The Muse (Art & Culture)

Love Squares: How “Awkward Black Girl” is Challenging My “Baby Boy” Syndrome

Yesterday I celebrated the last day of classes for the semester and procrastinated from writing my final papers by indulging in one of my favorite guilty pleasures: watching the latest episode of “The Misadventures of  Awkward Black Girl.”

In case you’ve been sleeping on this new phenomenon, “Awkward Black Girl” is a web-series created by Stanford graduate Issa Rae that chronicles the everyday awkward situations that lead character J finds herself in. The YouTube sensation is a smart comedy that voices the hilarity, insecurities, triumphs, private thoughts, and struggles of black girls–girls, boys, everyone, period, really–everywhere while offering thoughtful commentary on racial and social issues in the present-day.

In case you don’t follow the series, J has a crush on her black co-worker Fred, who up until now,  has shown some signs of romantic interest in J but has never openly made his feelings or intentions known. J’s supervisor and enemy, Nina, is also interested in Fred, and Fred has responded to some of Nina’s advances, which only serves to confuse J more.

J meets Fred’s friend Jay–known as “White Jay”–at Fred’s birthday party and they become friends.  Ultimately, White Jay asks J out on her first  hilariously awkward “white date,” and their relationship progresses.  Fred begins to show signs of jealousy when he realizes that J and White Jay are getting closer. Things take a turn, however, when White Jay gets flustered when he runs into his ex-girlfriend and temporarily forgets J’s name when he attempts to introduce her.

On the latest episode, White Jay tries to make up with an upset J, just as Fred arrives and finally admits to J that he has feelings for her. Who will she choose? Find out on the next episode on January 12…

Commercial over. Despite his minor affiliations with Nina, for most of the series I have been rooting for Fred. You know, the cute, nice black guy from work gets with the awkward black girl who’s crushing on him and they live awkwardly ever after. What’s better than that, right? However, I found myself admiring White Jay’s openness and his genuine appreciation for J. Although I never actually wavered in my support of Fred, I felt guilty for enjoying the budding relationship between J and White Jay.

But when Fred appeared on J’s doorstep and finally admitted his feelings, I was emotional and right back in his corner as strong as ever. Then, White Jay showed up and–much like I imagine J was–I was conflicted. I questioned not only my preference for Fred and J, but also my reasons for it.

One of the reasons for my choice of Fred and J is no mystery. I love black love, and I have no problems admitting that.  No, this does not mean that other types of love are not legitimate or that there is anything wrong with them. It just means that in my heart of hearts, I love the black family and union, and I will root for it first and foremost, always.

White Jay’s treatment of J and my appreciation for their relationship, however, forced me to evaluate the ways that black love loyalties have affected and reflected black women’s relationships and self-esteem. Several books have been written recently about how black women sell themselves short by not considering men of other races. Be clear: It is NOT my intention to discuss that here. Rather, “Awkward Black Girl” helped me to realize my affliction with “baby boy syndrome” and the potential dangers of it.

As you may know, “baby boy syndrome” is a reference to the John Singleton modern “classic” Baby Boy starring Tyrese Gibson and Taraji P. Henson. If you’ve never seen it, just turn on BET on any given day and you’ll be caught up. I’m using the term  to describe my emotional attachment to black men and my need to root for, defend, and protect them, no matter what.

For example, while Fred was always friendly with J and even flirted, he also flirted with Nina–at least he didn’t reject her advances. Fellas, please feel free to argue the difference between those two behaviors, if you must. He did not begin to show any clear romantic interest in J until he realized that she and White Jay were getting closer. White Jay, on the other hand, made his interest in J apparent from the get-go and did not have a problem making the first move. Even though White Jay has been a perfect gentlemen–with the exception of the return of the ex– and I have my suspicions and feelings about Fred’s interest being somewhat motivated by jealousy, I “awww-ed” right along with the rest of viewers and was 100% team Fred and J as soon as Fred admitted his feelings. I told myself that he was just shy, and he was back to being the prince again.

So, I have a soft spot for shy guys. What’s the problem?  The problem is that I know that I would not feel the same way if Fred were white. If Fred were white and he behaved the way he did while White Jay was pursuing J, I would want J to stay with White Jay and to question the motivation for Fred’s confession. I would want her to remind him of his wishy-washiness so far. Instead, I was moved at the thought that this black man–yes I thought “this black man”–was finally opening up.

It’s not that White Jay is some sort of extra-bold Superman. He is shy and nervous too, and the audience doesn’t know any more about him than it knows about Fred, but I don’t find myself thinking about White Jay’s “layers.” I don’t wonder what’s going in his head that he doesn’t express or the forces that keep him from expressing it. I didn’t read “love” into White Jay’s decision to let J keep the water after the anger management session–watch the episode– the way I (and J) did when Fred invited her to his birthday party. I wasn’t even as willing to excuse White Jay’s minor flop when his ex showed up. (“Say my name, say my name…”)

From all of this, I realized that there is a point when loyalty can become a liability. Of course, black women aren’t the only ones to give men passes or to make excuses for them, but we may be among the few to minimize, amplify, or ignore the flaws and benefits in other men in order to prop up a halo on our own that they may or may not always deserve. It is one thing to be supportive, forgiving, and understanding. It is another thing not to expect or demand better because we think that it’s a conflict  of interest, because when the “benefit” runs out of the benefit of the doubt, we may find ourselves on the losing end.

