In the 1990's, and even early 2000's, there was the black girl next door. She had braids, brains, and opinions that were strong enough to stand on their own. Her characters on screen, and her messages through her music reflected us. We had songs about needing space from bae (Monica), chopping off her hair (India Arie), loving our best friends (Brandy). We had TV characters who were getting caught with cigarettes in their father’s car (Tia and Tamera), failing intro calculus class (Kim Parker), and having a change of heart about the eccentric next door neighbor (Laura Winslow). These were black girls like us, navigating HBCUs, interracial dating, and pregnancy scares. From Girlfriends, to Hanging with Mr. Cooper, black girls felt real because these beloved singers and TV characters were relatable and always seemed so accessible.
It wasn't a daunting self-destructive experience to log onto the Internet, or turn on your TV; there was actually a sense of calm when listening to Lauryn and watching the visuals of Erykah. They were like sisters, making your rolls, your unruly kinks, your daddy issues, feel real and recognized, not eclipsed with bodies and bank accounts that us regular girls could never have. Could you imagine watching A Different World and Denise Huxtable was out here splashing women with cheap vodka, posting subliminal messages on Instagram, or pricing out how many checks it would take to get a booty like Kim? No! Shows back then weren't a constant reminder of how different, less rich, or less beautiful you were, and when you watched Nia Long or Sanaa Lathan on screen, their characters weren’t distracting and over the top, they were real black women with thoughts and feelings that were relatable, genuine, and communal.
It's been feeling like we would never see these type of women again. We'd never hear a Vivianne Green again, that we would be trapped in a perpetual downward spiral of basketball wives, love and hip hop, K Michelle's, and Blac Chyna’s. But look at God oooo, there is hope! We have been blessed with the creative genius of a group of women reminding us that the black girl next door is here and she is not to be silenced. Here are three projects by black girls next door that we should all be supporting:
Solange, "A Seat at the Table" With songs like “Don’t Touch my Hair,” and "For Us by Us,” Solange has created a journal of songs that are painfully personal, and for black girls only. She’s started an invitation only club making space within this body of work that allows us to revel in each other’s love, grief, pain, and pride. She is singing about how to move past the crippling pain in an age of police brutality, she is singing her ass off about taking care of yourself mentally, even if that means disconnecting from your bae. She is radical, not afraid to sound raw or tell white people “this isn’t for you, it’s for us, don’t be mad.” This record is about black survival, it is stripped of the regular traps that surround the black female experience in today’s media. Ass shots, lightened skin, empty songs of cheating and sex; this record is a brave one that reflects the age of women leading the Black Live Matter Movement.
Issa Rae, "Insecure" The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl had us all like “UM, that me”. From shrinkage, to wondering if that cute white boy at work dates black girls, to weight gain, Issa Rae liberated many an awkward black girl with her web series. Now, she has hit the big time, and from what we’ve seen in the trailer of her new show, Insecure is still about the imperfect black female experience. The plotline of Insecure season 1 revolves around the weird experiences that make up the racist, sexist, realities faced by black women in the 21st century. Rae’s character, also called Issa, works at a nonprofit for inner-city kids, but is fatigued by her white co-workers, who treat her with a mix of disdain and curiosity. They ask her “What’s on fleek?” a situation we all know too well; how many times have you had a white girl ask you to teach her how to twerk? Rae’s character shows a young woman who is deciding what’s next, in her love life, her professional career, and her spiritual growth. I can’t wait to see this golden Senegalese sista turn HBO upside down.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, "The Thing around your Neck" THIS BOOK. I can’t begin to explain how much Adiche captures in this series of short stories. From one vignette to the next, Adiche envelopes you in the immigrant experience from a female perspective, giving you snapshots of what it means to be an African woman struggling for freedom and security on the continent and in the diaspora. In “A Private Experience,” a medical student hides from a violent riot with a poor Muslim woman whose dignity and faith force her to confront the realities and fears she’s been pushing away. In “Tomorrow is Too Far,” a woman unlocks the devastating secret that surrounds her brother’s death. The young mother at the center of “Imitation” finds her comfortable life in Philadelphia threatened when she learns that her husband has moved his mistress into their Lagos home. And the title story depicts the choking loneliness of a Nigerian girl who moves to an America that turns out to be nothing like the country she expected; though falling in love brings her desires nearly within reach, a death in her homeland forces her to reexamine them. Without Adiche, the mainstream media, and most of the world for that matter, would have never been able to connect with the African story.