On Wednesday night, Black-ish aired its most daring and powerful episode in its two-season history. In "Hope," the show explored the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, and Sandra Bland and the sensitive topics of police brutality, systemic racism, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The episode is occasionally uneven — some scenes are a bit forced, while others truly deliver — but it is also unapologetically honest. And one moment that works strikingly well comes when Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross) gives her twins, Jack (Miles Brown) and Diane (Marsai Martin), "the talk" — what black parents say to their kids about how to deal with police.
"Because if you get stopped by the cops, you are going to do exactly what they say okay?" Rainbow tells Jack.
"There's only seven words you need to know," Ruby (Jenifer Lewis) chimes in. "'Yes, sir.' 'No, sir.' And 'Thank you, sir.'"
Until this point in the episode, Bow has been a voice of optimism and hope. It's crushing to see her acknowledge that police brutality is a real problem, and that in light of recent news events, people — especially people of color — are justified in their wariness of cops. Ruby, who until this point has been (comically) brash and defiant on the topic, calmly supports her daughter-in-law.
The scene is quietly frank compared with the rest of the episode, which features a spry discussion about Ta-Nehisi Coates as well as several tips from Ruby on how to survive a riot (eat bland food to "keep the toilets moving"; pelt looters in the head with frozen fruit). But it's ultimately graceful and dignified, while at the same time not holding back on the harshness of reality.
Black-ish and its fellow ABC series Fresh Off the Boat have been lauded for representing lives and families that we don't see enough of on television but can all still share some experiences with, because we're all human, no matter the color of our skin.
This moment, and this episode, doesn't fit under that umbrella.
"Hope" exposed a raw, ugly facet of life: that sometimes we can't all relate to each other, and shouldn't, because some people face devastating, unfair risks that others simply don't.
Black families having to explain to their children that they may be unfairly targeted — and that they cannot count on the United States justice system for protection — is a devastating and inescapable American reality. Black-ish maintains that from that pain stems a fragile hope and belief that things will get better, even though there are many reasons to believe it won't.
To the Johnson family, survival in this country is synonymous with love. That might not be how many of us imagine our American lives to be, but it's admirable that Black-ish decided to share it.