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Black-ish showrunner: 'I'm so tired of talking about diversity'

Kenya Barris on Black-ish being more than its audience

Black-ish is a family sitcom that isn't afraid to address some of the biggest issues in the country today. They've had an episode focused entirely on the police brutality, episodes about the use of the "N-word" and other boundary pushing thematic episodes that affect the black community.

When asked at the Television Critics Association conference in Los Angeles about how important it was that their audience was diverse, showrunner and creator Kenya Barris said he was tired of talking about diversity.

"I will be so happy when 'diversity' isn't a word," Barris said. "Why does it matter if black people are watching this show or if white people are? The point is that people are watching the show and they're hearing what we're saying."

Barris spoke at length about the issue of diversity and said it was a topic that was brought up at every panel. Despite his understanding of why it was still being brought up, Barris argued that questions about diversity did more to segregate black and white communities than it does to bring them together.

Once asked, the cast of the show got visibly upset over the question, with many arguing that it was questions about who was watching their show that took away from the art and message they were trying to deliver week after week. Tracee Ellis-Ross, who plays the matriarchal figure of the family, Rainbow, took a second to turn the question around and address it head on.

"How many other shows this week have you asked that same question?" she asked. When the reporter in question answered none, she nodded her head and said "Exactly."

"I will be so happy when diversity isn't a word"

For Barris, the show is very proud of its black heritage and promotes issues within the black community to get conversations started after the episode has aired. Being able to focus on controversial issues like police brutality and the use of the n-word, which he thought may have suffered from pushback from ABC, was completely and totally embraced by the network.

"They want us to tell honest stories and stories that are affecting us," Barris said. "What we've been able to do is tell it in a really comedic way. We're able to do it with a spoonful of sugar so people can hear and absorb the message but still laugh."

While Barris doesn't care who's watching his show, as long as people are and enjoy it, he's happy that ABC has allowed him to create a weekly series that brings black culture to the forefront of culture in a way that its rarely allowed to. Being able to focus on three generation of black men and the different obstacles they face has been a deeply personal journey for both himself and the cast.

"For a long time, black culture was shown under a monolithic light," Barris said. "We are not a monolithic culture. We need to allow more voices within the community to be heard and if we have love for one another, we can take those voices in and make them become something more than just words."

The other big part of working on Black-ish that Barris is adamant about is authenticity. The creator said that while they may touch on hot topics in the media, they weren't Law & Order. As such, they aren't interested in ripping stories directly from the headline week after week and generating conversation based on whatever was airing on the six o'clock news every night. Instead, they rely on conversations that they have in the writers room — a diverse room that Barris prides himself on — to figure out which are the most important and telling stories that they want to explore within the show.

"If a conversation sparks an argument, then we know we have something good," Barris said. "We don't try to offer a specific point of view or angle, but we offer a conversation that people can debate after.

"We live in a world where everyone wants to think they're right all the time, and we're asking people to instead listen to what others have to say and try to live a life of happiness. It's better to be happy than right, and that's an important part of our show."

Black-ish will return for its third season this fall on ABC.

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