Courtesy of www.dennis-liu.com

Courtesy of www.dennis-liu.com

The video was a short created by Dennis Liu, creator of the comic book, Raising Dion. I went on to find a copy of the video in its entirety, which, at the end of course, featured the name.

As I continued researching, I found out why BlackDoctors.org was sharing the video to begin with: Raising Dion was recently picked up by Netflix, and will be, at least for now, a 10-episode Netflix original series.

Courtesy of Netflix

Courtesy of Netflix

I was elated.  Elated I tell you!  I sent the Raising Dion Facebook page (all of the updates are in the playful banter of the mother and son duo) to a bunch of my friends. I’m friends with the Raising Dion Twitter, although there is nothing on it, and the same can be said for the Raising Dion Instagram.

I searched online, and was able to purchase a physical copy of Raising Dion #1 at IndyPlanet for a few bucks, as well as download a digital copy for free, which I will be reading tomorrow.

Now, I just for a moment, want to acknowledge the elephant: When you live in a country, where your culture may not be dominant, the subtlety that you may not see people that look or sound like you celebrated in the popular culture weighs, in some form of fashion on the psyche.

I can only imagine what it’s like to have been raised as a kid named Barack.  Let’s keep in mind that it wasn’t until college that Barry became Barack.  You notice when you don’t fit in. And for many people, still in 2017, they are told, sometimes overtly, and much more often subtly, that you don’t fit in.

Even at 38, I was excited at the fact that Netflix told me loud and clear, “You fit in.” The realization that that kind of validation soothed my soul makes me sad, and feel supremely silly…but then again, as an American, in 2017, that simply means that I fit in perfectly.

Now isn’t that something?

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