Writing for The Grio, The Burton Wire‘s founder & editor-in-chief Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. talked to Kenny Smith, co-showrunner and executive producer of ABC‘s hit sitcom Black-ish about the “Black Like Us” episode on colorism. African-American writer Peter Saji wrote the episode. What is colorism? Colorism refers to discrimination based on skin color. Colorism disadvantages dark-skinned people while privileging those with lighter skin. Research has linked colorism to smaller incomes, lower marriage rates, longer prison terms, and fewer job prospects for darker-skinned people. Colorism has existed for centuries, in the world community and is persistent and pervasive and should be fought with the same urgency as racism. The episode explores colorism in the world community and how it is dealt with within black families – the Johnson family specifically. Check out an excerpt from the interview with the Hampton University graduate below:
theGrio: How did you come up with the idea of tackling colorism in this episode?
Kenny Smith: We have been kicking around the topic of colorism for a number of seasons. It even came up in season three, but we couldn’t find the right story to put it out there. At the top of this season when we were prepping, Peter Saji, the writer of the episode, who also wrote the “Purple Rain” and “Juneteenth” episodes, started championing it. He said we’ve got to tell this story. We started discussing it and then sharing our personal stories.
theGrio: How did ABC respond when you told them you were working on an episode around colorism in Black families?
Kenny Smith: The network was great. Even when we said we’re thinking about this idea for a show, but weren’t quite sure of what story to tell, they said they trusted us. We had an amalgamation of everything that people in the writer’s room had gone through. We wanted to take this big mess and whittle it down to a story that could be told in 21 minutes. The studio trusted us to make something out of all of this information.
theGrio: Why was it so important to pull from personal stories for this?
Kenny Smith: Whenever you’re very specific about a story in your life, you usually find people who have a similar story to tell as well and that’s where it becomes global. The more specific you get, the more widespread of an understanding people will have of that story or topic. When we started the process of writing this episode, we started with personal stories. This is what happened to me in grade school. This is what happened to me the other day. Doing that allows you to be authentic. The show itself is about authenticity. In fact, authenticity allows us to have these conversations translated through the characters to speak to large audiences.
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