Jamaija Rhodes | Staff Writer
Issa Rae, producer and actress for HBO’s Insecure, once said, according to Washington Post Magazine, “Black and awkward is the worst, because black people are stereotyped as being anything but awkward in the mainstream media… Black people are always portrayed to be cool, overly dramatic anything but awkward.”
Until recent years, the concept of being both black and awkward has been dismissed and overlooked. As black people, we are oftentimes expected to be cool, knowledgeable on all of the trends, confident and suave. When an individual of African descent deviates from this perception society has created for the black community, their blackness is put into question.
“I feel that all the time, especially being on this campus,” senior communicative sciences and disorders major Simone Williams said.
“I watch people try so hard every day and catch myself doing the same at times, trying to impress people I barely know. I even feel that with friendships, I have to test the waters of how awkward or silly I can be around them because my [black] friends will be quick to say I’m off, a weirdo, strange or different for dressing a certain way, being daring, behaving goofy or silly or simply being myself.”
Williams says she learned who actually liked her for herself and not her representation. She continued, “It sucks, though, because I feel like that’s why some black kids with zero to no black friends gravitate to white friends more because they’re more open and accepting at times, it seems.”
Although this idea of black people being “cool” at all times was an image created by society, many individuals within our community uphold this standard.
I can recall several times where my “black card” has been revoked because I was not familiar with what my peers simply believed all black people should know. I am even guilty of excluding someone if they are not familiar with certain films or colloquialisms that are associated with black culture.
“When I went to a PWI [Predominantly White Institution], I was automatically seen as cool even when I wasn’t actively trying to be,” graduate counseling major Gabrielle Fox said. “I think that the idea of mystery and allure is automatically given to us by our white peers, especially when they want to be liked or accepted by you. It’s definitely different when you’re around other black people. There is this idea that I have to be as cool as them or else, am I really black? It sometimes feels more performative around other black individuals, especially when trying to garner attention and acceptance.”
As awesome as it seems to be the gatekeepers of “cool,” I have come to realize how detrimental this idea of “coolness” is to the individuals who are a part of our community who do not follow this standard.
It forces many of us to wear a mask and hide the aspects that make us who we are. Oftentimes, I feel like many black individuals suppress who they truly are because they fear it will cause their black card to be revoked or that they will be excluded from the group.
This is why I have come to appreciate individuals such as Issa Rae for beginning to normalize the fact that black people get nervous, can be clumsy and can be CORNY.
Normalizing this reality gives people the space to be human, and it removes the burden of having to appear to be a certain way in order for people to accept you.