Tracee Ellis Ross earned this year’s “Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series—Musical or Comedy” Golden Globe award for her performance as the eccentric Rainbow Johnson on ABC’s “Black-ish.” She credits Michelle Obama with creating the cultural space for her stereotype-beaking role in a new essay, published by Lenny Letter today (October 24):
Our show “Black-ish” is a family comedy, and what we’re playing is an American family. We don’t happen to be Black. We are Black. Mrs. Obama made room for my character, Rainbow Johnson. She validated a Rainbow Johnson for people who had never met a Black woman with the revolutionary experience of being joyful. A Black woman who is not only surviving but thriving. A Black woman who is actually in love with her husband—not an image we usually see in American pop culture. A Black woman who can be goofy and sexy, who can be smart and empowered and soft and lovable and vulnerable. Eight years of watching Michelle Obama as a person, not just relegated to doing “woman things,” provided an antidote to all the false representations of Black women that have inundated us for centuries—images that don’t represent the reality, or the humanity, of who we are as Black people. Of who we are as people. And then to have her name prefaced by two things that are rarely associated with Black women—”First” and “Lady”—well, it shattered everything.
Ross also reflects on the former first lady of the United States’ last year in office, praising two speeches that addressed the country’s origins in the enslavement of Black people and Donald Trump’s boasts about sexual assault:
Part of what Mrs. Obama has encouraged in me is the strength within myself to be myself. It’s not the White House that made her who she is. She is who she is, and it’s something we were reminded of time and again during her final year there. She said in her speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, “I wake up every morning in a house built by slaves.” She didn’t deny the history of this country. Instead she acknowledged it, as if to emphasize how far we’ve come and how important it is for us to keep moving forward. In another speech, following the release of footage that captured Donald Trump talking about grabbing “pussy,” she stood at the podium and said, with tears in her eyes, “I can’t believe that I’m saying that a candidate for president of the United States has bragged about sexually assaulting women.” She named what so many people would not name, what so many other women were shamed out of naming. To have the first lady of the United States stand up and name what was happening for all of us put the shame back where it belonged.
Read the full essay at LennyLetter.com.