So far, the second season of This Is Us is provoking more thoughts than tears. For me, the pure emotional appeal of the first season have been diluted with an appreciation for the social commentary that has been pretty apparent in recent episodes. The care that the series has shown to Blackness has been a particular bright spot. Black hair and foster care have come up as major plot points already, and on Tuesday night’s episode, This Is Us reaffirmed its commitment to both Black women and Black love. It was one of those moments that set the show apart.
If you’ve been keeping up, you know that married couple Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth Pearson (Susan Kelechi Watson) have recently become foster parents to teenaged Deja (Lyric Ross). She was placed in the care of the Pearsons after her biological mother was arrested.
On the most recent episode, Randall takes Deja to visit her mother, Shauna (Joy Brunson) in jail for the first time. It’s court-mandated, but Shauna declines the visit. Deja is disappointed, and the Pearsons are deeply upset about the affect it has on her. Randall visits Shauna on his own to confront her about the let down. It turns out that Deja’s mom had been the victim of a physical attack behind bars and didn’t want her daughter to see her battered face. Randall is sympathetic, but still takes a moral high ground on what is best for Deja. He wants to enrol Deja in a better school and thinks cheerleading will be a fine substitution for the drill team Deja is part of at her current school. This prompts Shauna to ask, “You got a white wife?” She’s not sure if Randall understands the cultural differences between cheerleading and drill team.
People committed to a false utopia of colourblindness will undoubtedly argue that the race of Randall’s wife, and Shauna’s question, don’t matter. But they do. Black culture is taught and passed down through family. Shauna’s dreams of Deja expressing her Blackness through the drill team could have been easily thwarted by a white woman who didn’t understand its importance. This season of This Is Us has been full of small but attentive moments like this. Randall’s response, though, was gold. “Don’t get it twisted, sis. I wake up everyday to a headscarf and coconut oil. I’m married to a Black queen, not that it’s any of your business.”
Not every Black woman sleeps with a headscarf, but enough Black women do to make this comment extremely relatable. But even on shows where Black women have leading roles, this bedtime ritual — in place to help maintain Black women’s hairstyles and edges — is rarely acknowledged. Showing, or even talking about moisturising our bodies and hair with coconut oil is one of the way that shows can go above and beyond just showing Black women on screen and speaking to their actual experiences. This matters.
And so does Randall’s firm position on being married to a Black women in the first place. Shows that are not marketed to Black audiences seem to be largely defaulting to interracial dating as the status quo for diverse love stories. From Scandal to Riverdale, Black-identified people are rarely in love with other people who share that identity. Black love is viewed by many as a revolutionary, political, and positive act. It’s something we deserve to see more of, and I’m so glad This Is Us gets that.