It used to be a kind of utopia. A weekly meeting of all my favorite Blackgirls, indulging and over-indulging on wine and takeout, listening to records, talking about life and love, and hollering at the TV as Kerry Washington stunted in a flawless white coat and stomped delicately on the heads of every white man in the White House.
Of course, she didn’t look like us, with her airbrushed skin and bone-straight perm. Of course, she was in love with one white man, or two, depending on the season. Of course she wasn’t an artist, or an activist, or a progressive. But she was a Black woman on prime time television, she was sexy as hell, and she was smarter than you. We were so damn hungry we forgave her. We forgave the overdone love scenes and the corny banter. We forgave the patriotism, the predictability, the strange treatment of Black men. We are so damn hungry. Continue reading
When I was five, my father told me that I was Rudy from The Cosby Show. He probably said this as a joke but I took it literally. And since I believed that my father knew absolutely everything, I watched the series in deep connection to this shell of myself. Despite the absence of any memory of being Rudy and the chronological impossibility of me being a child actor on the show (Keshia Knight Pulliam, the actress who plays her, is four years older than me), I was Rudy and Rudy was me. It wasn’t difficult to take on this identity (especially as a child) because I didn’t understand the spurious line between acting and reality. I didn’t quite get television as a constructed space that may or may not represent the lived experiences of actual people. When I saw something scary on television, I was scared because I couldn’t create a division between these worlds—whatever happened on television could potentially happen to me in real life. In my mind I could seamlessly move from my small upstate New York home into a Brooklyn brownstone and family of six. Rudy’s lessons were my lessons, her triumphs and falls were mine too. I remember watching the episode where Rudy gets her period and how I positively inserted myself into the storyline. I saw the possibility of black girlhood (this was one of few places where I saw black children on television at the time) and I saw my period a link in the chain of womanhood. When Rudy got her period, all women got their periods. The shame of this biological happening was erased from my consciousness. I saw that menstruation wasn’t something I had to be silent about or ashamed of.
This interpolation wasn’t just unique to me; my father did this as well. The two of us were watching television one day when he matter-of-factly stated that the news reporter was Haitian. I remember laughing and turning to him to ask, “How do you know?” My father was having his very own Rudy moment. He was inserting his Haitianess into a space that claimed non-race, class or nationality. I still smile when I remember this moment that seems more like a fantastic act of agency than the passive subconscious at work. We were making television productive for us through our gaze. This ocular practicality was a sort of bending of the gaze that served us as two individuals of color watching mainstream television. Continue reading