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Why Average Black Characters are Needed on Screen

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There's no doubt that representation is important. TV and film are finally starting to have more representation than just an all white cast, but there was still a specific type of character that was missing for the Black community. Black characters in film were usually being shown off as either a stereotype or a token black role that was just there for diversity points. What the Black community really needed for representation were black characters that were just, well, average. Black characters that were there to show how being black is just being human. More and more shows and movies are finally starting to portray this character, giving more accuracy to the Black experience.

Something that wasn't being shown for a long time in film was a black character that represented the overall awkwardness of just life in general. A character who was socially awkward, maybe having an eccentric look, and challenged the traditional stereotype that black characters were only there to show off the challenges of being Black without having any other depth. The quirky black character is a well-rounded protagonist who challenges racial tropes.

An example of this character is seen in the TV show, Insecure. The show features a black girl who represents the awkward trait, and she still relates to black culture while doing so. She deals with racism and being seen as the token black employee at her job, and she deals with these issues while not having them be her only character traits. It's an important middle ground for black characters: you have to accurately portray the struggles of the Black experience, but you don't want that to be the only thing that you show about them. When black characters are portrayed with no depth, the audience gains a negative impression that that's the same experience for every black individual. It's a racist idea that white characters don't have to deal with, but it's still something that comes up.

Black characters who only portray the stereotypical Black experience without having any other defining characteristics but black people in a box. However, characters who don't talk enough about their race experiences get hated on by people because they're seen as "not being black enough." This critique is something that the quirky black character role is trying to destroy. White characters can have different roles and personalities without being called "not white enough," so why is this label put on certain black characters? Not everyone has the same experiences in life, so we need to steer away from the stereotype that a black character is going to represent everything about their race.

The History of the Quirky Black Character

The quirky black character that's starting to emerge more in film has a history behind it. This character started to come around on TV in the 70s and 80s, showing off black characters in roles that previously were only displayed by white people. The problem with these early on portrayals was that they didn't do much to portray the Black experience, mainly because the shows were written by white people. In the show Family Matters, there's an episode where the black son has issues with police, and his black father asks if he did something to provoke them. This episode is an example of how the white writing dilutes the Black experience because a black father wouldn't talk to his son that way.

Despite not accurately portraying what a black family may go through exactly, these early shows were important for creating the rise of the quirky and all-around average black character. Family Matters showed the life of a black family and the life of the quirky black character Steve Urkel. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air showed the life of a black family and different struggles that the main character had, like growing up without a father. Sister Sister gave viewers a Parent Trap type of show that was aimed toward black families, showing a heart-felt relationship between black twin sisters. The history of just showing the life of black families helped bring about different representations of black struggles instead of deeming the Black experience as being the same for everyone.

Nowadays, shows and movies are starting to better represent the quirky and average black character as someone who isn't just there to be a token minority, but someone who has their own personality and deals with struggles in their own way. People have gotten so used to the idea that a black character is only there to check off diversity points that when a black character came back to the show New Girl, viewers questioned the other black actor about if his character was leaving, since the idea of having two main black characters wasn't common.

Instead, the show featured two black main characters, and they dealt with things in different ways. The show Atlanta also features different experiences for different black characters. The show Big Mouth talks about "code switching" for a biracial character, which is an idea that they switch their mannerisms in order to appear either "black enough" or "white enough" depending on what group they're talking to. This idea that mixed people have to act differently in order to fit in with different groups is something that unfortunately happens a lot in real life, and we need to develop characters in a way that shows this struggle, yet also doesn't make that their only defining characteristic.

Having an average black character is a necessary role to break the idea that the Black experience is the same for everyone. We have so many average white characters in film, and we need to do the same for black characters. We also have to get rid of the idea that a black character has to be there to represent racial struggles. We don't create white characters to represent race struggles, so why do we do the same for black characters? A black character in film should have more purpose than just being there for diversity. Black writers should continue to create characters that represent what they want to see in a black character, and there should be no fear of their average black character being so average that they "aren't black enough."