Black-ish Just Tackled Black Lives Matter In A Really Huge Way

Photo: Courtesy of ABC.
Pictured: Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross in Black-ish.
"I care. I just don't know what to do."

Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi), the teenage daughter of Andre (Anthony Anderson) and Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), utters this line late in Black-ish's Black Lives Matter episode, "Hope," which aired tonight. The episode doesn't provide Zoey — or its audience — with any simple solutions. Instead, it allows its characters to be frustrated and perplexed, but doesn't make them defeatist. The show doesn't preach, but still sends the message that dialogue, engagement — and, yes, even hope — are all necessary.

The episode finds the Johnsons sitting in their living room watching CNN coverage of a case involving police brutality and an unarmed black teenager. It's a scenario that's unfortunately familiar these days. The family debates to what extent its youngest members, twins Jack (Miles Brown) and Diane (Marsai Martin), should be exposed to what's unfolding on the screen. Bow wants to shield them, and to believe in the American justice system; Dre thinks the children should know the shitty truth about the world and how Black people are often unfairly targeted by police.

In one heartbreaking moment, Dre confronts Bow, reminding her of President Obama's first inauguration. He recalls Obama emerging from the motorcade to walk and wave. "Tell me you weren't terrified when you saw that," Dre says. "Tell me you weren't worried that someone was going to snatch that hope away from us like they always do. That is the real world, and our children need to know that that's the world they live in."

Dre and Bow's differing opinions are at the heart of the episode, but the discussion is wide-ranging. The dialogue touches on Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me — which Andre Jr. (Marcus Scribner) is reading — as well as the O.J. Simpson trial. It uses language ripped from a controversial New York Times story about Michael Brown: a lawyer on TV calls the victim "no angel."

There are funny moments that aren't directly related to the subject at hand, including a running thread about Chipotle and an aces gag that somehow combines Jeffrey Dahmer, Lorena Bobbitt, and Peabo Bryson. But there's also humor derived from the grim central topic: Jack is clueless about the term "unarmed." (He thinks it means someone literally has no arms.) Bow points out the fact that while Dre's scared of the police right now, he's quick to call them when he hears a noise in the middle of the night.

For most of the episode, Zoey seems to be uninterested: She's preoccupied with takeout menus and her cell phone. But then Andre Jr. wants to go join the protest that's happening in Los Angeles — against the wishes of their parents — and she's upset. She admits to feeling confused and lost.

"Everyone I love has been talking about it all night, and I don't know what the answer is," she says. The futility Zoey feels affects the twins. Diane asks: "If you give up, who's going to fix it for us?"

Learning about what is going on doesn't make Diane despondent. The fact that her big sister, who has the potential to affect change, may throw her hands up, does. The episode ends with Bow suggesting that they go to the protest as a family. "I don't think the world is as broken as you do, Dre, but something's got to change," she says. "It's scary, but I think we should go down there."

Black-ish
doesn't sugarcoat the issue of police brutality against Black people, but seeing how the Johnsons choose to handle the loaded topic in this important episode may ultimately be uplifting to its viewers.

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