Tracee Ellis Ross starred on the UPN sitcom Girlfriends and has appeared on “CSI” and as Dr. Carla Reed on the 2011 series “Reed Between the Lines.” Today she plays the mother on the break-out hit sitcom “Black-ish.” She joins us to tell a parenting story from her own life, involving her own mother… who just happens to be Diana Ross. (If you want to see Ms. Ross performing one of the characters she mentions in the story, pop over here, but please note it may be a bit NSFW.)
Hi, my name is Tracee Ellis Ross, and I’m going to tell a story about a very poignant and terrifying moment in my journey of self-acceptance, and about how all parents worry that they might have ruined their child.
Shortly after I left college and worked in New York for a little bit, I moved out to Los Angeles with the idea of becoming an actress. I was obsessed with Carol Burnett. I loved sketch comedy, and I considered myself a pretty good storyteller. My brothers, who are 15 and 16 years younger than me, were very entertained by my storytelling. So, I honed my skill with certain characters, with my brothers.
It was time for the holidays, so I thought that it would be a great idea for me to share laughter as a Christmas gift. I would, with my Hi-8 video camera, put a face to some of these voices that I had been doing for my brothers in the storytelling. All these different characters had the task of saying “Happy Holidays.” There was an older Jewish woman who was like “Happy Holidays, Happy Chanukah.” There was a French woman who was from Saint-Barth, she was: “Happy holidays, there’s two kisses we give, so, it’s one, two.” And then, one of the main characters that emerged that night, was a character by the name of Madame Hiver. She evolved into an alcoholic life coach. (In voice) And, she really does want everybody to know that they are somebody. “You are somebody!”
And, I was like, “This is my world and I’m sharing myself, and this is me and this is me, and this is so funny!” I don’t think it dawned on me that it was at all crazy or came across, like, schizophrenic. I made this videotape, and I used my emergency credit card of my mother’s to go to an editor and edit it. I don’t think that’s what she meant by “emergency.” This VHS tape, I had copied 52 times and sent it out to 52 people. When Christmas came around, I went home and my cousins and my aunts and uncles. We were all at my Mom’s house, and we all were going to gather around the TV and watch my holiday VHS tape.
My mother came downstairs in the center of all of it, and she said, “Can I speak to you?”
I followed her all the way upstairs and, when your mother sits you on the side of her bed and you are knee-to-knee, it is not going to go well. She paused for way too long an amount of time, looked me in the eye, and finally said, “How many people did you send this videotape to, and can we get it back?” I was like, “I don’t think we can get it back, but it’s funny, no?”
She just had this face of, I obviously have failed as a mother. In hindsight, it wasn’t in any way a squashing of my creativity, because my mom is not that. I think it was more not wanting her child to be misunderstood.
And honestly, my mom, now, loves the holiday tape, and she references it on a regular basis as one of those moments that, you know, I found the courage to be myself.
[Switches to Madame Hiver’s voice] I will say Madame Hiver is so excited to know about Tracee Ellis Ross and all that she’s done in her journey. I want women to know that they all have a song! And Tracee sings her song so loudly! And without apology.