black female representation

This Conversation About Black Female Representation Is a Great Lesson for Gay Men, Too

Yvonne Orji, an actress from the hit-HBO series Insecure recently touched on black female representation in the media, and her argument is solid.

Our community is always unhappy with the representation we see of ourselves in media. Just the other day, a gay man who grew up in the ‘90s and early 2000s told me that he felt that all representations of gay people were “cartoonish.” So he decided to make a television show about drag queens.

While I’m still trying to figure that one out, I do feel that as gay men, we’re always complaining that we don’t see ourselves in the media. Often, people argue that the representation of gay men is “too gay” (citing Ross Mathews, Carson Kressley, Jack from Will & Grace, Frankie Grande or RuPaul’s Drag Race as examples).

Others may look at some examples as “not gay enough,” looking towards more heteronormative examples like Anderson Cooper, Will from Will and Grace or Desi Piscatella from Orange is the New Black.

Buzzfeed recently released a video titled “I’m Gay, But I’m Not…” featuring a diverse group of gay men rejecting the stereotypes that surround being gay. “I’m gay, but I’ve never seen an episode of Will & Grace,” one person says while another adds, “I know nothing about Lady Gaga or Madonna.”

Some people online found the video to be tone deaf and channeling some self-hate. Damita Jo tweeted, “If they wanted show diversity, they could have had gays saying all the things they LIKE to do. This essentially perpetuates that all gay men are nothing more than the things these men dislike.”

The video actually does end with the men saying what they like, but as Aaron pointed out, “First 30 seconds set a poor tone and possibly cause people to skip the last two minutes that are actually affirming and positive. It’s not bad, just poorly structured.”

Just like gay men, the conversation of appropriate representation in the media is also common in the community of black women.

Yvonne Orji, an actress from the hit-HBO series Insecure recently touched on black female representation in the media, and her argument is solid. So fabulous, you will want to stand-up in ovation after and re-evaluate our own experience with this issue.

black female representation 1
Yvonne Orji

“One thing that is important is that we build each other up and not break each other down,” she said during a Freedom on Tap conversation at Afropunk in Atlanta. “Over the last three weeks, I have had conversation with people about how they feel about the rise of Cardi B.”

She quotes a person as asking, “I don’t know. Should she be the [representation of black women]?”

Orji responds to this hypothetical:

What does that go to do with you? [Cardi B] represents who she represents for a specific group of people. There are people that she will reach that I will never reach. There are people that I will reach that she will never reach. But instead of saying, “I don’t appreciate that she is reaching certain people,” why don’t you do what you gotta do to get your numbers up so you can reach who you gotta reach?

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The moderator of the conversation applauds Orji with an “Amen.”

Issa Rae, the creator of Insecure, is the first black woman to create and star in a premium cable series. She tweeted the clip of her costar’s words with the caption: “This word from @YvonneOrji took me back to a time when I was SO busy being negative about others’ work that I wasn’t focusing on MY work.”

Cardi B retweeted her response, saying, “Sooo amazing ,I been saying this but I’m a very different vocabulary 😂I love you woman.”

Orji’s statements make it aware that Cardi B doesn’t represent all black women, and nor is she trying to do that. Just like Ross Mathews or Anderson Cooper don’t represent all gay men, nor are they trying to do that.

Maybe there is some truth to the fact that the heterosexual-run entertainment industry is more interested in featuring feminine projections of male queerness. These characters are a lot less threatening to both straight men and women than masculine projections of gay men. 

But to echo Orji’s bold sentiments, if you don’t already see yourself projected in the media, do something about it. Stop worrying about who is already there and start working towards setting your own place at the table to join them.

This may seem easier said than done, but here is one way you may have your own point-of-view seen and heard. If you read a post on your favorite LGBTQ blog that you disagree with, instead of just writing an angry Facebook status about it or 140-character tweet, write your own blog post about it. Then, spellcheck it and submit it to an editor who works there.

Many editors are interested in featuring an array of diverse voices from our community. So try this out next time you’re frustrated. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next Anderson Cooper. Maybe not, but at least you’ll add an important piece of the puzzle that can reach someone else who is just like you.