By Guest Contributor Tracey Ross
I’m the kind of girl who walks down the street and doesn’t realize I’ve been singing out loud. Or offers a pregnant lady a seat on the metro only to find out she’s not pregnant. I’m awkward. And black. This is why I love the web series Awkward Black Girl and, like many ABG fans, am counting down to the premiere of season two.
Towards the end of the first season, the audience was left with a cliffhanger episode where the star “J” (played by show creator Issa Rae) finds her two love interests “Fred” and “White Jay” at her doorstep. If it’s not obvious, White Jay is white. And Fred is black. Given the choice before J, the show created an unlikely platform for conversations about interracial dating, and spurred much debate over whether it is OK to date outside one’s race. We can expect season two to highlight J’s new relationship with White Jay, but it would be a mistake to allow the characters to fall into the familiar tropes used to depict interracial dating.
Typically, there are two ways television and movies handle interracial dating. The first is the traditional approach where the family has a problem with the relationship. From the 1967 classic “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” to the 2005 role reversal of “Guess Who.” The second is the imaginary, post-racial approach where no one seems to notice that the happy pair is an interracial couple. Not even the couple themselves, as seen on many new sitcoms.
As a black woman who has been in a relationship with a white man for the past two years, I have appreciated the hilarious and original way Awkward Black Girl has addressed interracial dating. In episode 7, J prepares for her first date with White Jay, while her best friend Cece offers advice for entering the “interracial big leagues.” She informs J: “white guys love day time dates…basically any place they can bring their dog” and “white guys are always casual, even when they’re dressed up.” The episode follows J and White Jay’s missteps at a soul food restaurant and their discomfort sitting through a spoken-word performance that dissects interracial sex in graphic detail. The episode ends with them calling each other out for trying too hard and laughing off the tension.
I doubt Issa Rae set out to make any big statement about interracial dating, but saw it as one tool in her awkward comedy arsenal. And those awkward moments are what make the characters and the relationship so relatable. Perhaps this is why the majority of the black female fan base declared themselves “Team White Jay” on Twitter and Facebook, despite the fact that black women are the least likely to date outside their race. Many fans simply said the characters had “chemistry” or were “both awkward.”
While most fans celebrated the fact that J chose White Jay in the season finale, some ex-fans criticized the show over the message this sent to the black community–mainly, that it perpetuates the idea that black women can’t find a good black man, or that it undermines the idea of the black family.
I think the message the show sent about interracial dating, intentional or not, was that it isn’t a big deal. An afterthought. Issa Rae doesn’t shy away from issues that arise from dating outside one’s race, but the show isn’t consumed with the fact that the black female star is interested in a white guy. That’s not what the show is about. As interracial relationships become more and more common, ABG created a more relatable relationship than other depictions.
I wholeheartedly agree with the show’s critics that television and film play an instrumental role in shaping society’s views of black people, and that’s why ABG is so great. It’s a show about a young black woman by a young black woman. That alone is huge for the community. Not who she dates. There is no character like J on television. She doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes, isn’t the “black friend,” and isn’t a raceless character who could have been played by anyone. She is a young black woman who is the star, gets to be funny, and is unique. And right now, she happens to be dating a white guy.
As the premiere of season two approaches, we can expect J and White Jay’s relationship to play an important role in the storyline, but I hope Issa Rae follows the precedent set in season one–allowing the characters to learn from their new relationship, and focusing on how J navigates the every day situations of her awkward life.