GIRLFRIENDS: A BLACK GIRL’S MANIFESTO

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In a world full of Monica’s, Rachel’s, Phoebe’s, Grace’s, and Carrie Bradshaw’s, where do Black women find representation? Given these are all characters from 90’s and early 2000’s highly rated White sit-com series, why do we find these names so popular in pop culture, but not those like Joan, Maya, Lynn, and Toni? Black women and White women grow up in two different worlds. Even if they grew up on the same block, a White woman could never step out of her laced up privilege to step into the oppressed and desensitized life of a Black woman.

We have never seen any of the White women listed above talk about issues that are so prevalent in society. These ladies would have rather obsess about their latest male suitor, make the problems of their closeted best friend their own, or my favorite.. broadcast their thoughts with terrible puns about shoes and sex. While I am not saying these are not everyday issues, they are not the issues that a lot of Black women could relate to. Even in having dead-end and low wage jobs, Monica and Rachel never worried about their rent and still could afford to eat at the coffee shop everyday.

Girlfriends was a show that capitalized off the versatility of the Black woman. It followed the lives of four completely different women, brought together by the need to stick together in a world that failed to see them as unique. The storylines of Joan, Maya, Lynn, and Toni incorporated balancing family, work, “free-spirited-ness” (for Lynn, lol), education, and relationships, while tackling social issues that effected women, Black, POC, and White, alike.

Joan Clayton, the successful lawyer turned night-club entrepreneur, represents the Black woman who always puts the needs of others first, even if it meant sacrificing her own happiness. She gave her friends jobs, she pursued law because her mother wanted her to, and she even stayed in toxic relationships because she felt indebted to give her love to a man. And though Joan was one of the most educated women on the show, it didn’t mean that she knew how to tackle every issue like dealing with her college roommates diagnoses of AIDS. We even seen her battle her way through a patriarchy of men in the office to give women a voice and even have the law firm acknowledge MLK Day.

Maya Wilkes, the teen mother turned author, gave us endless Black woman sass and showed us how Black women juggle so much. Maya went from teenage mother and bride, to assistant and student, to successful and thriving author. She gave unapologetic hood-chic and capitalized off of her distinct slang and unfortunate failures with her best-selling book, Oh Hell Yes. Maya’s character was also very unique because we too often get the stereotype that cheating has to be a sexual thing. However, Maya’s character showed us the widespread possibility of what cheating could be and the vulnerability of how easy it could be to step out of a marriage when proper support isn’t being placed at home. Maya’s character also showed us how just because we call quits in a relationship physically, that does not mean that we called it quits mentally. Her re-marriage to Darnell displays that.

Lynn Searcy, the mutli-degree free-spirit, redefined Blackness in so many different ways. Lynn was special because she was half-white, with White adopted parents, and had just found her way to Blackness. It was not until college (and in meeting Joan and Toni) did Lynn feel what it meant to be Black. While my one criticism of Lynn’s character was that she was definitely portrayed as a bit of a bum, that sometimes over-shadowed her pure heart. She cycled various feminine ideologies like going from being Pro-Hoe to practicing celibacy. She almost always came through with the best advice for her girls (and William). And let us not forget that Lynn at one point specialized in mental health advocacy. She was a suicide hotline specialist and even stepped outside her sexuality to make a woman contemplating suicide feel loved. And let us never forget that Lynn tossed her family-affection to the side when checking her White-adopted sister on her (and White people’s) validation of the word “nigga.”

Toni Childs, the selfish & man-eating turned responsible mother and realtor (and my personal favorite), embodied what it meant to be a go-getter. Toni represented those who came from nothing and refused to go back to it. Her (and most POC’s) fear of being unsuccessful is what drove Toni to date high-profile men, open her own real estate agency, and never settle for anything less than her worth. Toni’s character was probably the most hilarious and clever. She could read her girlfriends for days. She had the best fashion sense. And she was unapologetic. Toni’s boisterous and hilarious personality didn’t stop her from having run-ins with social issues. Her marriage to Todd brought to question could she maintain her Blackness being married and having a child with a White man? Her first few weeks of new motherhood also took a deep look into mental health and postpartum depression in Black women.

Girlfriends defined what it meant and still what it means to be a Black woman. This show single-handedly showed us that Black women are versatile creatures who bring much joy and positivity to the atmosphere, but they are not perfect (and they do not claim to be). With every fault and problem, they have a lesson and solution to be given. With every bicker and argument, there was love and affection. And with every downfall and road block, there was recovery and a blessing in disguise.

With that, I think it’s safe to say that in a world full of Carrie Bradshaw’s, be a Joan, Maya, Lynn, or Toni. And to that we quote Miss Maya Wilkes with a “OH HELL YES!”

Rasheed Davis