Degrassi Junior High (and later Degrassi High) was known for a few long-running storylines, and I’d venture to say that the fact that these long-running storylines were organic in a sense was the show’s hallmark. In other words, characters whose stories we had been following for what seemed like forever would come and go and the next time we saw them, there would have been some progress in their lives.
Spike is the best example. Her pregnancy, which is quite possibly the thing that people remember the most about Degrassi Junior High, progressed throughout the second season of the show, even though not every episode was about her being pregnant. Other stories included the death of Wheels’s parents and constant fighting with his grandparents, the relationship between Joey Jeremiah and Caitlyn Ryan, and the interracial couple, Michelle and BLT.
This couple is the center of “Black and White,” a later episode in the last season of junior high. It is an episode that, quite frankly, I don’t remember really paying much attention to when I was watching Degrassi as a kid. I’m pretty sure I remember seeing it, but for the most part the reason I decided to cover it in this scattered discussion of the series is because there are episodes about Michelle and BLT from Degrassi High that I remember pretty vividly, so I figured that if you’re following along with this particular feature (ah, who am I kidding, nobody is), it’s probably best to cover their “origin story.”
So the issue here, as I mentioned, is racism, and right off the bat we see BLT confronting it when he bumps into a student who calls him the n-word, which incites a fight. Michelle happens to witness this, and we find out that she likes him–not because he’s fighting with someone, just because she likes him. The feeling is mutual, as Joey, Wheels, and Snake note when they tease him about Michelle being the reason that he joined the yearbook staff. About halfway through the episode, he asks her to the graduation dance.
Unfortunately, there is a complication–Michelle’s parents, who claim that she’s too young to date anyone, even though they have the reaction of “You didn’t tell us the boy you liked was black” when they meet him. When she finally has a heart-to-heart with her mother, her mom gives her the undeniably horseshit excuse of, “We’re not racist but other people are and we don’t want you to get hurt,” before piling on futher with “People like to be with their own kind.” Michelle sees through this and tells BLT she’ll go to the dance with him anyway, which is where the story ends.
In the subplot, Spike is having problems with daycare because her current daycare provider is moving to Vancouver. So, she decides that to pay to put Emma in a daycare center, she’s going to try and get a part-time job. Unfortunately, when she goes to interview for a job at a diner, the manager spends the entire time making fun of her hair and dismisses her as a punk kid.
And there’s some C plot with Bartholomew Bond and Scooter taking yearbook photos. Or whatever.
Anyway, I’m not writing much of a review here–I’m a little rushed in getting this out–but I have to say that in watching this episode, especially since I didn’t remember much of it to begin with, I found that it held up pretty well. The writers don’t go the cliche route of making every other student at the school except for Michelle uncomfortable around BLT; they also don’t make the other students seem uneasy about her wanting to date BLT. In fact, when the two of them are flirting with one another, her friends openly encourage her to go out with him. So this isn’t a sort of “us against the world” type of story.
It is, however, an “us against my parents” story and I think that was done pretty well, especially in the case of Maureen McKay, who played Michelle. She does a very good job with the obvious internal conflict that results from the moment you realize that you have to question what your parents think. There’s an obvious message in here about not discriminating and accepting people for who they are instead of judging by appearance (the Spike subplot drives that home), but this also includes a moment where she realizes how fallible her mom and dad are, something that would continue on into Degrassi High.
But before we do that, we’ll have to say goodbye to junior high, which we’ll get around to soon enough.
You can watch “Black and White” as well as every episode of Degrassi Junior High on Hulu: