The Soapbox: Can TV Spare Some Change? A Token Negro, Perhaps?

Erica Watson Controversy
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I have never watched HBO’s new show “Girls.”  Not because I don’t want to — I’m actually excited to see a new female-centered TV show that allows actresses to play rich and diverse characters.  But unfortunately, the current role I play in real life, that of a struggling comic/actress, does not afford me the opportunity to indulge in the many simple pleasures of life such as HBO. Although I have not seen the show, I have seen and heard much of the praise and criticism the show has garnered — especially around the all-white cast.

As a feminist, I am proud that Lena Durham has been given the opportunity create a show that explores the complexities of young womanhood.  As a writer, director and actress, I am even more thrilled that at 25 years old, she has creative control in a way that has never been seen before. It gives me hope that soon my day will come! But as a black woman, I must admit that I am disheartened by the fact that we are once again celebrating the success of white girl who is writing stories about more white girls.  I do not want to take her success and blessing away from her. She is brilliant and she deserves it. But I wonder, when will a young female comedic writer of color be given this same opportunity? 

No one understands more than black women the importance of being empowered to tell your own story, which is why I was shocked that much of the criticism the show has received was from women of color who were upset about the lack of racial diversity among the cast.

Everywhere I go, I hear these pseudo-intellectual conversations among bougie, talented tenth, “post-racial” uppity black girls who feel slighted because they did not see a reflection of themselves on the show. But telling our story is not Lena’s responsibility! Who am I to tell her that she needs more diversity in her story? She, as the creator, should be able to write and create whatever she wants.  My solo show “Fat Bitch!” is a funny yet thought-provoking look at how society’s obsession with weight, race and gender have formed the way the world views me. How would I feel if some white girl told me she was upset because she was not included in my story? If you want to see yourself, write your own damn story, and leave mine alone!

Our issues should not be with Lena Dunham. She can create whatever world she likes. The real culprits are the networks and advertisers. They are the ones who are ignoring us. Remember the 1990’s “ghettoization” of TV where the majority of programming for blacks was shared between two networks, UPN and The CW? Experts warned us that we were moving towards a system where major networks would feature “white programming” while series that appealed to African-Americans and other minorities would be downgraded to smaller stations. That day has arrived!

So, why are black women so upset about not being on” Girls”?  You weren’t on “Friends,” you weren’t on “Seinfield,” you weren’t on “Gossip Girl” and you for damn sure weren’t on “Sex and the City.”  I know we all get dressed up, drink Cosmos and go in droves to cheer on Carrie and the girls in the movie theater. But I’m sorry, black girls, you have never been and will never be Carrie Bradshaw. Unless, you write the story yourself.

Even when “Girls” or one of the aforementioned shows attempts to include a black character, it would be nothing more than a shell of who we really are. I am tired of black women being reduced to “token blacks,” so-called “window characters,”  whose only job is to be the “sassy black friend” or “magical negro” —i.e. sidekick for the main white character. In my life, I am in the leading lady.  I, too, have a unique story to tell. We all do.

I was raised in “the hood” by working class parents, but they made sure I had the cultural experiences that would go against the norm. I listen to Jay-Z and 2 Chainz, but also enjoy Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky. I read The Prince by Machiavelli but I also read In Search of Good Pussy by Don Spears. I eat hot sauce on my fried catfish and collard greens, but I also enjoy fine French cuisine. I’ll get it crunk in a juke joint in Mississippi, make my booty pop to some New Orleans bounce music on Bourbon Street, get sweaty dancing to Fela Kuti at an Afrobeat Party in Brooklyn … and after it’s all done, I’ll go to a new exhibit at the MoMA or cry during Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations.”  Yes, I am that Renaissance woman, that new age black chick that cannot be put in a box. 

Erica Watson is an actress and standup comedian with whose one-woman show “Fat Bitch!” has toured the country. In 2009, Erica had a supporting role in the movie “Precious.” You you learn more about Erica on her website, EricaWatson.com.

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