In Defense Of Too Many Of The "Wrong" Type Of Black People On TV

Issa Rae (Roger Kisby/Getty Images for Say Media/xoJane)
Issa Rae (Roger Kisby/Getty Images for Say Media/xoJane)

At the moment, Issa Rae's The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl — a memoir with a buzz largely fueled by the popularity of her similarly themed webseries — is currently sitting on the New York Times' bestseller list. Last week, Rae appeared on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, a show selected to replace The Colbert Report and fill the highly coveted 11:30pm spot after The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Rae and Wilmore are also working on a pilot together for HBO.


On Wednesday, ABC's black-ish — a show widely considered the best new sitcom of the season (and the best new Black sitcom in years) — will air its 16th episode. Scandal will air on the same network the next night, and Kerry Washington's cunning, calculated, and cold Olivia Pope will attempt to be as cunning, calculated, and cold as How to Get Away With Murder's Annalise Keating already is. (She might also attempt — and also fail — to have better sex.) For the past year, the biggest story on TV has been how Thursday nights are dominated by a 45-year-old Black woman (Shonda Rhimes) who made a flawed and complex 30-something Black woman and a flawed and complex 40-something Black woman the fulcrums of her shows.

BET, often thought to be the bane of Black excellence, currently runs two shows (Being Mary Jane and The Real Husbands of Hollywood) as ambitious and unique as anything else on TV. And, if Real Husbands isn't surreal and ridiculous enough for you, there's Comedy Central's Key and Peele, which is to surreality and ridiculousness what Tyga is to having a shankable face.


If none of these are kind to your tastes, maybe Orange is the New Black is more your speed. Or maybe House of Lies is. Or maybe Power is. Or maybe Survivor's Remorse is. Or maybe you're waiting for Black Jesus to return. Or maybe you want to wait until The Couple airs. Or maybe you want to wait and see what's rumored to be in the works with Donald Glover. Or what's rumored to be in the works with Craig Robinson. Or what's rumored to be in the works with Tim Story. Or maybe you just want to wait and see what The Daily Show's Jessica Williams is going to do next. Or maybe you're more interested in one of the several shows currently airing and featuring Black people that I either forgot about or didn't even get the chance to forget about because I've never heard of them.

There's never been — not in the 80s, not in the 90s — more Black people on TV every week than there are now. And not just token Black people. Black people who are actual people. Black people who do things like be mindful of whether the upper-middle class life has drained the Blackness out of their families and merge (and lose, and win back) companies and lose pets to cancer and seriously consider suicide and struggle with having to take in their parents and have intellectual debates about spanking and occasionally fuck someone they know they're not supposed to be fucking but still continue fucking anyway because they want to. Because those are the things actual people do.

And this is one of the reasons why, when people bemoan the existence of Love and Hip Hop, the "coonery" of Empire, the ***insert whichever other popular show featuring Black people that Black people are upset about***, and any other form of televised entertainment that doesn't represent Black people in a positive manner (as if their idea of what's "positive" is the only one that matters), I have trouble paying attention.

Because they clearly haven't been either.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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