A week ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration, “Blackish” finally tackled the results of the presidential election.
Wednesday’s episode, titled “Lemons,” finds the members of the (pro-Hillary Clinton) Johnson family reacting to Trump’s victory. The funny, at times emotional, installment fits the ABC sitcom’s Norman Lear-inspired approach to real-life topics. And the show’s writers present perspectives that feel authentic to both the characters and how the country reacted to the election.
Dre (Anthony Anderson) dubs the election an upset, a tradition he notes is “as American as apple pie and obesity.” Nearly eight weeks after Clinton’s loss, Dre is still trying to pull his family out of its post-election funk.
His wife, Rainbow (Golden Globe winner Tracee Ellis Ross), finds comfort in her bubble, swaddling herself with swag from traditionally left-wing causes — UNICEF flip-flops, a Black Lives Matter button, Habitat for Humanity sweatpants. “Everything you’re wearing looks like it came from an NPR commercial,” Dre tells her. Their teenagers Junior and Zoey have been given a day off from school “for reflection” and are preparing for a “healing rally,” designed to bring the student body together. Dre thinks it’s all nonsense: “Are they gonna prorate your tuition?”
Junior has been tasked with delivering Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream Speech” at the event. (“I’m woke now!” he tells his grandfather after a day of research). Zoey decides to make lemonade for her classmates. To her mother’s chagrin, she says there’s no political or Beyoncé-inspired motivation behind her contribution.
Meanwhile, Dre is also confronting a somber post-election mood at the advertising firm where he works. Trump’s win has led to increased tension — and low productivity. As the team scrambles to meet a looming deadline, they can only manage to keep talking about the election despite Dre’s pleas to focus on the pitch they’re supposed to be crafting.
Even Leslie, the firm’s owner and a self-avowed “ferocious Republican,” says he was pulling for a Clinton presidency. “Trump is just not my kind of guy,” he tells his staff. “Now you give me a true conservative like Mitt Romney — a beautiful, coif-haired tax genius made in a president factory? Mmmm, mmm!”
Co-owner Daphne (Wanda Sykes) helpfully takes to the whiteboard to illustrate who she blames for Trump’s win: “White women!” This turns the focus on Dre’s colleague Lucy, who is asked to weigh in on why her “sisters” didn’t “turn out for Hillary.”
“Well, first, white women aren’t sisters. We hate each other,” Lucy says. Then comes the kicker: She voted for Trump. After fending off accusations of racism (regretfully resorting to the “I have black friends” defense), Lucy gets real: “I’m not some crazy right-wing nut you guys. I voted for Obama — twice. I even got my Republican parents to vote for him. He felt different. I believed he was gonna change stuff.”
“But it’s eight years later,” she continues. “My dad’s still out of work. My hometown’s about to go under. And Hillary comes out saying she’s basically going to keep everything the same. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t work for me and my family.”
The conversation takes an emotional turn when Leslie asks why Dre hasn’t been chiming in. “Don’t you care about what’s happening to this country?”
“What did you just say to me? I don’t care about this country?” Dre says, before launching into a heartfelt monologue, accompanied by Nina Simone’s tortured rendition of Abel Meeropol’s anti-racism song “Strange Fruit.”
I love this country even though at times it doesn’t love me back. For my whole life my parents, my grandparents, me, for most black people, this system has never worked for us. But we still play ball, tried to do our best to live by the rules even though we knew they would never work out in our favor, had to live in neighborhoods that you wouldn’t drive through, send our kids to schools with books so beat up you couldn’t read them, work jobs that you wouldn’t consider in your nightmares.
Black people wake up everyday believing our lives are gonna change even though everything around us says it’s not. Truth be told, you ask most black people and they tell you no matter who won the election, they don’t expect the hood to get better. But they still voted because that’s what you’re supposed to do.
You think I’m not sad that Hillary didn’t win? That I’m not terrified about what Trump’s about to do? I’m used to things not going my way. I’m sorry that you’re not and it’s blowing your mind, so excuse me if I get a little offended because I didn’t see all of this outrage when everything was happening to all of my people since we were stuffed on boats in chains. I love this country as much — if not more — than you do. And don’t you ever forget that.
After cooling off, Dre returns to the conference room, where he tells his colleagues that “maybe instead of letting this destroy us, we take the feeling you guys felt the day after the election and say that morning we all woke up knowing what it felt like to be black.”
“I thought I’d feel taller,” one colleague laments, breaking the tension. As the show did with it’s police violence-focused episode last year, “Blackish” masterfully balances serious social commentary with comedy.
And Zoey ends up sending her mother (and classmates) a message with her lemonade. “It’s not liberal lemonade. It’s not conservative lemonade,” she tells Bow. “It’s just lemonade that I made with love. That’s what I want my contribution to be — love.”