This Is Us Captured the Complexity of Interracial Families
"This Is Us" Captured the Complexity of Adoption and Interracial Families
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I remember my mom begging me to watch "This Is Us" back when it first hit the air in 2016, and as soon as I tuned in, I became forever intertwined with the story of the Pearson family. Part of what makes this show so heartwarmingly unique is the family's diversity and the wide range of challenges the characters endure throughout the series. It provides a viewing experience where anyone and everyone watching can find a character to relate to in one way or another. The show's wholesome nature and endless parallels between the Pearsons' story and any family were what made it so special. After six years of captivating hearts nationwide, the emotional series finale of "This Is Us" aired on May 24 and left me with a reminder of exactly why I connected so deeply with this make-believe family from the very beginning.
Everyone who watched "This Is Us" undoubtedly found different aspects of the story relatable. As for me, I was drawn to Randall, even though I didn't put together exactly why until after the series wrapped.
Randall Pearson (Sterling K. Brown) is adopted by Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and Rebecca Pearson (Mandy Moore) after the loss of one of their newborn triplets, making him the sole Black member of the Pearson family. Although Randall is unconditionally loved by his adoptive parents and accepted as family just as much as his siblings Kate (Chrissy Metz) and Kevin (Justin Hartley), there's a piece missing in the puzzle of his life. He doesn't know anything about his birth parents or blood relatives and, as a result, he battles feelings of being ostracized in a mostly white community for the majority of his upbringing.
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As I dutifully watched every episode, I found myself relating to Randall's struggle to find authenticity in his Blackness and a sense of belonging in his world. My family looks different than the Pearsons, of course, but I experienced anguish and confusion similar to Randall's throughout my childhood and teenage years. My mother is white and my father is Black, and both of them were adopted.
Like Randall, I grew up in a predominately white area where it was difficult to be one of the few people who stood out. I remember the way people looked at my mother and me, wondering how the two of us could possibly be related, and I remember the looks people gave my father when we were just out doing normal things like grocery shopping or spending a day on the lake.
Randall was caught between society's expectations of him as a Black child and his white family, and his story rang true to me. I remember wishing away my brown skin, curls, and curves and desperately wanting to just fit in and be "normal" at times. Deep down, a large part of me never felt 100 percent understood, and I think Randall felt the same way in "This Is Us."
Randall sought out community he could relate to throughout the show and eventually settled into himself and discovered what being a Black man in America meant to him. In the show's early seasons, we watch Randall agonize over the blanks in his life as a result of being adopted. His relief and joy when he discovers his father, William (Ron Cephas Jones), bring on a bubbling resentment toward his adoptive mother, Rebecca, when he finds a letter she'd written vowing to never tell Randall about his birth father or the conversations she'd had with him. Later on, Randall's grief is palpable when he uncovers the story of his birth mother, Laurel (Jennifer C. Holmes), and learns she didn't die from an overdose after his birth but passed away from breast cancer just a few years before her lover, Hai (Vien Hong), reached out to him.
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For me, having two parents who were both adopted, I know how it feels to have an endless list of unanswered questions. With adoption, there are so many unknowns. In my family, my mother knows her birth parents, but my father chose not to seek his out. I respect both of their choices and understand to the best of my ability why they did so, but it doesn't mean that there aren't still some holes in my life that I've always wondered about. Writing "no information" on medical forms and not having immediate Black relatives in my life is a challenge, and although it's no one's fault, there are moments where my wondering turns into hurt from what I'll never know.
Adoption is more complicated than a child having a family to come home to. There is pain, struggle, and a seemingly endless list of "what ifs" that carry on through that child's life and the generations that follow them. As we saw in the final episode of "This Is Us," Randall's adopted daughter, Déjà (Lyric Ross), announces she'd like to name her son after her biological grandfather William even though she's never personally met him. It's clear through Randall's reaction how much this means to him, how heavily he bears the loss of a father he only knew for a brief moment in time, and how adoption impacts future stories.
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In the series finale, when Jack and Rebecca are perusing a toy store and stumble across a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game with an image of a family similar to theirs on the front, Rebecca says, "Maybe there's another family just like ours." The more people feel free to live their most authentic lives and push the boundaries of how things have always been, the more blended and beautiful our families become.
Growing up in a family that doesn't fit the mold can be difficult and messy, but it's wonderful, too. I wouldn't trade it for anything, and I'm sure Randall Pearson wouldn't either. "This Is Us" represented the endless types of families that exist in this world and gave viewers with "untraditional" families a platform where they could feel seen and validated through the story of the Pearsons.