Awkward (and Real) Race Talk on ABG

Curator's Note

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.


Great post. The thing that has always struck me about the show is the way that it confronts issues of race and gender explicitly, never employing the trite "very special episode" (as you so astutely point out). At the same time, as Alfred Martin points out in his post this week, the show itself is often talked about as being "universal" and "different" - codes used to differentiate the show from other black sitcoms. I'm wondering, how do we account for that gap between what the show does and how the show functions within a larger media landscape?

Thanks for the post Ralina. I love the way this week's post have come together to discuss the ways in which ABG and Issa Rae, as its producer/creator, are concomitantly racially specific and universal. Is part of the reason the series has enjoyed so much success that it is able to, in some ways, do what The Cosby Show did -- make white viewers "forget" they are looking at a black family? Is part of its success in its cast which looks like a 1980s ad for Benneton? If that is the case? Why does the show remain, as I ask in my post, too black for TV?

Thanks for this Ralina! This is probably my favorite episode of the series and one I show in class. I think it's a smart episode for many of the reasons you stated but in particular because it deals with racial difference in a way that is honest (and, yes, awkward) but not "heavy." When talking with industry folks about why race isn't dealt with more, many of them talk about how race is heavy like a yoke on the neck. But what I love about this episode is how it's the opposite of heavy--it's funny and crude and smart.

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.