Black History Month: One is the Loneliest Number
As a mixed-race woman, I’ve been used to not seeing anyone who was exactly like me on TV. In fact, I’ve come to think of only one character that represents my life – Rainbow Johnson of black-ish. Of course, I have the added difficulty of also being Jewish, but Bow is as close as I’ll get. (And hey, Tracee Ellis Ross is also Jewish so WIN!) If pressed to think of who I looked up to as black women on TV, I had a short list, and they all fit a specific type of woman in America. Representation was something I knew I would be hard pressed to find, even if I knew black women were on shows that I watched.
I grew up in a smallish town in suburban Los Angeles, and I knew that TV was not normally representative of what my life was. I lived around a number of different races and religions, but they were rarely seen on shows I watched. Latin characters were hard to find, even though Los Angeles has a large Latinx population. The same can be said for Asian-American actors. Life was not in the art I watched on TV.
However, I still watched plenty of TV as a kid, hoping to see characters who looked and acted like me. I found a few, but I still knew it wasn’t what it should have been.
Before black-ish, I learned to appreciate the bougie African-American women I saw on The Cosby Show, A Different World, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Saved by the Bell. I couldn’t help but relate to Rudy, Lisa, Whitley, Hillary, and Lisa, even if they weren’t usually dealing with a majority white culture (Lisa did, let’s be real). They were at least a little like me, and that helped.
Each week, I got to see Whitley on A Different World and watch her be proud of how she acted or dressed. The same goes for these other women of color; they wore their race and class with pride and honor each week, even if life told them to not be proud of how they lived.
However, when black-ish aired, I saw someone who truly looked and understood me; she had a white parent and was raised to both think of her race and be challenged by it. Dre, her husband, sometimes thinks Bow’s not black enough, and I can’t count the times I’ve heard the same thing (especially in conversations about race in America). In Bow, I have a TV ally, but it took until I was in my 30s to see someone truly like me on TV. I should have seen more girls – and boys – like me from when I was young; there have always been mixed raced kids around, but Hollywood was hesitant to show them.
My life is better for having women on television who looked and acted like me, even if they weren’t an exact match. They provided me with women to aspire to and gave me a chance to see someone a bit like me on screen. I just wish it didn’t take three decades before I saw a true representation of myself on screen.