Living Candidly #2: Is Mainstream Media Whitewashing the Black-Lesbian Love Story?

Living Candidly #2: Is Mainstream Media Whitewashing the Black-Lesbian Love Story?

DISCLAIMER: I am, in complete honesty, a heterosexual white woman. I did, however, complete my undergraduate thesis in the oppression of the black female body in Afro-American diasporic literature and I received top marks. I am not an authority, but I am a passionate ally. Let’s begin.


Last night, after binging the new Zac Efron/Ted Bundy Bio-Pic, two friends and I turned on Netflix’s new — for lack of a better word — chick-flick Someone Great starring Gina Rodriguez, Brittany Snow, and DeWanda Wise. On the surface, the core cast was diverse and riveting. Rodriguez played a broken-hearted Latina who had recently landed her dream job at Rolling Stone in San Francisco, ultimately driving her away from New York and her boyfriend of the past nine years. Snow was the uptight WASP who learns to let loose through the course of the film, finding out that not everything has to go according to plan. And finally, Wise is the Black-Lesbian.

I leave that sentence at seven words because there is so much more to unpack there than to sum up in one singular sentence. Through the course of the film, her character Erin has to learn that it’s okay to fall in capital-L Love, even if that means opening herself up to vulnerability of rejection. In a poignant moment with her lover, she reveals that she was in one semi-relationship in college only to be left for a man, leaving her to feel like “an experiment.” But prior to this reveal, Erin is cold romantically, withdrawn when it comes to her romantic partner’s pushes for more intimacy. When pressed by Snow’s character Blair for why she won’t just date someone, Erin tells her to keep her “heteronormative labels in a motherf**king box to the motherf**king left.”

And while it was a laughable line in the way that Wise delivered it, was she right in the fact that Blair was whitewashing the situation? Or was the situation already whitewashed in its very essence?

I couldn’t help but reflect upon the character of Kat Edison on The Bold Type, played by Aisha Dee. While the show actually chronicles her coming out story, it also features her own reluctance to commit to a relationship of any formulation even when heavy romantic feelings are involved. In one altercation between Kat and her love interest Adena, Kat says that she doesn’t “do” relationships — an exact sentiment that could have fallen from the lips of Wise’s character in Someone Great.

And while both romantic scenarios resolve in the happily-ever-after plot, I can’t help but wonder if there’s something incredibly whitewashed and gentrified about the black-lesbian experience in this film and televison show? Are we sterilizing it to make it safe for general audiences? Are we generalizing it to a point that it covers all the bases in order to make it so larger than life that it is no longer gritty and real? What are we supposed to be gaining from these portrayals? One is relatable, and two is celebratory, but if the trend continues in the cookie-cutter format, what cost will it have for our open-heartedness when we face their real-life counterparts, particularly those who don’t fit the mold?

Living Candidly #1: Pinned and Pressured to Change

Living Candidly #1: Pinned and Pressured to Change

I understand the various exceptions made regarding personal space on public transportation during rush hour in major metropolitan areas. But today I found myself pressed against the railing on the edge of the seats of the 2 train, my chest against the bars and a fully grown man’s front knowingly pinning me in place while he was afforded plenty of room. This was not a crowded train; this was a case of one man being too entitled in his actions where he knew he could get away with a little overstepping when it came to touching my body. When I moved further into the corner, crossing my limbs uncomfortably to make myself smaller, he moved in closer — a telltale sign of intent.

I am not a girl who gets catcalled in the street. I don’t get looked at twice at a bar. I’m more likely to get the additional free drink purchased for my friends by the bartender. So while I’ve heard of harassment and its permeability into the lives of women, I rarely experience it on such a physical and unavoidable level. And now, in the wake of that 50 block subway ride, I can assure you: that shit fucking sucks.

When I got to work, I talked with my coworkers (read: friends) about the experience to only hear their own stories about subway harassment. I was informed I was lucky that I didn’t feel an erection the entire time I was subjected to the touch of the stranger, a reality I was honestly only afforded because I was too nervous and subsequently incredibly squirmy the duration of the interaction. But it was a relatable reality for all of them.

At this point, I’ve probably got some readers up in arms with the #NotAllMen. And that’s fine, because I agree. Just last night I was watching¬†The Bold Type¬†(two references in two days, what is this?). Alex, a male journalist on the show, is confronted with the fact that he may have not been as pro-consent in his past as he has always believed himself to be, and this reality shakes him to question what it means when a woman comes forward with an implication that a man has sexually harassed or, worse, assaulted her. And this is what was said:

I talk about this stuff all the time with my guy friends, over dinner, over text, but never in public. And that needs to change because that’s how the behavior changes. However, I’m freaking out. I mean, these are weird times. People are losing their jobs over tweets, not even new ones. And I’ve grown from this, truly, but I’m scared that people are going to come after me for something that I’ve done in my past.

The Bold Type, Freeform

So this is what I propose. An equal playing field to both call those people who overstep personal boundaries like the man who wildly invaded my personal space on the train this morning while still offering absolution to those minor infractions from the past to those men who make intentional strides to prove that there really is some truth to the #NotAllMen trend.
Maybe if the discussion was more normalized, I would have been able to speak up about the discomfort this man was giving me in the moment of the interaction. But instead, I was kept quiet by the fact that I was afraid of offending him and causing an “unreasonable scene.” If you ask me, living in a cycle of accusation and outrage, and outrage and accusation, only means there can be absolutely no progress.

That reality sounds far worse than one that we live in now. At least now we have potential to open the door to progress.