I’ve been following Issa Rae from the very beginning. I’m talking episode one of Awkward Black Girl circa 2011. At that time, I knew that she was doing something so revolutionary and special, but I don’t think I felt the intensity of it until recently.
I’ve lived in Ann Arbor for just over a month, and although the city is super cute and I’m so happy to be here, I’ve had the personal struggle of some very uncomfortable and racist things happening to me. I don’t feel like talking about what they are because, in all honesty, the specifics don’t matter. What matters is that I’m terribly uncomfortable.
This is the first time I haven’t lived in a big city, AND I’ve resumed the position as the token black girl in my classrooms. I thought I knew what all of those things meant for me on the daily; what I’d have to deal with, how I’d feel. But small towns and the token black girl life have never felt comfortable to me, so that on top of the regular shit like making new friends, learning new streets and grocery stores, and being a student again has been a lot to deal with.
I’m so glad I didn’t go out because it’s been not only the classroom but also the nightlife that has forced me into situations that have perpetuated my discomfort. On Friday, I was so exhausted. As a social work student, I spend my days talking about oppression, and as a black woman with no real money to her name, I walk out of the classroom and live it. I’m tired as fuck and it’s only been three weeks since school has “officially” started. I stayed in because I couldn’t handle going out, having some drinks, and being at risk for drunken anxiety and discomfort because someone else has asked me to teach them how to twerk.
Around midnight, I was binging A Different World, possibly one of my favorite shows ever. I needed to watch something that felt like home. I needed to remember that I can be a person, not a black person, not a woman. A person who just is alive and does regular shit like the rest of the world. There are only a handful of shows that portray people of color, let alone black people, being people. No reality show drama… not even Blackish, which is a lovely show but sometimes feels like it exists to educate white people. A Different World is just regular young people doing regular young people shit. However, it went off the air in 1993. There have been a couple others…Living Single, Girlfriends… buuuut, in reality, there’s not much out there.
Right before I planned on going to sleep Facebook told me that Issa Rae’s new show Insecure had dropped the first episode early. I was so excited that sleep could wait. Two minutes into the show I was literally in tears. Nothing grand happened, there was no major moment of holy shit. I just saw her character being 29, working in a job she’s not sure she likes, having to explain her hair to both black AND white people, and balancing her professional “self” along with the parts of her the rest of the world deems ratchet or the more politically correct, “urban.” I watched the episode twice, and I felt a sense of home for the first time in these past few weeks.
This is why representation matters. I’m not the only token black girl in workplaces and classrooms throughout the country emotionally exhausted from always being the one to educate peers. Because I’m not the only black girl who needs to see herself on television being a regular person. I’m not the only girl who needs to be reminded that her life isn’t compiled of “black stories,” rather they’re simply stories worth being told.