How the “Awkward Black Girl” changed how we see Black women on screen

By Arwa Ahmed Dahir, CONTRIBUTOR

The representation of Black women on television has generally lacked real experiences and depth. Typically, the images of Black women adhere to racial tropes. These stereotypes include Jezebel, Sapphire, Mammy, and the Matriarch which are heavily imposed on Black women.
However, over the past few years, we’ve witnessed a major cultural phenomenon in the way that Black women are represented on screen through the forthcoming of the new character “The Awkward Black Girl.” The ABG gave Black women the capacity to envision themselves outside of the restrictive Jezebel-Sapphire-Mammy binary.
“The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” is a comedy web-series that debuted in Feb. 2011 following the chronicles and life of J, a young Black woman based in Los Angeles. Issa Rae, the creator of the award-winning Youtube series MABG, has since blossomed from her humble beginnings and went on to create, starring, and directing her own HBO series “Insecure.”
Rae has made history in 2019, creating the first sketch series comprised of Black female actors and writers in the new HBO series “The Black Lady Sketch Show.”
Most notably, the show “Insecure” provides an important outlook into Black women’s implicit sense of control over their sexuality and womanhood, which is contrary to the racial stereotype of Jezebel who is characterized to be lascivious and promiscuous by nature.
The Jezebel is a racial stereotype that was used during slavery to rationalize and legitimize the rape of Black women. Professor of African American Studies at San Jose State University, Leah T. Gaines describes how early stereotypes have contributed to shaping the attitudes that are directed towards Black women in society.
“What some people say, is that Jezebel is a way for people to get away with sexualizing Black Women, and historically a way to say Black women can’t be raped because they are always interested in sex,” Gaines said in an interview.
Similar parallels can be drawn in today’s society to the way Black girls and women are perceived to be less innocent and in need of less protection than white women.
“We can see how readily we protect White women versus Black women. One of the reasons it is believed R&B singer R. Kelly is getting away with these allegations is because the victims are Black,” Gaines said.
Rae’s rise to stardom is an important reminder of how Black creators can use other media outlets to challenge and essentially contradict the images, codes, and stereotypes that have long misrepresented them.
“We see this newer character that is quirky almost nerdy Black girl, which we haven’t seen historically represented outside of Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl,” Gaines said.
The newly found Black cultural movement has helped us recognize the harmful effects of racial stereotypes that are deeply associated with Black women.
In addition, it has pushed the boundaries set around Black women’s identity, femininity, and sexuality creating a never before seen legacy for Black women in popular entertainment.