Black Nerd Profile # 2 – Issa Rae

Awkward is the new Magic

You know that person or thing or place you discover that makes you go, “whoa, I’d wish I’d known/seen this before?” Watching The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl my freshmen year of college was one of those moments for me, second only to that time I asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior (and probably some other more significant life events I’ve dismissed for the sake of this post). My first year at university the dorm I was in was so undesirable that I had no roommate. Literally, the roommate I was assigned snagged a room on the main campus before even Welcome Week began. Therefore, sitting in my dorm, built for two yet holding one, stuffing myself on snacks from the mini fridge while binge watching shows on Netflix or HBOGO (I didn’t have cable) was my way of life.

I stumbled upon the Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae’s online show by mere happenstance one day on YouTube. The character, Jay, on the show was brilliant, kind, hilarious, and never ceased to make me laugh with her inner monologues or raps in the mirror. Jay was real, from describing her relationship with her white boyfriend (white Jay) to her relationships with her best friend CeCe and her co-workers. She was also black and, refreshingly, that was not the whole story.

Finally, there was someone who I could relate to in a way that completely challenged even my own assumptions about what heroes could look like or what counted as “good TV.” Being black didn’t have to be the punchline or the crutch of a character. It wasn’t their mission to be a “strong black woman” in some stereotypical way. It wasn’t their mission to lead a slave revolt. Every line wasn’t a reference to how being black was the ultimate turmoil, like being a member of our race was a constant state of reluctant martyrdom. Of course, struggles particular to the black community need to be shared but so do stories of greatness where being black is a slice of a character’s identity instead of the whole pie. They transcend as well as live in their blackness, not bound by any one definition of it.

This isn’t the same as being ashamed of one’s race — this is the step one takes to dare to live life happy, healthy, and normal, despite one’s race. Issa Rae shows one picture of what that looks like for black woman in her work on YouTube but also in her latest show Insecure. As Rae pointed out in an interview with The Breakfast Club, “I’m so tired of seeing shows where, like, race is the burden or racism stops things” (“Issa Rae On Being an Awkward Black Girl, HBO’s Insecure and New Book”).

In my own experience as a black female, there were several times in my life growing up where I didn’t feel like I had the right to just be an individual. I went to a predominantly white high school where comments such as “Oreo” or “acting white” were common. My blackness was always the first thing people saw about me and the last thing they remembered. Yet it was inexplicably something that needed to be defined, critiqued, and proven. It was easy to look at my race as a burden. This is why Issa Rae reminds me how much representation matters.

Oftentimes one may think that the best thing about diverse media such as Rae’s show is that now other people get to understand that we’re relatable in ways beyond our race. I believe that as a black woman shows like Rae’s depict how sometimes, since we’re regular people, we’re not strong, we don’t know what to do and we’re not always the loudest voice in the room. Being insecure isn’t a right that black women always get to have. That’s an important message for black men and others outside the black community to understand for sure but it’s equally — if not far more — necessary for black women to understand this message for ourselvesRae’s characters in her show are dealing with, as she states, a sort of “prelude to black girl magic” (“Issa Rae On Being an Awkward Black Girl”). Are black women strong? Yeah. Are we magical? Yeah! Are we angry?

Sometimes and for damn good reason.

But our whole story isn’t told in categories. We’re individually unique from other women and also from each other. Sometimes we’re also, to let Issa Rae tell it, super insecure and mega awkward.

Trust me, it happens.

Author: Jasmyne Harper

Editor: Han Angus

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