By virtue of being on the team at BET Networks, I had the fortune of attending Black Girls Rock this year. However, by that same virtue, I was only afforded one ticket. So I wasn’t able to really experience WITH anyone else but the goal was for me to experience it at all so that I know what i’m talking about when I’m ideating around these tentpoles.
I’d always heard about BGR and how it was this ultimate uplift of Black Girl Magic. I use the term “magic” so loosely – it’s not magic at all. It’s 10000% intentional. Hard fought. Honed. Tempered. Cultivated. Battle Tested. Attacked and sustained. The magic is that our spirits haven’t been defeated. But that glory that is Black Girl-ness? That’s some tough stuff. So i got all dolled up for it and headed out to NJPAC.
The honorees this year included Solange Knowles, Maxine Waters, Roberta Flack, and a few others of great success and perhaps less “celebrity”. The honoree I was most interested in hearing from was Issa Rae. I’d loosely followed her climb when she was on Youtube with her own self produced “Adventures of an Awkward Black Girl”… and the followed a bit closer when Pharrell’s “I Am Other” studio picked up that franchise. Closer still when HBO took up Insecure – which is not fair to say that was an “offshoot” but very loosely based on the ABG franchise. Insecure had become a favorite show of mine of the strenght of it showcasing chocolate skintones, issues and life situations.
So finally during the taping, she came up and was presented her award by her co-star Jay Ellis.
I’d seen a lot of speeches that talked about how the person was really awkward and out of place and yadda yadda. Look – you can’t game me. I’m the queen ( in my head ) of all awkward girls. Growing up there was virtually no space for me anywhere. I fit in no place. I can sense and awkward girl. So I listened. I clapped. I related to the sentiment but questioned how authentic it might be.
Cut to commercial. We’re sitting there and they’re preparing for the next segment – seemingly the final segment where they’re going to give the grand goodbye. So they ask all the honorees to line up on the stage and create a sort of receiving line. Issa Rae stood on the end of the line (stage right) making measured small talk with whoever was standing next to her. I believe it was the two women who created the initiative in Baltimore to find lost Black children. From stage left, Beverly Bond, the founder of Black Girl’s Rock, emerges. A black and white shimmering gown of flowing fantasticness she is… so glitterati. So Hollywood. So upper echelon. She makes her way down the line of awardees. Air kissing each one and making some kee-kee-kee small talk. Issa’s eyes are kind of fixed on her part watching what the conversations were like and part waiting her turn. About 2 people away from Issa, Beverly’s show runner comes to get her attention, Beverly spins on her heels and is whisked away.
In that moment, Issa clasped her hands in front of her and her head dropped a bit. She quickly recovered but the motion was too real and too familiar for me. That “oh well.. maybe next time I’ll be recognized by the cool girls….” perpetual outsider shit that washes over you in those moments is just something I’m overly familiar with. The just there at the edge of full acceptance but never actually quite getting to attain it. The quick “wonder what’s wrong with me / why I’m not important enough” that is immediately dismissed by the fact that you’re on this receiving line because you’re dope and because you’ve accomplished so much. Even still – that accomplishment doesn’t seem to push you to the forefront like a Maxine Waters or a Solange Knowles. But in that instant you shrug it off and you reclaim your smile and reset.
I’m not even sure who all saw it. Most folks were on their phones taking selfies like OOOH…I’m at Black Girls Rock Look at me… But I was watching what unfolded on the stage. And Issa Rae is a solid real 100% friend in my head. I get her. We’re awkward.
And we rock.