The past few episodes of Black-ish have been… interesting.
TV’s favourite couple, Dre and Bo, looked headed for a divorce.
I have a couple of theories:
- Bo and Dre have FIVE (count them — five) children. They just had their fifth child during the last season. That’s got to be stressful on a marriage. I could never understand why they would have so many children.
- Last year, we heard rumours of Tracee Ellis Ross leaving Black-ish over pay issues. If those rumours are true, writing a divorce into the show would give Tracee a graceful exit.
I feel like everyone is getting divorced nowadays: Israel Houghton, Jeannie Mai, Elizabeth Gilbert (!!!)…
(Going off on a slight tangent here. Forgive me). Goodness — the case of Elizabeth Gilbert confuses me the most. She seemed to have had an absolutely delightful husband (did you read the end of Eat, Pray, Love? Did you read her book on marriage entitled Committed? sigh):
The other day I was listening to a podcast (Beautiful Writers Podcast) where Elizabeth Gilbert described how she involved her husband in her work:
“One of the reasons why I love him — I mean, there are so many reasons why I love him — but one of the reasons why I love him is because he is so interested in my work. He’s so excited by the fact that I do this kind of stuff. He likes to know what I’m doing and so, like for the Signature of All Things, I wrote that book every day and read it to him every night. So he would come in and sit down with a few glasses of wine and I would read him what I wrote that day… that’s part of the reason I wrote that thing so fast is because every night, when I was finished he would say, ‘Well, what happens next?!’ I was like Scheherazade except without the death sentence… So every night it was like, ‘How can I delight this man with this story?’ So it became part of our marriage and that’s only because he had such respect for my space when I can’t have him there… when I have to go away to research… because he has so much respect for my space then when I’m ready to bring him in it’s really joyful.”
…And after hearing that I couldn’t help but think, “…and you divorced him???? How could you divorce a man like that?!!!”
Sometimes I wonder what’s the point of pining for marriage if there is a strong likelihood that I will get divorced… Don’t get me wrong — I believe in marriage and if I do get married I will fight for my marriage, but I will also not be so naive and so pompous as to believe that divorce could never happen to me.
As a single woman who would at least like to try this marriage thing at least once in her life, sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it. Sometimes I wonder if I should even “aspire” (???) to get married, knowing that despite the best of my intentions or efforts, it is quite likely that it will end in divorce. I know thinking negatively or fatalistically is not helpful, but the reality is there is no reason to assume that me and my marriage will be immune – even if Jesus is present in my home. After all, the rate of Christian divorces mirrors that of secular couples.
When Jesus says that in the last days, “men shall marry and be given into marriage,” I no longer view it as merely a factual description or a prediction. Now I see it as a reassurance that yes, while fewer and fewer people will marry, in the last days there will still be a select few who intend and still manage to get married.
So many of us put marriage (and the marriages of others) on a pedestal. If I knew that I would be divorced in ten years, would I still deify it today? Or would I focus my attention on other things that are more likely to last longer than my marriage?
In the season finale, Bo and Dre ask each other, “How did we get here?”
How did we get here? As a couple? As a society?
As a society, we got here because our values changed. Socio-economic status (especially for women) changed. Women could leave marriages and not be destitute. And we got here because we now want different things out of our marriages and expect different things from our partners compared to ages past (love and companionship and mind-blowing sex vs. rite of passage and patriarchial protection and financial stability). Plus it’s easier to get a divorce nowadays than decades before.
As a couple, like weight gain and creeping chronic illness or like losing yourself in life, we get here incrementally. When we check out of our jobs, our marriages and our lives, it seldom happens in one fell swoop. Many of us live our lives in a state of semi-consciousness and we act on auto-pilot, rarely assessing and evaluating our thoughts, emotions and decisions. It just happens little by little, until one day the drift is so glaring that we finally notice.
While I’m not an expert in marriage, my hypothesis is that more often then not there were cracks in the armour that one or both partners failed to address or notice. Those cracks could be red flags and other signs that we often smooth over to avoid conflict. For Bo and Dre, it was different communication styles (i.e. misinterpreting what each other is saying) and parenting styles. For them and for others, there are often so many things that some couples choose to overlook until they can’t overlook them any longer.
I’m not gonna sit here and act like I have all of the answers to marriage. Marriage is hard. I can tell just as an outsider looking in. But that to me is proof positive that it takes a conscious effort on both parties to patch it and to work at it and to nurture it. Marriages don’t work on their own.
(Can I also say that I’m so happy that they depicted a Black couple getting therapy on TV? Praise God.).
So many people (including many of my friends), were sad about this turn of events in Black-ish. They wanted Black-ish to continue with the laughter and levity that has been its hallmark. Black-ish was supposed to be the modern-day Cosby Show — strong Black marriage, strong family values, and strong casting, all with some light-hearted good humour. I suppose many people feel disappointed that the Johnsons haven’t lived up to their Huxtable expectations. What Black-ish does well and what the Cosby show didn’t do, however, is engage with contemporary issues and challenges — racism, sexism, and now, co-parenting (and death). At the time, the Huxtables gave many African-Americans something to aspire to. Ironically, they were an inspiration and aspirational because they did not reflect the reality of many Black families at the time (how many Black families had a Black OB-GYN patriarch married to a witty, lawyer matriarch, with five kids, in-laws and no drama?). In other words, the value of Black-ish, when compared to the Cosby show, is how real it is, and its tendency not to shy away from contentious issues — treating such issues with humour and by extension disarming them of their alarm.
TV shows nowadays (especially on ABC), seem to be going on this trend of reflecting our current state of affairs — “Splitting Up Together,” “Modern Family”… We’ve moved from “Days of Our Lives” to “This is Us” — precisely because “This is Us” is the “Days of Our Lives.” In some ways, Black-ish is the Black version of “This is Us.” When we watch Black-ish, we truly see ourselves and the complex nature of our lives.
So while I was sad to see “Black excellence” and Black love deteriorate, I’m happy that Black-ish insists on keeping it real for all of us.
Sadly, divorce does happen. And sadly enough divorce will continue to happen — even to the unsuspecting. Death happens too.
But we can also choose each other (and consciously continue to choose each other) and sometimes that’s enough for love to lead us back home to one another.
Photo credit: Variety