We Need To Talk About This Is Us

With the new season of This Is Us fast approaching (catch that premiere, September 25 at 9PM on NBC!!), I’ve been thinking probably a little bit too much about the show. In the wake of the Super Bowl episode, I couldn’t string together a coherent thought aside from “JACK, NO!” in regards to the show, but now that my head has cleared, I have some questions--questions that I hope will be introduced and explored in Season 3.

This Is Us usually does an incredible job of exploring themes of race and identity, especially considering Randall’s identity as an adopted man of color, raised by a white family (hello, Rebecca calling out her mom for treating Randall differently). When Season 2 introduced the character of Déjà, a teenage girl that Randall and Beth decided to foster while her mother was incarcerated, I thought that the show was finally taking the opportunity to explore the one thing I thought they’d left out pretty consistently: socioeconomic status and how it relates to identity.

And yet, they didn’t. Not quite. Though the series does explore how Randall’s life would have been different if he’d been raised by William or if he’d gone to college at Howard instead of Harvard, I still feel quite strongly that the actual notion of socioeconomic privilege has been benched in regards to the storyline. With the introduction of Déjà, I thought this offered a wonderful opportunity to remedy this dilemma: we now have a young woman of color, being raised by a woman who is financially unable to support her (their lights getting turned off, etc), and we can easily draw a comparison between how Déjà lives and how Randall’s life could have easily been. The opportunity is right there...but the show sort of glides over it, focusing instead on Randall’s drive to create a support system for Déjà that is reminiscent of the one that Jack and Rebecca provided for him (with, of course, the caveat that he wants Déjà to know her mother). While this is also important, it still neglects to mention the inherently racial dynamics present, wherein Randall, who is Ivy League-educated and was raised by a white family, is better able to provide financially for a young woman of color than her mother, about whom we know very little beyond her race. There is an opportunity here to talk about the pay gaps found in society--even those found between men of color and women of color. There’s a chance to talk about the school-to-prison pipeline and Déjà's chances of following in her mother’s footsteps if not moved to a nicer (read: whiter) school by Randall and Beth. There is a GREAT opportunity to talk about socioeconomic factors and how identity plays into them! But This Is Us stops just short of actually latching onto this theme.

Maybe they’ll never address it, but consider this my formal plea for This Is Us to explore how socioeconomic factors (including race) factor into their show. And, for a different article, I’ll further explore my gripes with this show (Kate doesn’t work and has a beautiful apartment! What!).