The Black Ton: From Bridgerton to Love & Hip-Hop

Tressie McMillan Cottom
7 min readJan 4, 2021
Adoja Andoh as Lady Danbury and Regé-Jean Page as Simon, Duke of Hastings in Shonda Rhimes’ “Bridgerton” for Netflix

For seven years or so now, my friend and I have been dishing about why so many Black women love regency-era romance. As it happens, that good friend is also a foremost scholar on race and British Romanticism**. You would love these conversations. Strangers once followed us around a London museum to eavesdrop on these conversations. We have a lot of thoughts as to the why. Whatever the reasons, race and regency is undoubtedly having a *moment*.

As is often the case when Black women are dominating a conversation about television, Shonda Rhimes is at the center. I have previously credited Rhimes for single-handedly rewriting race, casting, and wish fufillment in network television. There is one thing you are always going to get from a Shondaland production and it is a Black woman love interest who does not discriminate.

Shonda stands ready to transform Netflix prestige programming with her new partnership. She staked out her claim this week with Bridgerton, a soapy, luxurious send up of Julia Quinn’s wildly popular regency romance novels. A lot of the Black women in my life have been anticipating this series. A few weeks ago, best-selling contemporary romance author Jasmine Guillory was on Hear to Slay. We asked her what she was most excited about in the new year and she had one, breathless word: Bridgerton.

She is not alone. The series taps into the market for romance and escapism at a time when we desperately need both. Genre always does really well during dystopian times and well *waves hand*. When all hell is breaking loose, without an end in sight, a structured story with clear rules can assuage our collective anxiety:

[Historical fiction] could continue to flourish through troubled times, some commentators think, because it can help to anchor anxious readers with its strong sense of place and often quite traditional storytelling structure. “I think there could be more appetite for more classical storytelling and an emphasis on story and building other worlds, particularly past worlds,” says Emma…

Tressie McMillan Cottom

Sociologist. Writer. Professor. MacArthur Fellow. Books, speaking, podcast: