5 Reasons This Episode of ‘Black-ish’ Is Better Than Anything Your Kids Will Learn in School This Week

Black-ish, hope episodeSay what you will about the potential of television to rot tender young minds. Every once in awhile, the tube does just the opposite, providing us with a much-needed parenting assist by lobbing a fresh take on an important topic right into our living rooms. The February 25 episode of Black-ish -- ABC’s sophomore sitcom about the Johnsons, an affluent black family in L.A -- did just that.  


Over the course of 22 jam-packed minutes, the assorted Johnson clan watched an all-too-familiar story -- the shooting of an unarmed black man (McQuillan) by cops, who were ultimately exonerated -- unfold on the evening news. Sure, the particular case that sparked their discussion was fictional, but the issues -- institutionalized racism and police brutality -- were anything but.

Regardless of your ethnic background, real-life incidents like this one may have already made you experience shock or sadness or outrage. And if you’re white, there’s a good chance that you’ve never before been given the opportunity to be a fly on the wall and witness how black families handle the aftermath in their own homes. By inviting viewers of every race into the Johnsons’ private conversation, Black-ish made the subject personal -- and that much more powerful. Here, a round-up of the episode’s biggest takeaways, a-ha moments, and reasons every household should be watching.

1. It's a different way to discuss an unfortunately familiar subject.

Early in the episode, eldest daughter Zoey (Yara Shahidi) sees the fictional McQuillan case flash on TV and says, “It’s the one where they shot the kid in the middle of the street, right?” Nope, that was something else. She tries again: “Oh! Is this the guy that got shot in front of the college at the traffic stop?” Still a no. As the characters rattle off a veritable laundry list of appalling incidents, it’s an apt reminder of how easy it has become to get desensitized to these reports. And in your living room, this must-see TV incident may have a different kind of impact on your kids.

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2. Kids want to talk about the heavy stuff -- here's your way in.

Throughout the episode, mom Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) is eager to shield her youngest kids, twins Jack (Miles Brown) and Diane (Marsai Martin), from the ongoing debate. Gradually, it becomes apparent that not only can they hear and process what’s being said around them, but -- given the right tools -- cope with it as well. It’s only human to want to keep our children’s innocence intact for as long as possible -- hello, bribing the neighbor to don a Santa suit -- but perhaps sweeping society’s atrocities under the rug shouldn’t fall within that category. 

3. It delves into all the perspectives on the issue -- ones that not all parents may feel entitled to give.

If you assume that everyone in the black community is in total agreement on this particular subject, think again. (Must we trot out the old adage about what assuming does to “u” and “me”?) The multi-generational Johnsons, for their part, are plenty divided -- Pops (Laurence Fishburne) and Grandma Ruby (Jenifer Lewis) passed along their memories of the bad old days to son Dre (Anthony Anderson), while Rainbow maintains an abiding faith in government and justice. (At one point, she deflates a stat about police shootings by pointing out that 75% of the people they’re aiming at are, in fact, armed.) Zoey admits that she feels lost. The bottom line? This is a nuanced issue, with as many angles as there are bedrooms in a house.   

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4. It teaches that heroes don't always deliver. Sad, but true. 

When it’s announced that the officers in the McQuillan shooting -- which appears to be a clear-cut case of police misconduct -- will not be indicted, the Johnsons are understandably infuriated. The majority of us were raised -- and are raising our offspring -- to believe that authority figures are the good guys. We put cops, firefighters, and the like up on a pedestal and dress our kids as them for Halloween. Most of the time, that’s well-deserved. But there are exceptions to the rule -- and the sooner kids realize that they can’t trust any figurehead or system blindly, the more apt they’ll be able to speak up for themselves if things should ever go higgledy-piggledy.

5. It ends on a message of hope -- and, yeah, we all need it.

Appropriately enough, the title of the episode is “Hope” -- and that’s perhaps its most important takeaway. The Johnsons grapple with racism in its historical and contemporary incarnations, and much of the evidence presented to them (and us) is pretty bleak. It would be natural to feel frustration, and wonder if the needle is ever going to move far enough. Of course, we still have a long way to go -- but we’ve also come pretty far, and that wouldn’t have been possible if people gave up and threw in the towel. After all, if major cultural shifts weren’t possible, we’d still be sitting around powdering our husbands’ wigs. 

If you missed the episode, you can -- and must -- still watch it here.

Ingela Ratledge is a freelance writer and editor in Brooklyn, New York. She's worked at Us Weekly, Life & Style, and TV Guide Magazine and contributes frequently to publications including Cosmopolitan, Health, Real Simple, and Self. Peer pressure from her son’s pre-school friends recently caused Ingela to become the last person in America to see the movie Frozen.

Image via ABC/Patrick Wymore

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