When We Admired Black Women On TV: Our Favorite Characters of Yesteryear

March 13, 2013  |  
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Yesterday, during my daily Tumblr search, I found a video of Issa Rae and Andrea Lewis, formerly of “Degrassi” and currently of Those Girls Are Wild. In the video they were talking about how the portrayal of black women on television has changed, for the worst over the years. They specially referenced the golden era, the 90’s. When they discussed the positive role models we had on television at the time the first woman that came to both of their minds was “Laura Winslow” (Kellie Wiliams-Jackson). They talked about how Laura was the type of girl they could see themselves being friends with. She was normal. A regular high school girl we watched evolve into a sophisticated woman when she cut her long hair into that sleek, short Nia Long look. Honestly, the conversation left me with a bittersweet feeling. Sweet because those were good times in television and bitter because things just aren’t like that anymore. Well, in an effort to remember the good ole days, here are the black women, and in some cases teenagers or young girls, we loved to watch on television.

Lisa Turtle, “Saved By The Bell”

First, can we please take a minute and drink in the fabulousness of this dress Ms. Thang is wearing?! Love it. Either way, after Issa and Andrea mentioned Laura Winslow they moved on to Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies). In their conversation, they let me know that the character Lisa Turtle was originally meant to be a rich, Jewish girl; but fortunately, the producers of the show were progressive enough to adjust and adapt when they noticed Lark’s talent. The Lisa Turtle character was not too unlike many of us. Though her circle of friends was predominately white, she never came across as a token. She was fashionable, talented and was constantly having to remind “Screech” that she didn’t want him. In high school, there’s always that one boy who just won’t give up hope.

The Huxtable Girls and Clair, “The Cosby Show”

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who would argue that the Huxtable family wasn’t a positive representation of a black family on television. Though you will find people who claim the family was too perfect. Whatever your stance on the issue, you can at least say that the Huxtables represented a pretty diverse character set, especially when it came to the women. Though Sandra was a bit bland, there are certainly people in our families who take a more backseat role in the family dynamic. Then there was Denise, the free-spirited daughter who was always looking for new ways to express her creativity. Vanessa, who started off just wanting a dog like most of us; but as she got older her interest expanded to boys and she even became a bit more rebellious in her teenage years. (Remember when she snuck out the house to go to that concert?) There was Rudy, the youngest sister who was constantly fighting to be noticed and acknowledged in her larger family. And then Mama Clair. Was she not the epitome of fabulous? With so many plates to juggle, Clair never seemed to drop one. She could balance being a wife, mother and attorney to perfection. And she really impressed us when she’d start singing or speaking in Spanish. The girl was bad!

Angela, “Boy Meets World

This may come as a bit of a wildcard to some of you but for one reason or another Angela (Trina McGee) left quite an impression on me as a kid. I think it was a combination of the fact that she was so gorgeous, so funky in her wardrobe and hair styling and her relationship with Shawn represented a dynamic I’d never seen on television before. And not just because she was black and he was white– though that was interesting. What struck me the most about their relationship, was the fact that it was the first time I’d seen the complexities of a relationship dealt with in a pre-teen sitcom. I remember shedding a few tears when Shawn and Angela broke up, though they both claimed to still have feelings for each other.

Gina Waters, “Martin”

Awwwwll Gina! As I’ve mentioned before, Gina (Tisha Campbell’s) character was so memorable because though she had achieved success in her career she never took herself too seriously. Or when she did take herself too seriously, there was always some embarrassing incident to humble her. What was cool about Gina is that we never saw her get completely consumed with being a girlfriend and later wife. She maintained her friendships and excelled at work all while being a pretty, decent girlfriend.

Moesha, “Moesha”

Ooo I loved Moesha! Every time I think about the show, I want to pull up episodes on YouTube just to see if the awesomeness still holds up today. Of all the black girls I watched on TV, Moesha was the one probably the most like myself. She was dedicated to her a school work, ran around with a loyal crew of girlfriends but always had an eye for the guys. Though I was younger than her character as I was watching her, I always felt I grow up to be something like her. Except I never would have turned down that nice new car her father bought her in favor of buying one on her own.

The Women of Living Single, “Living Single”

My love for “Living Single” is not a joke. I hold this show on the same level as “Golden Girls,” and anyone who knows me, knows I love “Golden Girls” like I love water to drink. The women on this show were diverse, intelligent…I know you’re thinking what about Synclaire? Think about it, Synclaire had a different kind of smarts. She didn’t have the most common sense and she might not have been the sharpest crayon in the box, but she had emotional smarts. If you were sad or angry, she was the roommate you wanted. But I digress. The rest of the women all had their own strengths to contribute to the friendship circle. And though they all ended up finding love, the show never made you feel like they needed men to be whole women.

The Women Of A Different World, “A Different World”

“A Different World” was such an accurate presentation of the types of people you’ll meet in college. Even if you didn’t end up going to an all-black one, living on campus, with people from all over the country and the world is such a mind-expanding experience. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, “A Different World” lowkey prepared me for that. Though all of the characters were black, they came from all different types of backgrounds. The women in particular let younger viewers see young, black women in a variety of lights. From the bougie, snobbish girl who quite a bit to learn, to the hippy free-spirited chick who was trying to spread peace and love, to the focused and determined aspiring doctor. As the show added more characters, like Lena (Jada Pinkett), the dynamic became more a more authentic. Plus, we can never forget that during the show’s run, enrollment in black colleges increased. How many shows can boast about something that awesome?

Tia and Tamera, “Sister, Sister”

What was there not to love about Tia and Tamera?! Having a sister who is very close in age to me, it was good to see two girls who were related share such a close bond. Usually, when you had sisters in a sitcom, they always put more emphasis on the friend relationships than the familial ones. So it was refreshing to see women who had to learn to embrace their differences, and in many instances, work together to navigate through life’s tricky moments.

The Fly Girls, “In Living Color

Though it would be years before I knew their individual names, with the exception of Jennifer Lopez, The Fly Girls, gave an already genius show that extra something! Their dance moves were fast paced, relevant and I remember standing or sitting in front of the television mesmerized by their talent, wishing I could duplicate it.

Who were some of your favorite black women on TV back in the ’90’s?

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