Sterling K. Brown on 'This is Us' and Representation: "Seeing Yourself On Screen Validates Your Life"

Sterling K. Brown - Getty - H 2019
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

Sterling K. Brown dropped by The Daily Show With Trevor Noah on Tuesday to chat about his Emmy nominations and his work with One Million Truths, an initiative highlighting Black experiences with racism. During his appearance, Brown also expressed how crucial it is that everybody — regardless of the color of their skin — be represented in the media and have their stories told. 

First up, Noah congratulated the actor for his Emmy nominations in This is Us and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. "One thing I’ve always enjoyed about This is Us," began Noah, "[is] it’s an interesting look at how much people can love each other and know each other but still not know fully about each other, you know? You play a character where you’re part of a family where, even though you share so many things, there’s still something that separates you and that is the color of your skin."

He went on to ask Brown if there is certain storytelling methods that the show utilizes to help people empathize with those who have different skin colors "without making them feel like they’re blamed as opposed to the system being highlighted."

Brown replied, "I would hope so. Randall Pearson, just like his brother and sister and mother and father is a human being first and foremost, right, and I think so much of the power of media is that people learn through exposure, whether it’s through travel, whether it’s through books, whether it’s through the representation of people they see on screen."

He noted that, while the demographic of the show is vast, it’s about 80 percent white, "and so there’s opportunities I have to make conversations with people who may not have those conversations with people that looks like me, and by virtue of them seeing me in their home 18 times a week, they can say, like, ‘that’s dude Randall, he’s just like me. He loves his kids, he loves his wife. I understand part of his struggle even if I don’t understand the totality of it.’ So hopefully the next time they see me, or anybody that looks like me, they can lean in rather than step away.”

Of the organization One Million Truths, Brown described it as "an initiative for Black folks in America to share their experiences with racism." He went on to say, “I think it’s a centralized way for Black folks to see other people’s stories and for allies who are interested to see that the experiences that their friends have told them about are not a one-off, that it’s not just something that happened in an isolated incident, that these isolated incidents are happening over and over again all over the country. Maybe by having one place where people can go and see, like, ‘oh life for Black people in this country is not the same as it is for me.’ Right, and then there’s a development of empathy and hopefully a wave of support that we can ride right now to make some real change to systemic racism in this country."

Sharing some of his own background growing up in Missouri, Brown said, “There is this really sort of profound experience that you have as a young Black man in a predominantly white institution of learning.” He added that during his education, he would be “one raisin” or “one of a few raisins” in the sun. Every time Black History Month came around, he said everybody would look toward him. “You feel this sort of defensiveness; how do you show the repercussions that transpired in the past are still reverberating in the present?”

Brown also shared that his production company Indian Meadows is named after the predominantly African-American neighborhood he grew up in in St. Louis, Missouri. The actor called the company name a “testimony” to where he comes from and who he wishes to represent.

Looking ahead, Brown emphasized the importance of representation with regard to the stories he personally wants to highlight. "Seeing yourself on screen validates your life, and so I want to tell stories where people of color or in marginalized groups are front and center, they’re not necessarily the sidekick or the goofy friend, but their story is about them. Because when you see yourself you know that your story is as important as anybody else’s."

View the entire appearance below.