A Black-ish Book Is Here To Ease Your Pain From The Show

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images.
If you’ve been watching black-ish, your emotions were probably all over the place watching Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) and Andre (Anthony Anderson) barely escape divorce in the season 4 finale. The last few episodes of this season have caused many of us fans a great deal of distress, but luckily there is a Rainbow at the end of this storm. Not only are Dre and Bow on track to reconciliation, black-ish is now available in book form and will remind us why we all fell in love with the Johnsons in the first place. Keeping up with the johnsons: bow’s guide to black-ish parenting is a colorful, glossy recollections of some of Bow’s most memorable parenting mishaps, written from her own perspective with insights on how she managed to survive them all.
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Dr. Rainbow Johnson is the author named in the book's first few pages. But it’s Rainbow Barris-Edwards, the wife of black-ish creator Kenya Barris, who put pen to paper to bring the book to life. It’s no secret that black-ish is loosely based on the experiences of the Barris family, and if Dre’s narrations are an opportunity for Kenya to process things from his perspective, keeping up with the johnsons is his wife’s.
I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Edwards-Barris about becoming an author, and she had so much more to share with me. It’s safe to say that she is just as wise and relatable as her onscreen counterpart.
Refinery29: Why was now a good time to write this book?
Rainbow Edwards-Barris: “I've never really taken time off from work or even school, at all. I did once before our first daughter was born...After we had our fifth kid, who was the only child that I had when I was not in some type of training — medical school or residency — I had just started this new job. I took two more weeks [off] than my usual four. I remember at that time talking to Kenya and saying, ‘I feel like I should be doing something else in life.’ I'd always talked about teaching; and just reaching out, sharing my story, especially to young women. I never really had examples in my life of something that I thought that I could be or I wanted to be. It just wasn't a reality for me. So I started talking to him about this a while ago. He said, ‘Why don't you write a book?’ And I'm like, okay! He told me to just start writing stuff down.
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"I just moved recently, like literally two weeks ago. My sister was helping, and of course I come home, and she's like 'look at what I found!'...I started writing this same book in 2009; she found the scratch papers. This is a moment I am coming full circle to something that I talked about; something that I kind of put on the backburner. And for the first time in my life, I'm not going into work. Now is a good time.
"You always think ‘I'm getting so old, and my life is going to be over,’ and you realize you have a lot of time to go.”
I just turned 30, and I literally think that all the time.
“Awwww, you baby. [laughs] I saw something on TV and they were like ‘dirty 30.’ I was like ‘Oh my god! These people think they're old.’ My dad always tells me, ‘Take a picture of yourself and in 10 years look at that same picture. You will think how hot and great you were from 10 years in the past.’ But at that time you couldn't see it. It's so true. Enjoy every moment. You're like a baby, really.”
That makes me feel better.
“You're good.”
The writing process seemed so personal for you in Keeping Up With the Johnsons. So what was the motivation of writing it from the perspective of Bow Johnson instead of just Bow Edwards-Barris?
“We thought that we had started to give the public people who watch black-ish a little bit of insight into our life. If I'm going to share something, why don't I share from my perspective, but hopefully reach an audience of people who already have an interest in who these people are and who this family is. Then [I] get to leave out the explanation, and setting the scene.”
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So it gave you some privacy?
“Exactly. I kind of feel like I get the best of both worlds. I definitely have had to be a little bit more vocal and public than what I had done in the past. It's required being a little bit vulnerable, and that's not always easy.”
I think that there's something just so important about the book and the show in terms of what they say about Black families, especially in the cultural climate and moment that we're in. I would love to hear more about that: Was it important to say, “This is my family as a Black woman?"
“Absolutely. I think even more so now than ever. I continue to talk to my kids. We had three girls first and three boys second. The oldest boy is still young; he's 10. The girls are getting older, and I often talk to them about their experiences in life. ‘You are experiencing your life from the perspective of a Black woman. You don't know it yet, at least when you’re younger, but people see you as a Black woman, so they interact with you in that way. There are things that you experience that someone who is your friend who is not a Black woman is never going to experience, because that's not how the world is interacting with that person.’ This is really important, and I feel like especially with Black people — we have all different shades of skin and hair texture and colors — and even in our own community, a hierarchy of who is prettier, good hair, and all those things. We both really try to talk to our kids about not just our experiences, but things that they could potentially experience. I think what Kenya's been able to do so great with the show is really taking things that we've experienced and things that we go through and putting it out there and having some type of resolution, but it's not right or wrong."
One of the things I have to ask is, is Kenya as helpless as Dre is in the book and on the show?
“Absolutely [laughs]. That's the one thing I'm clear on. It's so funny. One of the greatest things for me that has been very helpful and helped me and him grow in our relationship is figuring out what my capabilities are in the relationship. What his capabilities are; what we're both willing to do; what we're willing to accept, and go from there...It's taken a lot of trial and error, experiences, and learning to come to the point that we can be equal, but I understand he’s never going to go and wash those dishes. A lot of that stuff [in the show] is very Kenya. It's like exactly what goes on. But he has such a big heart. He loves being a father. He really, really does. He makes up for it in those other ways.”
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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