In a scene from “Insecure,” a new show written and created by Issa Rae that debuts on HBO Oct. 9, a white woman asks her black co-worker (played by Issa), “What does ‘on fleek’ mean?”
Issa looks at her with utter confused angst, and it is this moment that defines what the show is all about: the idea that not all black folks are hip to the game. We don’t all know what “on fleek” means nor any other marker of “cool” usually prescribed to black people. Believe it or not, some black people just aren’t cool and don’t care to be.
This telling scene from “Insecure” is an awkward black moment at its finest, and it’s the revolution we’ve been waiting for.
We all know that black folks are pretty damn cool. Our culture is undeniably unique and profoundly creative. Our people come in varied beauty; from the milky fair to deep chocolate. We are some of the strongest, fastest, smartest, most educated people (black women now account for the most educated group in America) who have ever lived, and our contributions to the world are in abundant.
But we’re also some of the most regular, awkward, un-cool, can’t dance, non-creative, “Nerdland” natives, and it’s about time that people recognized and appreciated it.
Some of us are rather un-cool, and that’s perfectly OK. We aren’t the best dancers, and don’t know what “being lit” means. Some of us don’t like hip-hop and can’t name a single Lil’ Wayne song (which might be a good thing). Some of us don’t have “swag” (do they even use this term anymore?) and couldn’t play a sport even if our lives depended on it. We’re just average Joes and Janes who live average lives. These are the black folk who have been underrepresented for some time, whether in movies, TV, radio or simply unknown to the general population.
But with the augmentation of awkward black representation in shows like “Insecure” and others, now is the time for this awkwardly black revolution to take place, and for the world to realize they exist too.
Everywhere you look in media, you see cool black people. They are some of the biggest and greatest entertainers in the world. They’re the superstar athletes and gold-medal grabbers. They are the hot models and the cool sidekicks. They always have something cool to say and usually are the life of the party. These have been the images of black folks offered by popular culture.
Viewers and consumers have become accustomed to seeing people of color presented this way. Anything outside of that would be deemed less entertaining. Take the mega-hit series “Empire” and its main character Cookie Lyon, who is portrayed by Taraji P. Henson. Cookie is beloved by black and non-black folks alike, mainly because of her over-the-top persona. Viewers just can’t get enough of her sassy appeal and “ready to pop off” attitude. We enjoy seeing these stereotyped images of black Americans, because that’s all we’ve been used to seeing.
Our representation in the media has always been on someone else’s whitewashed terms. We have been boxed in so much that anything outside of the cool black trope narrative would be considered inconceivable, or worst, corny.
But that’s all changing thanks to a new tide of creators representing all things black and awkward.
FX’s “Atlanta” (starring Donald Glover), which is about an Ivy League dropout trying to make it in the rap scene with his cousin, displays the varied dimensions of being a black man. “Insecure” helps us appreciate the black girl who isn’t sassy or attitudinal. She’s an educated, 20-something black woman who’s just trying to get through life — awkwardly of course.
Even news programs like the now defunct Larry Wilmore and Melissa Harris-Perry shows pandered to the “nerds” and silly sensibilities of an audience not impressed by the status quo. The greatest of these might be MTV’s new show, “Loosely Exactly Nicole,” which follows the life of an overweight black woman trying to be an actress in the superficial town of Hollywood. Her awkwardness is pure joy, and her humor is often times graphic. She doesn’t fit any of the standard norms of being black nor a woman on a network that typically glorifies rich white girls. These are our leaders of the new awkward school, and they’re leading the television audience to places they’ve never been before.
There’s a special type of diversity among black people, and our origins contain all types of backgrounds. Our culture has permeated the fabric of the world and is often imitated and duplicated. We are a diverse people, and we all deserve to be included in the fold. It’s time we start highlighting the gawky alternative — not as cool as most but existing nonetheless — and giving voice to those who identify with them.
This is the awkward revolution we’ve been waiting for. And its pretty cool watching it unfold.