CHICAGO, IL (January 22, 2016) – Since Donald Trump was elected last November 8, television has been filled with news programs and talk shows in which panels discuss what the most fractious election in recent history might mean, why people voted a certain way, and how the country can move forward. Until recently, no scripted show had addressed those questions post-election.
But the Black-ish episode “Lemons,” which aired January 11, was brilliant, funny, withering, and revealing.
The episode is set eight weeks after the election. Main character Dre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) and his family, who are African American, are each responding to the election in their own way. “Lemons” is bold not only for the subject matter it addresses but also for the self-deprecating way it holds a mirror up to the wide-ranging reactions to Trump’s election.
Dre works at a marketing firm, but employees can’t get any work done despite an upcoming deadine. Every time they sit down, talk turns to the election as the work is literally tossed aside.
The treatment is not simplistic. For example, most of Dre’s coworkers voted for Clinton. After weeks of listening to her colleagues express dismay that Trump would soon be president and wondering how anyone—especially women—could possibly have voted for such a misogynist, Lucy, who is white, summons the courage to say why she cast her ballot for him. Her coworkers are aghast, but the show’s writers treat her with respect. She explains, saying, “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. 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 highlight of the show comes when Dre’s coworkers wonder why he has remained silent, and one questions his patriotism. With Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit”—which refers to lynched blacks—playing in the background, Dre delivers a searing monologue. Here is the text in full:
“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 every day 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.”
There is no tidy ending here, but Dre describes his vision of how the country can make the hard journey forward. Whether he is naïve remains to be seen.