It’s my birthday and I want to talk about something close to my heart, awkward black girls. This genre is quickly exploding and I’m trying to wrap my head around it all. Me, self-identifying as awkward and also not self-identified because I know other people think I am awkward. Everyone and their mother asked me, “have you ever seen Awkward Black Girl?” or said “ OMG you have to watch Awkward Black Girl!” Just the other day, a drunk man at a bar said to me on the dance floor “You look like Issa Rae!” Ummm no, no I don’t. But let me take it back to when Awkward Black Girl blew up on the inter webs. Since everyone just thought of me immediately – I figured I’d check it out.
I first read up on Issa. Her platform seemed sound, referencing the emergence of awkward comedy in general and how there’s 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, the Tina Feys, and Amy Poehlers, but never saw black people’s brand of awkward really represented. After reading up, I said what the heck, let’s watch this. I watched the first two episodes and wasn’t into it, I realized we were different types of awkward. I didn’t get the jokes, I chuckled at times but couldn’t fully commit. In addition I’m turned off by her use of rap in her work.
I was raised in Hip Hop culture and using rap for comedic purposes is a delicate situation for me. To use it properly, the content and/or circumstance has to be extremely witty, precise, and layered or it feels like making light of the true skill of emceeing. It is a thin line and the rhymes in her show don’t have a solid comedic landing for me. You either gotta be a really good Emcee to be playful with the art or the content has to be on point, and for me it misses the mark.
Now I am not knocking Issa Rae, her comedic abilities are real, and she has truly built a strong foundation for new and unique black comedy. I am excited about this strange door that has been opened by her work. So I find myself confused as to why I still feel like I cannot relate.
I may not have been into Awkward Black Girl online, but I could not deny the buzz it created, the splashes, and the waves. And apparently – the like us, they really like us!
So I began watching Insecure. I had a similar reaction (the rapping was real prevalent in the first few episodes and I really had to look past it to keep trucking) Thanks to my co-worker, I was pushed to keep watching. The show gives an aesthetic of black women I have never seen. It builds complex characters who you get to make up your mind about as individuals. I actually hate all the women on the show except for the hilarious friend “Kellie” (Natasha Rothwell), who also doesn’t have the best morals. Issa is self-centered and insensitive, and Molly is shallow to the point of literally denying that she is the problem when it comes to men, girl you chased away Jidena!! It takes real ovaries to present black female characters who are messed up, make bad decisions, and treat others like sh*t sometimes, and it is a revelation. It shows humanity and all the things that come with it in this society. We don’t always get to see black women be human in media, and be well… insecure.
Insecure speaks on relationships in a way that highlights the awkward and terrible parts of it. A view that makes us capable of seeing black people beyond mainstream media and as whole people, capable of having flaws and unlikely interactions. I watch the show regularly, I’m caught in the story and lives of these characters, yet I still wonder why I cannot relate to Issa and her brand of Awkward. Shouldn’t I be saying “oh man been there!” Aside from not being in any of the same circumstances as Issa’s character, I felt like I was just watching someone else’s story.
Then came Chewing Gum, the most painfully awkward comedy I have ever experienced. I literally had to take breaks in between episodes, there is no way to binge all that awkward. I also felt myself saying, this is phenomenal but I still can’t relate. I thought, well first it’s British television, so UK life, something I do not know first hand. But this is a thing now, Awkward black girls.
Michaela Coel, writer and creator of the show who plays “Tracey” is a different type of awkward then Issa Rae for sure. She is a woman awkward in her inexperience, her lack of understanding, and knowledge in some arenas. She is not acutely observant and acts out on her emotions which result in very very awkward situations. Her physical comedy is out of this world, the writing and creativity of the show is infectious. Season 2 is even more uncomfortable than the first. It pains me that there will be no season 3! Michaela Coel was unable to gain writers for the show to help her bring this would-be season to fruition, and it was too much of a task for one person. I can relate, taking on a major project without help can be impossible. That being said, her awkward again was not Issa Rae’s, and not mine, so I began to wonder am I even an awkward black girl?
It brought me to Jessica James. When I saw the trailer for The Incredible Jessica James movie on Netflix, I was like, this is her, this is my brand of awkward! Friends hit me up, urging me to watch, even hubby was like “she’s east coast you might relate more.” So, I took the plunge watched the movie from first awkward date scene to the last awkward love scene. Her awkward was STILL not mine.
Her awkward was very forward, she said what was on her mind, not one to hide, sugar coat, or lie about her feelings. What a quality in a person, one I do respect, you know – no filter. I don’t have a filter most the time, but Jessica created circumstances in order to carry out her agendas, and being a awkward person due to forwardness it was… well… awkward. Even with both Issa Rae and Jessica James portraying educators like me! I still couldn’t relate, it just wasn’t me. Then it hits me…
The Awkward Black Girl category isn’t about being able to relate, to feel like your awkward is my awkward. No, the defining factor is that no two awkwards are alike. We’re like fingerprints, our awkward is so unique to us – it is the most intricate signifier of who we are. There is no way to be a follower in this genre, copy the mold or jump on the bandwagon, because it’s always going to be different. It will always be a brand new and fresh experience to discover someone’s awkward on screen.
Once I realized this, I felt liberated, I felt free! Knowing that my awkward cannot be duplicated, that belonging didn’t mean relating, and didn’t mean validation for my awkward life. It means we are open to highlight the parts of ourselves that could never fit in, and the world is willing to receive it. You’re not supposed to like us or feel “oh man I’m just like you!” It’s a singular experience – being awkward, and you can watch and respect how I exist and laugh a bunch too. For this, I have to give props to Issa Rae, she knew exactly what she was doing making a show so uniquely her, making it known awkward black girls exist and we are for sure each of us – one of a kind.