As the feisty Rochelle, a wife and mother of three on "Everybody Hates Chris," Tichina Arnold understands that the lack of Black families on television is no laughing matter. Rearing her 4-year-old daughter, Alijah, has magnified for her the importance of having such empowering images of African-American life on and off the small screen. Arnold is happy about doing her part to keep faces like hers on the tube. Affectionately dubbed by her fans as "Pam from ‘Martin'," Arnold continues to defy the stereotypes on what it means to be Black and beautiful in America. ESSENCE.com talks to the Queens-bred funny woman about BFF Tisha Campbell-Martin joining the cast, finding love when she least expected it, and what it will take for more Black shows to return to television.
ESSENCE.COM: We are excited about the new season of "Everybody Hates Chris." How is taping this season different from the past three?
TICHINA ARNOLD: The kids are growing up right before our eyes. You can see them changing. This season shows Chris's first year in high school. Having my buddy Tisha [Campbell-Martin] on the show was my favorite part. It was great seeing her play a role opposite the one you usually see her [cast in]. Usually, Im the "ghetto" one, but Peaches, Tisha's character, is definitely that character, and it's fun to see Tisha do something different.
ESSENCE.COM: Tisha told us how you always tried to get her on the show from the beginning, and it is great to see your friendship still going strong. What was your first impression of her when you guys first met so many years ago?
ARNOLD: We would see each other at auditions at 11 or 12, and we were the only little girls who would be talking to each other. Everyone else was so competitive and busy sizing each other up. We would always say, "If I don't get it, I hope you do, girl." We ended up booking "Little Shop of Horrors" together. Our lives have been such parallels. We even got married around the same time, though I ended up getting divorced. We've taught each other a lot. It's been great to have a close friend throughout this journey.
ESSENCE.COM: And it's been great watching the chemistry between you two. How was it going back to CW once "Girlfriends" was cut?
ARNOLD: It's hard. Anytime you lose a Black show, it's not good. There aren't that many Black shows. I pray that we have more African-American shows available [soon]. At one time there were a lot of Black shows on the block. FOX carved out their lineup and UPN had theirs. But now, it's become [fewer and fewer]. I'm hoping "Everybody Hates Chris" will open doors for more shows. It's always going to be a fight on and off screen. It takes people in power to help with that change. The more we fight for our voices being heard, the better. A lot of people are like, "I never knew a Black person to have a Nielsen ratings box." It's interesting. The scales are tilted, so we have to work that much harder. That's why I'm a stickler on what roles I take and how I am portrayed. I've been broke and turned down roles and other work because I didn't like the content. It takes integrity.
ESSENCE.COM: On "Martin" you became somewhat of a sex symbol and reinforced the beauty of brown skin. Do you think we see enough of the darker sister on television?
ARNOLD: It's tough. Hollywood has a narrow view of what Black beauty is. We are slowly chipping down walls. We've come a long way and still have a lot more to go.
ESSENCE.COM: Definitely. Now, you were dating a mystery guy who was making you smile the last time we caught up with you. Are you guys still going strong?
ARNOLD: (Laughs.) I'm smiling now! Yeah, his name is Rico Hines. I met my boyfriend through a friend of mine. He wanted to meet and I don't do blind dates, and she was like, "C'mon, I think you guys would really hit off." I was feeling like, I'm over dating right now. I'm good. I'm happy with being single. I'm fully focused on what I want to do. Then we met and became instant friends. We're so compatible. He understands me and we have such a mutual respect and love for one another. It's amazing to have friends and family that want to pattern themselves after your relationship. I've had my bad ones-horrible relationships, a not-so-good marriage, divorced, and became a single mom. Now, I didn't plan on being a single mom, but you have to deal with the cards you are dealt the best way you can. God blessed me with a good relationship because I deserved it.