And no, better does not mean “not black” and it does not mean “white.” Better means more. Better means clarity. Better means courage. Better means honesty. Better means not making excuses for Fred when Jay has been on point all along, whether they are both white, black, or purple. Better means not being afraid to require the “baby boy” to be the best man for you.


12 thoughts on “Love Squares: How “Awkward Black Girl” is Challenging My “Baby Boy” Syndrome

  1. Rita says:

    “If you’ve never seen it, just turn on BET on any given day and you’ll be caught up.” lol ..true

    well i’m team white jay. adamantly so. i love me some black love too, but i think fred took too long. he was playing around. like you said, white jay made his feelings and intentions known from jump. (and i dig how he and j vibe together! ^_^) basically, if a man wants something, he goes for it. white jay did; fred didn’t. and i dont think fred is shy either. after j and white jay started talking, fred boldly volunteered to work on some project with her, then went to her house and came on to her pretty strong..playing guitar backwards and shit lol. but that was AFTER she showed a little interest in another man. if jealousy is your motivation, it ain’t real. that’s probably just some male ego stuff.

    but i think it’s very interesting that you find the series challenging your “baby boy” syndrome. we do tend to coddle our black men, but i think it comes from a good place. we just wanna see em do right. plus society as a whole gives them enough bad rap so really, we need to have their back. just not at the expense of looking like a fool.

    i really enjoyed this!

    • Thanks! I agree that we have to have their backs because the world doesn’t. That’s why I said black love first and always. Like you said, it just can’t be at the expense of our own backs, and the episode really made me think about how we as black women do that a lot. I like White Jay, but I’m still Team Fred lol. I just hope J makes him work and makes him prove himself.

  2. Tia says:

    I’ve noticed that a lot of people are only Team Fred because of “black love” and “black love is beautiful”, and it’s all good and that but this isn’t about who’s white and who’s black, for me it’s about who treats J right. I know both Fred and White Jay have screwed things up lately, equally and in their own ways. I’m still not sure what I consider worse, Fred kissing Nina or White J forgetting J’s name. *Shudder*

    I’ve been Team White Jay from the start because he showed initiative, and he let J know he liked her from the beginning. Plus I like the way they are when they are together. Maybe I’m biased because I’ve always been open to interracial relationships, so who knows.

    This was a great eye opener though, on just how exactly race plays apart in a pairing.

    • Thanks for reading. I just wanted to point out that I’m not only Team Fred because he’s black though. It’s just an important factor in (how I now realize) I’d rationalized his behavior, and I realized the dangers of that.

  3. Kevin says:

    I have been team White Jay for a while. I understand that Fred is the original crush and I appreciate black love. However, I cannot get over the myriad of chances that Fred had to make an advance on J or even ignore Nina. But instead he couldn’t do that until someone else made a move on her. I just feel like Fred missed his chance and that White Jay should be commended for his honesty, openness, and gentleman-y manner. If Fred is truly interested in J, he can wait and see if things work out with her and White Jay.

  4. Whitney says:

    Honestly, both of the guys are a bit whack, but if I had to pick one it would be Fred. I will admit that one of the reasons is because he’s Black & I world love to see that manifest. And secondly, I believe he is the one that she really wants to be with at the end of the day. White Jay is fun but he is not here number one. I don’t know if I would really consider it the “baby boy syndrome” since he stands on his as a whole. Fred only has issues with “expressing his emotions” as all men do (lol).

    Keep it up Brit!

  5. I really loved this post. I haven’t seen this argument raised with the “baby boy syndrome” included. Great thinking…

    Watching the series she did like Fred first and wasn’t even willing to give White J a chance. She made White J bend over backwards to show his interest before falling for him. Fred hasn’t even taken her on a date yet or offered to do so. I believe in black love as well…but I also see many of us setting high (acceptable) standards for a non-black love-interest more than we do for our black-men love interest. Maybe we are giving Fred the baby boy syndrome pass…

    If both men were the same color it would be clear – go with the guy who is interested, has show you interest and been open about his feelings.

    This show has raised an interesting dynamic.

    • Thank you. It really has. The way the show is set up just forces me to think about a lot of things in a way that I haven’t had a sitcom do in a long time. It has the satirical edge of like an “In Living Color” or something, in the form of a sitcom.

  6. Pingback: In Defense of Awkward Black Boys « The G is for Grace

    • I already commented on the article on your blog. but I just wanted to reiterate that this was not intended to be an anti-black man or even an don’t-be-afraid-to-date-a-white-man post. I explicitly stated that. Rather, it was me analyzing and questioning my reasons and motivation for rooting for someone who did not immediately express interest in J and who accepted the advances of another woman over someone who has expressed his interest from day one. I was exploring the possible dangers of assigning my loyalty primarily along racial lines and saying that we as black women need not be afraid to demand better of everyone, regardless of race. And yet, I was still Team Fred.

  7. This web series definitely challenged my baby boy syndrome as well. Even now, I can’t stop rooting for #teamfred. Shame on me. I feel as though even though she’s chosen White Jay, there’ll still be some conflict with Fred. My mind is Jay all day, because his actions were genuine. However, deep down, my brown love is itching. I can’t help it. Fred?


    • Riva, I feel the exact same way! With everything considered, I’m still Team Fred. (He’s down, but not out.) The show just really forced me to think about my reasoning.

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