In media in the 21st Century, an abundance of black bodies on screen equals a black media text – intended, industrially speaking, for consumption by black people. These black media texts are construed as being racially specific in their mode of address, thus hermeneutically sealing off the text from those not “in the know.” Awkward Black Girl (ABG) is one such text that while featuring a multicultural cast, includes only two white characters, one named Boss Lady and the other White Jay, among its cast. In a break from the normative understanding of multiculturalism, ABG is multicultural in its presentation of black, brown and yellow bodies rather than appealing to demographic pluralism by sprinkling in a few of these bodies in a sea of otherwise white characters a la Grey’s Anatomy and the rest of the Shonda Rhimes oeuvre. In naming whiteness, via White Jay, and blackness, implicitly in its lead character, ABG and its creator Issa Rae embrace their racialization in our allegedly post-racial world. But that racialization no longer matters when success is at hand. Because Rae is Stanford-educated and does not “talk black,” as Boston.com’s Francie Latour argues “it’s the awkward, not the black, that gives [the series] its comedic center and its ability to transcend race” in its pursuit of universal appeal.
However, Latour’s assertion misses a key issue. ABG does not intentionally seek to transcend race, but embraces it in Rae’s short, kinky coif, its liberal use of “nigga” and “inside” jokes that originate from within black cultural/ comedic traditions. As such, it is queer to watch Katie Couric on her nationally syndicated talk show assert the universality (and post-raciality) of ABG. With the repeated pronouncements of the black sitcom’s death (and its subsequent relegation to the televisual ghetto that is BET, TVOne and Centric), why might a web series so embraced by the Hollywood establishment as post-racial be heralded as the savior of the black sitcom? Additionally, Rae’s success with ABG has led to a development deal with Rhimes’ Shondaland Production – but not to produce ABG, but a series called I Hate L.A. Dudes, a show that, at least in its title, has none of the racial specificity that ABG has. So, it would seem that although ABG is embraced as universal and post-racial, it is still too black for primetime TV.