On Wednesday night, Black-ish became the first major scripted TV series to deal with the postelection grief of Trump’s win. Taking place eight weeks after the election—as in, right around now—Kenya Barris’ smart show continued in its grand, Norman Lear–style tradition of taking a topical issue and presenting nearly every possible side and opposition to it in comedic and dramatic ways. Everyone in the Johnson family is dealing with it differently: Bow is brooding, decked out head-to-toe in an assortment of NPR- and Black Lives Matter–themed swag; Zoey is making lemonade for her classmates (not, she insists, as a tribute to Beyoncé but simply to show she cares in these difficult times); Junior is memorizing the “I Have a Dream” speech; and Dre is trying to process how he can continue to love a country that consistently fails people of color as the co-workers around him, including a white woman who voted for Trump, bicker and lament.
In many ways, “Lemons” is just like “Hope,” the incredibly astute and powerfully rendered bottle episode from last season in which the family dealt with the latest (in that case, fictionalized) instance of police brutality against an unarmed black person. The writing balances ripped-from-the-dinner-table dialogue with well-crafted monologues for added dramatic effect and well-timed zingers for a light bit of comedy. “Why didn’t your sisters turn out for Hillary?” Wanda Sykes’ Daphne asks Lucy, their white colleague. “Well first, white women aren’t ‘sisters.’ We hate each other,” Lucy responds. “And second, if you must know … I voted for Trump.”
Later, Dre gives a speech to rival the tearful one he gave when describing the mixture of anxiety and elation he felt when watching the Obamas on Election Day in “Hope,” this time describing his frustration with being in a one-sided relationship with his country.
You think I'm not sad that Hillary didn't win? That I'm not terrified about what Trump’s about to do? I’m used to things not going my way. I’m sorry that you’re not and it’s blowing your mind, so excuse me if I get a little offended because I didn’t see all of this outrage when everything was happening to all of my people since we were stuffed on boats in chains. I love this country as much, if not more, than you do, and don’t you ever forget that.
Laid out in that monologue are the feelings of so many black Americans postelection, the near-equivalence of Van Jones’ explanation of the results as a “whitelash” the night of the election or the SNL skit in which Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock are the only two black—and unsurprised—people at an election-night viewing party. It’s Black-ish at its most affecting, a time capsule of the moment we’re living in, just days before we inaugurate the least qualified president in modern history.
For all of this sadness and hurt, however, the episode ends on a hopeful note, with Dre apologizing for “blowing up like that” in front of his colleagues. He suggests that they channel their anger and use it to fight against everything Trump represents. “How do we work together when the other side is nuts?” someone counters. “We have to stop that, too,” Dre says. “All right, do I understand what anybody in their right mind could have seen in Trump? No! But maybe that's why we lost.”
This is the current narrative going around right now—that the left lost because it was too dismissive of the other side—and it’s a popular one. And the Black-ish writers set it up well, so that it’s hard to argue with. When Dre insists that it’s time to “stop calling each other names” and have conversations, it sounds amenable and agreeable, especially when appearing in the same episode as Junior’s “I Have a Dream” storyline. Of course merely labeling the other side “crazy” isn’t going to get us anywhere. To those still in despair over what went wrong and how we got there, it will be a comforting conclusion to an outstanding episode.
But for those harboring a bit more skepticism about where we are now, perhaps you see something else underneath that point of view, one that insists that the left—and particularly, those who are most likely to suffer the most under this Trump regime—do the heavy lifting in healing our country, that we coddle the feelings of those who never bothered to consider ours.
However one reads Black-ish’s outlook, it’s nice (and necessary) to see a show on network television tackle this head on and so soon after the election. This is only the beginning of what will be many years of art dealing with Trump, and if this is a sign of what that will look like, we’ve got a fascinating ways to go.