- Whatever the failings of Randall’s adoptive parents and siblings, they are a loving and devoted family who did everything they could to support his successful transition into an independent, driven, and compassionate adult. Tweet This
- Like so many other recent commentaries, “This Is Us” seems to be suggesting that white parents really couldn’t have prepared their black son properly for the world we live in. Tweet This
At the end of the much anticipated season premiere of “This Is Us” last Tuesday evening, Kate tells her brother Randall that she has been worried about him and his family and that she is deeply sorry about everything that is happening in the country since the death of George Floyd. Kate is white and Randall (who was adopted by their parents at birth) is black. Randall appreciates her concern but shames her by demanding to know why they haven’t had other conversations in the past 40 years about black men being shot on television and why she is only sorry now.
What I wondered watching this was why she was sorry at all. How is police brutality in Minneapolis her fault?
In the five years it has been on the air, “This Is Us” has featured plenty of melodrama and maybe too many tear-jerking monologues, but it has mostly presented a nuanced picture of interracial relationships, foster care, and adoption. Jason Weber, who works for the Christian Alliance for Orphans, told me he was a fan when I interviewed him in 2017. He thought that the show portrayed the “real tensions that exist” for anyone involved in adoption or foster care. In the years since, a number of parents who had previously been unsatisfied with the way pop culture portrays these issues told me they have stuck with “This Is Us.”
Whatever the failings of Randall’s adoptive parents and siblings, they are a loving and devoted family who did everything they could to support his successful transition into an independent, driven, and compassionate adult. Which is why it is so disappointing to see the show descend into the racialized claptrap, including the idea of collective white guilt, that has dominated our national conversation in recent months. Earlier in the episode, he breaks down talking to his daughter’s boyfriend about how he had to navigate this issue on his own when he was growing up and later chastises his sister and (and through her, the rest of the family) for forcing him to act like everything was okay when it was not.
Whatever the show’s creators want to pretend now, Randall has had plenty of occasion to come to terms with being a black man raised by white parents. This is a well they have returned to many times. His parents facilitated friendships with other black children. They tried, albeit awkwardly, to foster Randall’s relationship with a black teacher. As a young man, Randall attends Howard University where he meets his black wife. He and his wife have two daughters and then adopt another black girl out of foster care. His mother didn’t tell him she knew who his birth father was, but Randall is eventually reunited with him and enjoyed a strong relationship with him until he passed away. He leaves his corporate job to run for city council and moves to a predominantly black neighborhood in Philadelphia. And despite, or perhaps because of his thoughtfulness and independence, he remains his mother’s favorite and arguably his late father’s, too.
The racial soul-searching is a theme that comes up multiple times in each season. But now at the age of 40, Randall finds there are video clips of police brutality against African-Americans, men who likely suffered traumatic, poverty-stricken childhoods and had criminal records—men who have little in common with Randall who was raised in the middle class, like most black people are in this country. Similar to his own parents, he is raising his children comfortably, with a strong emphasis on education and personal responsibility. In many ways, he is trying to replicate the upbringing his parents offered him.
But at the same time, Randall wants to throw his adoptive family under the bus for failing to talk to him about—what? The history of racism in this country? The fact that racism still exists? The fact that as a black man he might have different interactions with the police than his siblings?
Sadly, at the end of the episode, we find that the white parts and the black parts of the extended Pearson family are divided. Randall tells his therapist that he wants to replace her with someone black, and he tells his wife that everything he needs is in their home. Like so many other recent commentaries, “This Is Us” seems to be suggesting that white parents really couldn’t have prepared their black son properly for the world we live in. There is little evidence in social science for this notion, and it is a cheap message for an audience that has come to expect better.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official policy or viewpoint of the Institute for Family Studies.
*Photo Credit: NBC