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Awkward (and Real) Race Talk on ABG

by Ethan Tussey

by Ralina Joseph for IN MEDIA RES

ABG resonates with audiences who never see our racialized and gendered ways of negotiating the world in traditional television comedy. Black women and other women of color are front in center in ABG in a way unrecognizable in mainstream comedy. Those of us accustomed to stock commitment phobic, macho Black men and insecure, materialistic Black women on the well-loved BET sitcom The Game will find little in common with the nerdy, nuanced characters on ABG. As the sweet female friendships on lily-white Girls fell apart this season, ABG’s protagonist J and her best friend CeCe negotiated their “besties before testes” (Season 2, Episode 10) friendship with love.

ABG also provides a platform to exercise race-conscious ideas in our Obama era where racialized spaces are disciplined into “race talk free” ones. The show does not entertain the possibility that post-raciality exists but instead teases out heavy-handed racialized encounters and ascribes racial labels widely and sometimes indiscriminately. This is particularly evident in J’s scenes with her love interest, tellingly named “White Jay.” Their first date is not just a date, but, according to CeCe, “your first white date” (S 1, Ep. 7). In the clips included here, before the date expert interracial dater CeCe schools novice J about a “white date” (a “daytime date…any place they can bring their dog,” CeCe knowingly tells J) and experienced intraracial dater J considers herself lucky that she’s not going on a “Black date” (“Red Lobster and the club” J sighs dejectedly about in a voice over).

On the date itself the audience discovers that White Jay shares limited scripts of racialization with J and CeCe, which take the form of ‘90s era race stereotypes. The couple’s frustration with these stereotypes almost destroys their date. All is saved, however, when the two verbalize their stereotypes for each other. They manage to laugh over their race-based assumptions that an ideal first-date attire for white people is gym clothes (J) and an ideal first-date agenda for Black people is soul food and a poetry slam (White Jay). But instead of sloughing off stereotypes and riding off into a colorblind sunset after a very special race episode, ABG has their characters trudge through the always murky waters of difference in a very funny and very real manner where awkward and explicit race talk rules and post-race never enters the frame.

Awkward Black Girl - [S. 1, Ep. 7] _The Date

Awkward Black Girl - [S. 1, Ep. 7] _The Date

from Awkward Black Girl (2013)
Creator: Issa Rae
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey