Tracee Ellis Ross Relives Painful Teenage Years for ‘Black-ish’ Spinoff ‘Mixed-ish’

Black-ish fans are about to get a double dose of Bow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross) on Tuesday nights. Right before the season premiere of Black-ish, the new spinoff Mixed-ish will air. Ross executive produces and narrates the story of her character as a young girl (Arica Himmel) in the ‘80s with a white father (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), black mother (Tika Sumpter), and two siblings.

Tracee Ellis Ross | Amy Sussman/Getty Images

The subject matter of Mixed-ish was relevant to Ross. Not only is it the history of her character, but she grew up the daughter of Diana Ross and Robert Ellis Silverstein. Ross spoke with the Television Critics Association about creating Mixed-ish. Mixed-ish premieres tonight at 9 p.m. and airs every Tuesday before Black-ish

Tracee Ellis Ross said being a teenager is tough for everyone

Tracee Ellis Ross dealt with fitting in as the daughter of a mixed marriage, and she will explore that through Bow’s childhood. However, Mixed-ish will also explore the universal difficulties of being a teenager.

Tracee Ellis Ross and Arica Himmel | Image Group LA/ABC via Getty Images

“I think teenage life is difficult, but I wouldn’t put that on my mixed experience,” Ross said. “I would just call that being a teenager. I would not go back. I would not go back to my teen years or my 20s if you paid me. So I don’t know that I would hinge any of that specifically on the mixed experience.”

Tracee Ellis Ross had a unique perspective on black and white culture

Being mixed empowered Tracee Ellis Ross to look at black and white culture from each other’s perspectives, and from the perspective of a potential outsider to both. 

Tracee Ellis Ross and Pattern Beauty
Tracee Ellis Ross launches her Pattern Beauty line | Morgan Lieberman/Getty Images

“What it’s resulted in is me being a human being that can be a bit of a translator,” Ross said. “I think we all have our own way of describing what mixed was for [us] but to me, what it’s done is give me a lens in everywhere.”

‘Mixed-ish’ will explore what being mixed means outside the family

If every episode of Mixed-ish were just about the family sitting in the living room together, there wouldn’t be much fodder for episodes. It’s when they go out into the world that each member of the Johnson family has a unique experience they bring home.

Black-ish season 6
Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross in Black-ish season 6 | Gilles Mingasson via Getty Images

“A mixed kid in America is a mixed kid in America. There is a lot of very archetypal experience that we have that are the contradiction of these two heritages. Truthfully, for me in my experience within my family, similar to this family, was a protected, safe environment that my mixedness didn’t necessarily come up in a big way. But how you push up against the world is where that sort of gets ignite.”

Tracee Ellis Ross to the Television Critics Association, 8/5/19
Tracee Ellis Ross at D23
Tracee Ellis Ross at D23 | The Walt Disney Company/Image Group LA via Getty Images

It’s different for everybody, but what’s true for everybody is they have to figure out how they relate to the world themselves. 

“Really, it’s about finding one’s own identity, and learning to own that on your own. I think that’s part of being a teenager in any of that. So what I identify with, and the way this story is being told, is that it’s a fish out-of-water experience, that you’re not the same as everyone, which I think everyone experiences. How do you find your people and your tribe of like-minded, like-hearted individuals? And how do you figure out who you are when you’re busy not knowing who you are at all?”

Tracee Ellis Ross to the Television Critics Association, 8/5/19

Bow Johnson comes from a unique world

The Johnsons moved out of a commune, so Bow is going to a new school. We know from black-ish that she becomes a doctor, and it turns out her commune education gives her an advantage.

Arica Himmel and Tracee Ellis Ross
Arica Himmel and Tracee Ellis Ross | Amanda Edwards/FilmMagic

“We’re actually going to see her thrive,” Ross said. “Bow has always been interested in learning. She learned a lot in the commune and actually wasn’t held back in any way by grades or any of those things. She actually was able to go at the pace she wanted to go at which was pretty fast. So she’s an inquisitive curious young lady who really was thriving and the school experience is a little bit limiting for her.”