Writing has always been a part of my life. I know every writer says this, but it’s definitely true for me. As a kid, I would write these stories and come up with characters based on books I was reading at the time. I didn’t know it then, but I was essentially writing fan fiction.
The one thing I have noticed over the years is that the main character in my stories always has something similar to me. Usually it’s the looks (mixed race, thick curly hair, big girl) and often times it’s the circumstances that I grew up with (no mom, poor, low self esteem). So, naturally, I am drawn to characters that are similar to me. It’s a totally normal thing to do as a human. It’s almost like a validation of our experiences: I’m not the only one going through this bullshit. Unfortunately, there are not very many examples of girls like me when it comes to books.
Growing up, I read a lot of books. Like, A LOT of books. Of course there were cheesy ones like the Goosebumps series, Sweet Valley High series and anything involving witches. But, I also read books like Charlotte’s Web, The Secret Garden, and almost every Roald Dahl book. My favorites included of course Harry Potter, The Giver, Holes, and Sarah Dessen boooks (which are basically romance novels for teenagers).
This love for reading continued through high school and into college. Naturally, a love for writing came along with it. But, because I took a lot of writing classes and had to read a lot of books, my “fun reading” slowly began to dwindle. I would read, but it wasn’t as often as before. This of course didn’t stop me from buying so many books I broke a shelf.
So, as of recently, I’ve been trying to get back into my 1-2 books a month habit. The latest book I have finished is “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” a collection of essays and the life story of Issa Rae.
I first heard of Issa when I came upon her “Awkward Black Girl” Youtube series. This was back when the concept of a “Youtuber” was relatively new and a lot the social media platforms we know and love today were in their beginning stages.
The series followed the life of a young and awkward black girl named “J.” She somehow always manages to find herself in these strange, and yes, awkward situations. The show is awesome, but I unfortunately did not keep up with it like I did a few years back. But, I still followed Issa on social media and kept up with her growing career.
I was super excited to read her book and bought it right away (when it was only in hardcover and like $26. But honestly, I throw down for books without even blinking). From the beginning to the end of the book, there were so many situations that I related to. From those sketchy chatrooms that popped up in the early 2000s to accepting the hair that naturally comes out of my head, I related to Issa’s life a lot more than I expected I would. Growing up, Rae was tossed between living life in America and staying connected to her Senegalese part of her culture.
Though I can’t relate to that because I don’t have parents and have no idea about my family history (or where the hell in Africa we are from), I can totally relate to feeling like I don’t fit in with anyone. As a kid, I was of course, reading and into weird things like Harry Potter (which was consider weird when I was a kid. Like ya’ll don’t know what I’ve been through) and listening to music that was……TOO WHITE?! How could I as a black-ish person not listen to BLACK MUSIC? Of course, besides the fact that I grew up listening to R&B and Hip-Hop, I was considered “white washed” because I was into things like school and not getting into trouble. I know there are plenty of black and other POC who can relate to being told you didn’t fit the stereotype of how your race is suppose to act and talk and think like.
One of the major life lessons a person can learn from reading this book, regardless of race, is that there is no one way to be something. I am black in my own unique way and I don’t have to prove myself blackness to anyone.
Another thing that stuck out to me was when Issa, who went to Stanford (dream school!), wrote, “Girls, New Girl, 2 Broke Girls. What do they all have in common? The universal gender classification, “girl,” is white. In all three of these successful series, a default girl (or two) is implied and she is white. That is the norm and that is what is acceptable. Anything else is niche.”
She said what I have always thought and could never say. I have spent my whole life watching these shows and reading these books and liking them, but not really loving them. Most of the books I have read have always been what I thought I should read. Of course some like Harry Potter are awesome, but almost all the characters are white. (Sure, Hermione’s skin tone was never really explained and Dumbledore could have been gay, but why didn’t Rowling write it that way?!) This was also brought up in Aziz Ansari’s show, Master of None, in the episode “Indians.” He is auditioning for a show about a random group of friends and does really well. Unfortunately, he has an Indian friend that also goes out for the same show and does well too. The show basically tells them that a show can’t have two Indian characters in it, right? Because then people would think it was an Indian show. Ansari points out the hypocrisy that there are so many shows that have more than 2 white characters (shit, more than 5) and no even bats an eye.
I am so glad Issa wrote this book and I am so glad I read it. She has a short chapter where she discusses the fact that when it came to online dating, asian men and black women were like the bottom of the totem pole. Though she writes it in a humorous way, it definitely shines light on the mere fact that the negative stereotypes people face really do effect their life. Also, apparently, the more educated a black woman is, the more likely she’s single. I guess I MUST BE A FUCKIN GENIUS?!
This book also inspired me to write my own memoir (which seems pointless because who the fuck am I to anyone but the poor people I bombard my blog with on facebook??). I have been putting it off but now that I am older, I feel like my story is interesting enough to tell. If anything, this book has made me think that there is probably someone who needs to read my story.