For the Win: ‘Grown-ish’ Nails Interracial Dating & Colorism
By TaRessa Stovall @taressatalks
Never in the history of U.S. television or film have I seen the intertwined topics of interracial dating and colorism so deftly and smartly handled as on the 10th episode of “Grown-ish,” titled “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”
For reference, I’ve been checking for this kind of substance and insight in tackling these topics since the iconic films “Imitation of Life” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” disappointed and frustrated me in my childhood and adolescence. I’m a Biracial Boomer who has been profoundly impacted by both interracial dating and colorism every day of my life.
“Grown-ish”, which airs on FreeForm, is a spin-off of the popular ABC hit “Black-ish,” created when eldest sibling Zoey Anderson goes off to college. It’s produced by “Black-ish” creator Kenya Barris, and features the same witty, insightful, on-point depictions of life that are both relatable and relevant to issues of our times.
Why am I watching a Millennial-focused TV series? First, I am giddy with all of the quality Black television and film material coming out lately, and I keep up with as much of it as I can. While I enjoy and often relate to “Black-ish,” as the mother of Millennial young adults, I learn from “Grown-ish.”
“Grown-ish” revolves around main character Zoey and her crew: Aaron, a woke African-American would-be activist; Ana, a Cuban-American Catholic Republican and Zoey’s roommate; Nomi, a wild, free-spirited Jewish bisexual who isn’t out to her family; Jazz and Sky, twin track stars from South Central who are bubbly in public and bluntly transparent in private; Vivek, a first-generation son of devout Indian Hindus who deals drugs to support his fashion habit; and Luca, a super laid-back Black stoner artist who prides himself on non-conformity.
This episode tackles the romantic preferences of many cis-heterosexual African-American men, noting how many are swirling on campus and in the world. The show presents a quick snapshot of how, for 82% of non-Black men, White women are most desired, followed by Asian women, Latina women and Mixed (or Mixed-appearing) women of various ethnic combos, bolstered by stats from popular dating sites. The Los Angeles-based college campus is also full of swirling, and the characters discuss the pros and cons of the high number of Black men—both in their peer group and in the public eye—who seem to flock to non-Black women, as well as many Black men who routinely go for the light-skinned, long-haired, ethnically ambiguous-looking Mixed and Mixed-Black women.
They touch on specifics: during the conversation, a Black guy comes over and hits on Ana based on his stereotypes of “hot” Latinas, prompting the friends to acknowledge the dynamics unfolding before their eyes and ears.
Jazz and Sky are leading the swirling conversation, lamenting that Black guys don’t seem to check for them at all. They take action: Jazz flirts with a White guy while Sky asks a swirling Black guy why he always crosses the color line. His response: “Because I can.”
Meanwhile, the group helps Aaron to recognize his fetish for the light-skinned women. “I’m color-struck!” he notes, rushing off to connect with a dark-skinned girl from Cameroon in a disastrous attempt to over-compensate for his addiction. Finally, as one friend points out, Aaron is checking for girls who resemble his own mother, so now he has a bigger issue to deal with!
Beyond “Grown-ish’s” razor sharp writing, direction and performances, this is a topic that myself and many people like me grapple with all the time. I’m usually disappointed by how it’s superficially and unsatisfyingly it’s depicted in films and TV series, which is why this particular show is such a relief and a standout.
A review of this episode on TellTaleTv.com states:
This episode digs deep into this topic and presents adequate statistics to back up the claim … [showing] that the showrunners put a great deal of effort into developing the story.
While the issues are highlighted, some hypotheses on the root cause are also discussed and a possible solution is proffered. How the episode does that with such limited time is ovation-worthy. It is like a carefully-planned research report in motion picture format.
These are subtle but ingrained imprints in our societal fabrics, which this episode tries to shed light on. The solution to that is unknown, but the reason for raising conversations of this nature is to foster positive change.
Pulling back the lens from this particular TV series, these very dynamics are articulated by two high-profile music leaders whose recent comments on these perpetually hot topics made headlines.
Octogenarian icon Quincy Jones, famous for swirling, said in a GQ interview, “The interracial thing was part of a revolution, too, because back in the ’40s and stuff, they would say, ‘You can’t mess with a White man’s money.… Don’t mess with his women.’ We weren’t going to take that shit. Charlie Parker, everybody there, was married to a White wife.”
Taking Jones’ comment a step further and adding colorism, Matthew Knowles, father of Beyoncé and Solange (and Beyoncé’s former manager) now divorced from their very light-skinned mother, Tina, went deep in his new memoir, Racism: From the Eyes of a Child, on what he terms “colorism and eroticized rage.” As he shared with Ebony:
When I was growing up, my mother used to say, ‘Don’t ever bring no nappy-head Black girl to my house.’ In the deep South in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, the shade of your Blackness was considered important. So I, unfortunately, grew up hearing that message.
I had been conditioned from childhood. With eroticized rage, there was actual rage in me as a Black man, and I saw the White female as a way, subconsciously, of getting even or getting back. There are a lot of Black men of my era that are not aware of this thing.
It was still a risky time in the south, and I continued finding a line to step over, even if I wasn’t aware of it….
I think back to when I met my first wife; I thought she was White, although … I quickly saw her beauty and Blackness, inside and out. According to my sister, even after my mother met my future in-laws she stayed convinced all of them were White. I’m sure she didn’t mean for me to bring one home, but considering my choice in women’s complexions based on that colorism she passed on, I almost did.
I hope we see much, much more of the kind of informative and entertaining explorations of these tough topics examined in more entertainment, bridging the gap between arts and our real lives. Careful depictions can give us better tools with which to understand our own experiences as well as to approach conversations with others on these often-triggering topics. They give us a common frame of reference that can—like the non-Black characters in this “Grown-ish” episode, gain insight into and appreciation for the experiences of others.
The TellTaleTv review sums it up best. “Through all the clues and points, this episode is a masterpiece, balanced, insightful, well portrayed and true to time and circumstances. It is expected that the buzz it has created will attract more viewers to the show. Freeform’s new philosophy is certainly taking no prisoners by way of moving ‘a little forward,’ which is conveyed through addressing hitherto obscure and uncomfortable issues and Grown-ish is undeniably a part of that movement.”