“In a 90’s kind of world, I’m glad I got my girls,” Queen Latifah sings with such conviction.
I’m curled up on my couch singing loudly and poorly alongside Ms. Latifah, but it’s not 1993—the year Living Single first aired; it’s 2017—the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Fast-forward a week, and I’m on the phone with my cousin in Los Angeles. I tell her that I’m now watching A Different World and finding myself growing more and more attached (unwillingly) to Whitley Gilbert. She responds by asking me if I own the first season of Girlfriends (circa 2000), and I suddenly know what I’m going to binge-watch next.
The fact of the matter is that we live in a white world. You know this; I know this. Even in predominantly black areas, white people hold a disproportionate amount of power, white norms are the highest standard, and systems operate in favor of the white majority. The entertainment industry is no different.
“Have you seen La La Land yet?” my boss asked me one morning, his blue eyes wide with eagerness to discuss the film’s merits. “I was going to,” I replied, “but then I realized that I wasn’t in the mood to watch a bunch of white people dancing.”
Here’s the thing: TV, movies, and other entertainment media are great sources of refuge. For me and for many others, TV offers a brief escape from my current life situation and struggle. It’s a way for me to zone out, decompress, lose myself in another reality. But what happens when TV is just reflective of my current reality? What happens when I walk through a white man’s world day in and day out and turn on my TV only to see a white man’s entertainment industry too? What happens when I have been traumatized (or re-traumatized) by Donald Trump’s racist words and actions, and I effectively need a break from whiteness to stay sane?
Television, then, no longer becomes a refuge. It no longer becomes a safe space. It instead becomes a space where I have no choice but to watch and hear stories primarily told by the white faces that oppress me every day, whether knowingly or unknowingly.
Thankfully, I have had a bit more of a choice lately—Insecure, Atlanta, Black-ish, etc.—but the amount of black television available to me is just a tiny black drop in the ocean of white entertainment. So I have to find solace where I can, even if that means reaching back a few decades to do so.
The television shows of the 90’s and early aughts are unique in that they depict black experiences, no strings attached. While I definitely believe that Tracee Ellis Ross and her squad are doing amazing things with Black-ish, that Donald Glover is a god (don’t stone me!), and that Issa Rae is 100% my soul sister and quite possibly the love of my life, these shows depict black experiences within the white world. And they are written to appeal to black and white audiences alike.
Don’t get me wrong—these are necessary narratives, as they are the most realistic narratives, and they are important for people of all races to see. But if my desire is to take a temporary break from reality, I’m going to turn to a show that is primarily about black experiences, no (white) strings attached. I’m going to turn to a show that is by black people, for black people. Period.
It’s 2017. I’ve finished a day of work, and I just got home from my therapist’s office. I press a few buttons on my remote control, and faces that mirror my own appear on the screen. A familiar theme song begins to play, and I sing along. And for half an hour—maybe more—I can just be. I can just be black.