Alternative Black Girls Need Representation Too

by Ariel C. Williams

The New York Film Academy released a powerful infographic that captures race inequality in film and media in 2014. As we’ve already known, it reinforced the fact Black people are less likely to have strong speaking roles and instead are often restricted to domestic, violent, or promiscuous roles. This visual breakdown of Black producers and directors, box office tickets, and spending power within our communities is dynamic, but raises a very important question: Where are all the media spaces for alternative Black girls and women?

Alternative Black Girls—nerds, geeks, punk enthusiasts, and DIYers—are often alienated or rejected within our communities for being different. Their eccentricities are equally ignored in the media, leaving very few spaces that acknowledge their creativity and identity. The media paints a rigidly stereotypical picture of Black women that consistently overlooks those passionate about various topics from technology to rock-and-roll music to crafting. No matter the front, when these subjects are discussed, Black women and girls are left out of the conversation. An understatement that goes without saying is that alternative Black girls are underrepresented at large. This needs to change.

Fed up with underrepresentation as well as respectability politics, biologist DNLee shared her frustrations of being a Black woman in STEM. When reflecting on her personal experiences of being an “alternative” Black woman in predominantly White universities and work environments, she shared:

“Underrepresented minorities, whether it be racial/ethnicity, ability, gender, sexual, orientation, residence-status, or more, are essentially invisible to most of our colleagues. Part of that is because we physically make up such a small percentage of the professional pool that we don’t exist to others. This ‘out of sight, out of mind’ perception is problematic. It unconsciously congratulates members of the in-group for being awesome and fair when they haven’t actually had to spend any energy at all to be so.”

For decades, the opportunities for Black girls to fully experience diversity and culture while growing have been slim. This difficulty is stifling for naturally explorative girls who are interested in things other than what’s offered to or expected of them, thus causing feelings of inadequacy or plainly, that they’re weird or outcasts. In her debut web series, The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae captured just how far off base the media is in depicting our complexities while helping Black Millennials rewrite the way they view themselves. Putting a label on Black women and girls is hard, because we’re no monolith, but surely, we deserve to be discovered and represented in more ways than one.

While the context of her 2011 NPR interview explores the epidemic of professionally accomplished yet emotionally bankrupt Black women, award-winning and best-selling author and journalist Sophia Nelson says that it’s time for Black women to push back against how they are portrayed in popular culture. This advice may seem onerous when pertaining to making media spaces for alternative Black girls tangible, but with social media and technological advancements, it can be done.

More than ever, Black women are pouring their hearts into lifestyle blogs and YouTube channels that validate themselves and connect with like minded sisters who enjoy similar things. For Harriet’s online space exists to give refuge to all Black girls and women who’ve felt out of place and unrepresented by mainstream Black pop culture. Similar outlets include Black Girl Nerds, Black Girls Rock!, and AfroPunk, who exist to provide a community for alternative women (and girls) of color who vary in their intellectual interests, lifestyles, eccentricities, hobbies, and fashion tastes. While these avenues don’t quite make up mainstream media in America, utilizing platforms available to us to share our unique interests and stories will create the necessary paths that alternative Black girls need to be represented and valued in the media.

Photo: Krista Schleuter / BET

Ariel C. Williams is a freelance writer, author, and virtual assistant based in Florida. She thrives on connecting with women about life, love and goals through professional endeavors, social interactions and her debut book The Girl Talk Chronicles (Amazon). Follow her on Twitter @ArielSaysNow.

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