Awkward Black Girl: Do We Ignore Some "Isms?"

BlogHer Original Post

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl is a wildly popular web series that chronicles the life of J (played by co-creator Issa Rae), a twenty-something Black woman who lives and works in Los Angeles. J has a difficult time fitting in with her peers, and she writes violent and over-the-top misogynist rap lyrics as a way to vent her frustration for not being able to openly express her feelings about her single life, her crappy job, her almost crippling shyness, and her awkwardness. At her job, she meets Cece (Sujata Day), a young South Asian woman who shares J’s quirky sense of humor and her general disdain for their co-workers.

Most recently, in Episode 11, Cece consoles J after a horrendous date with White Jay (the white friend of Fred, played by Madison B. Shockley III), and they take turns dissing “Angelina Jolie,” White Jay’s ex-girlfriend. In trying to make her friend feel better, Cece disses “Angelina” by calling her a “tranny bitch in heels,” alluding to the belief that the ex is rather unattractive (or must be).

If you are a fan of the series (like I am), you know this is not the first time ABG has splashed in the murky waters of offensive language and politically incorrect behavior. Later on in this same episode, J remembers the reactions from her co-workers, most notably one who asked her if she was a lesbian when she first cut off her hair. In Episode 10, one character emulates what is supposed to be the speech of a hearing-impaired person.

The dialogue between the two characters is one of the best aspects of the show. In many cases, such as during this particular episode, I laughed out loud. And judging from other fans, many others have reveled in the "keep it real -- warts and all" mentality the characters have.

Like it or not, the characters' verbal diarrhea matches the conversations I have with close female friends: At times, our conversations are filled with whatever colorful profanities that best describe how we are feeling at the time. Do we sometimes use language that is most definitely offensive to someone, based on their gender, ability, sexual preference or color? Probably. But what happens when those private conversations are expressed publicly? When the "realness" that the characters portray -- realness many have compared to the relationships they have in their own lives -- is transmitted outside of our living rooms and out into the world?

Among the people who are not laughing are the contributors at Crunk Feminist Collective. While early supporters of the series, the bloggers at Crunk were offended, and on their Tumblr site, wrote a friendly, yet direct open letter to Rae and co-creator Tracy Oliver (who plays Nina, J’s nemesis):

We have seen your responsiveness to the fans of ABG and we hope that by raising this concern you will respond accordingly by not using such language in future episodes. There are so many awkward queer, trans, and disabled folks who love the show and it hurts to see and hear our lives used as punchlines. For those of us, the awkward black, queer folks who have lived at the intersections of our awkwardness, our blackness, and our transness, words like “tra**y” erase our lives, and our humanity. Phrases like “No lesbo” and the use of affected speech to imitate hard of hearing people detract from the vision of creating representations for the rest of us who are all too often maligned in mainstream media. 

We look forward to many more episodes of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl that are hilarious without the use of marginalized groups as a punchline. We have confidence that you have the creativity to continue to push comedic boundaries in new ways and educate your audience in the process.  

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