Welcome to Role Call, where we call up TV’s leading ladies to talk about their most vital, memorable, and feminist episodes.
There a single sentence from my conversation with Jerrika Hinton, star of HBO’s new family drama Here And Now, that has been bouncing around my head for weeks. I hear it when I walk into my office building, when I’m brushing my teeth, or when I’m inspecting the pre-made salad section of Trader Joe’s: “Respectability does not save you.” Respectability does not save you. That’s a rough wake up call for an Afro-Latina like me. I have long suspected as much, but still hoped the right background, the right accent, and the right education would be all the armor needed in a world built for people who don’t exactly look like me and my type 3C hair.
Then last night’s Here And Now episode, “It's Coming,” happened, confirming to both me and the rest of the world that there are times when no status-symbol accessory or enviable home address will protect you from racism. No, not even in the supposedly progressive utopia of Portland, OR. “It's Coming” showed us the real danger of being a Black woman in a white world.
The key scene of the episode arrives when adoptive sisters Ashley Bayer-Boatwright (Hinton), an adult Black woman, and Kristen Bayer-Boatwrights (Sosie Bacon), a white teen, are arrested outside of a Planned Parenthood. Although Kristen is the one who assaulted a cross-wielding anti-choice racist, Ashley, a well-off e-commerce entrepreneur in white parents, is the one who is treated like a career criminal at the police station.
Whenever I hear people talk about not seeing color ... my heart understands their intentions and my only response is: 'but the world does.'
She’s interrogated for owning an expensive leather bag — “I didn’t steal it if that’s what you’re thinking” — attacked for having a tampon in said bag, essentially and aggressively fondled during a body search, and, as a final slight, forced to remove her wig. It’s a long, slow journey of purposeful dehumanization. We know this because Ashley's “nasty” experience, to use Hinton’s own word, is intercut with little sister Kristen’s, which is filled with laughter, jokes, and the most innocent of pat downs. “Wait, that’s it?” the young woman disappointedly asks at the end of the booking process. Ashley, on the other hand, is near tears. At this moment it’s hard to forget the fact Sandra Bland died in police custody after finding herself there for a similarly innocuous reason.
“Our culture has some fundamental flaws with regard to race and gender and the ways we are expected to perform it,” Hinton told Refinery29 over the phone. The character tries her best to live up to those standards in light makeup, an even lighter tone, and a perfectly straight-haired wig. Yet, as Hinton points out, “In that scene, and I don’t think Ashley gets to process the whole depths of it, she learns very fast that respectability does not save you.”
That’s why Ashley’s upsetting situation hits so close to home: it’s easy to assume certain parts of America are besieged by racism but our beloved, liberal havens on the coasts aren’t immune to flagrant bigotry either, even when a person of color plays by all the supposed rules. “Whenever I hear people talk about not seeing color and not seeing race, my heart understands their intentions and my only response is: but the world does,” Hinton admitted.
The Grey’s Anatomy alum is split on what she wants viewers to take away from Ashley’s harsh lesson. “The Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky part of me is saying words like ‘empathy’ and ‘compassion,’” the actress said. “But the more grounded side of me is saying, ‘pain.’ ... That’s what she’s experiencing in that moment and that’s what that feels like. So if you don’t know what that feels like, feel it.”
If Here And Now fans can identify with Ashley’s emotions during such a tough scene, they’ll prove Hinton’s entire outlook on pop culture correct. “Our entertainment is in an open dialogue with us. It informs us and society, and we inform it. It is a very reciprocal conversation,” she said, noting we hadn’t yet started a cultural conversation around someone with the complicated, “juicy, and intriguing” struggles of Ashley, African-born, raised in mostly-white Portland by ultra-liberal parents, and now married to a white man.
“[Entertainment] doesn’t to be idyllic for it to be worth presenting,” she explained. “Our art is messy and complicated, just like we are as people.”
Hinton prioritizes her character's pain over understanding the psychology of a manipulative and racist officer like Serling, who manhandled Ashley in jail. “With regard to why the cop is so nasty to Ashley, I have no idea,” the HBO star admitted. “I couldn’t even hazard a guess because I don’t know, with regard to that character and the people who are like this in real life, I don’t know what wound they have. Nor do those wounds matter to me. I don’t know about them and I don’t care. The effects of those wounds on my body are what concern me.”
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