The Legacy of 'black-ish''' Is #Goals for Millennial Families

Over an incredible 8-year stint, black-ish covered the difficult topics that affect Black families everywhere. In light of the series finale, let's honor the important TV history the cast made.

Photo: ABC/Dario Calmese

I grew up in the 1990s, splitting time between my mom's two-bedroom apartment and my maternal grandparents' brick D.C. row home near Howard University. As the only child and grandchild, I spent most of my time as the only kid in both households watching, by today's standards, an unhealthy and copious amount of TV. And because we didn't have streaming services or on-demand options, I'd spend hours rewatching taped recordings of my favorite episodes of Sister, Sister, Keenan and Kel, Moesha, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I knew how important representation of Black families was for me growing up, and we were fortunate to have an abundance of it.

In my mid-20s as a young, career-focused adult, I hadn't thought much about starting a family, much less what role TV would play in it. A few months after the birth of my first daughter in 2014, though, black*ish – a new show profiling an upper middle class Black family – premiered on ABC, sparking divisive Facebook posts that delivered mixed reviews.

I, however, was immediately hooked, and the show catapulted into fame, going on to garner critical acclaim, a cult following, awards. Its eight-year run tackled every subject in real time, from living through racial trauma to the brand-washing of Juneteenth to parenting teens while living in a multigenerational household during COVID-19.

I found it refreshing to watch a modern-day take on a Black family tackling success and demanding new-age careers while raising their children in a luxe, predominantly white neighborhood, not unlike the environments where show protagonist and narrator Dre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) works as a high-powered advertising executive with his doctor wife Rainbow "Bo" Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross).

The show based itself on a formula similar to that of The Cosby Show, showcasing two equally accomplished partners navigating work-life balance challenges and rearing a large family of children. But there were quite a few modern twists on what parenting looks like in today's society.

An illustration of the black-ish cast at a series finale event in Washington, D.C.
Ashley Stoney

"We are often utilized and never centered," Ross said at a black*ish series finale event at the National Museum of African American Heritage and Culture in Washington, D.C., where Kindred by was in attendance. "It was really important to me that…every time that Bo came on screen, you knew that she had a life happening off screen. And that her point of view was vast and large."

Ross says that she often questioned direction and had notes for scenes that she hoped would ultimately result in a more realistic Bo on-screen. "For example, I would be like, 'Why am I doing laundry? I'm sorry, Dre's coming home from work. Why am I chopping vegetables? Can I have a computer?'"

The Johnson children are afforded privileges that Dre and Bo did not experience growing up, and it's a world that feels all too-familiar to my parent friends. Many of us are HBCU grads and focused on ensuring that our children do not forget their Black roots or the hard work that enabled an elevated socioeconomic status for them .

For me, a first-generation college graduate who also attended a predominantly white high school in a lush area of Georgetown, D.C., I tuned in to this show over the years with an outsider's familiarity of the upper echelon society of Black families who "made it," and it felt refreshingly therapeutic and hilarious.

The show, for example, explored what it was like to be invited to a private social club for families, and navigated, with humor, the interview process, the obligations for children, and Dre and Rainbow's acute sense of not belonging. While I wasn't invited to join these social clubs as a child, I recalled what it may feel like as a Black parent with a white collar job to be invited to join one during this episode's air date . It's an experience I felt when choosing a preschool for my daughter, and determining if I'd send her to the upper echelon school in upper northwest or send her to a more affordable local school that didn't "feed" into some of the best schools in the city.

Another very poignant episode for me focused on Rainbow's postpartum depression after the birth of the Johnsons' fifth child. I was the first friend in my peer group to have a baby, and it was before the days of being served mental wellness memes on Instagram.

My postpartum depression showed up like a silent killer, manifesting itself mostly in bouts of anger and rage, and resentment. I didn't know what postpartum depression was, much less its various symptoms. I found the episode with Rainbow experiencing postpartum depression to be important social commentary for the many Black families watching the show. It explored that success and even multiple previous children do not make Black women immune to postpartum depression, an illness that impacts 1 in 7 women and disproportionately women of color.

The series finale closes with a nod to the Johnsons' new chapter, and captures the Black brilliance that the show has constantly embodied. In a nod to its important cultural context, cast members gathered at a series finale event at the National Museum of African American Heritage and Culture. They celebrated the show's bittersweet end at a black carpet fete which included a stunning portrait of the cast and a moving opening and closing performance from Howard University's vocal jazz ensemble Afro Blue. It was a final closing acknowledgement that the show had, indeed, cemented its permanent part in Black history.

The black-ish series finale airs Tuesday, April 19 on ABC.

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