The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

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9781476749051: The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl

The “brilliantly wry” (Lena Dunham) and “lovably awkward” (Mindy Kaling) New York Times bestseller from the creator of HBO’s Insecure.

In the bestselling tradition of Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake and Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, a collection of humorous essays on what it’s like to be unabashedly awkward in a world that regards introverts as hapless misfits, and black as cool.

My name is “J” and I’m awkward—and black. Someone once told me those were the two worst things anyone could be. That someone was right. Where do I start?

Being an introvert in a world that glorifies cool isn’t easy. But when Issa Rae, the creator of the Shorty Award–winning hit series “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” is that introvert—whether she’s navigating love, work, friendships, or “rapping”—it sure is entertaining. Now, in this debut collection of essays written in her witty and self-deprecating voice, Rae covers everything from cybersexing in the early days of the Internet to deflecting unsolicited comments on weight gain, from navigating the perils of eating out alone and public displays of affection to learning to accept yourself—natural hair and all.

A reflection on her own unique experiences as a cyber pioneer yet universally appealing, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl is a book no one—awkward or cool, black, white, or other—will want to miss.

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About the Author:

With her own unique flare and infectious sense of humor, Issa Rae’s content has garnered more than twenty-five million views and more than 200,000 subscribers on YouTube. In addition to making the Forbes “30 Under 30” list twice and winning the 2012 Shorty Award for Best Web Show for her hit series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Issa Rae has worked on web content for Pharrell Williams, Tracey Edmonds, and numerous others. She developed a TV series with Shonda Rhimes for ABC and is currently developing a half-hour comedy, Insecure, for HBO. Issa has received national attention with major media outlets including The New York Times, CNN, Elle, Seventeen, Rolling Stone, VIBE, Fast Company, MSNBC, Essence, and more.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl
A/S/L

At only eleven years of age, I was a cyber ho. Looking back, I’m embarrassed. For me. For my parents. But oddly enough, my cyber social debauchery is indirectly correlated with my current status as a so-called internet pioneer. It all started when I began catfishing—creating characters and transmitting them over the internet—though back then people just called it “lying.” Had my father not signed my entire family up with America Online ­accounts for the computer in our modest Potomac, Maryland, home I don’t know that I’d have had the tools to exploit the early ages of the internet.

Two years earlier, my oldest brother, Amadou, had gone away to college at Morehouse, freeing up the coveted computer, which was housed in the basement, for my use. Before he decamped for college, I would spend hours at a time watching him type the commands into MS-DOS that would transport us to the magical kingdom of Sierra’s King’s Quest VI on our IBM. I never had a strong desire to play the game myself—I always assumed I wasn’t smart enough to play it on my own—until Amadou graduated from the house and I no longer had anyone to excitedly observe. I looked up to my oldest brother as the epitome of intelligence. He knew everything, though he was too humble to be ostentatious with his knowledge as I would have been had I been as smart. So I simply observed. At eighteen, he was an official adult, and he had a duty to selflessly spread his intelligence to the world, other people’s younger sisters included. His absence left a void in my heart and in the basement, particularly where the use of the computer was concerned.

I wasn’t next in line for the computer, but my second-oldest brother, Malick, was too preoccupied with football, girls, and high school to care. He’d occasionally make use of it for term papers and Tetris, but otherwise, it was mine for the taking. Using the computer wasn’t foreign to me, by any means. I had an old Apple computer in my very own room (a double source of jealousy for my younger brother), where I played Number Munchers and self-published my stories on perforated paper from an excruciatingly noisy printer.

“Jo-Issa, are you wasting paper again?!” my mother would yell from her makeshift home office, tipped off by the mechanical snitch. When alone, and mom-approved, I actually loved to hear the robotic crunching and whirring that the printer made while laying to ink my very own written words. But the computer in my room paled in comparison to the one downstairs, in the basement. For one thing, the large floppy disks—I think they were actually called hard disks, what the f%4# 90s?—were becoming extinct, and rightfully so, since the data on those things could be lost with the smudge of a finger. And since my computer took only the “hard” disks, my game choices were limited to nerdy learning games and text-based adventure games with no visuals. BLECH. BORING. BOO.

The other reason my computer wasn’t a huge triumph for my preteen self-discovery was because it lacked a modem, which meant no dial-up internet for me. But AOL changed my life. Specifically, it changed my social life. To be more precise: AOL gave me a social life. It ignited my social development and expanded my concept of sexuality. Because of AOL, I had imaginary friends that weren’t imaginary. I had elaborate conversations devoid of awkward silences. And, perhaps most valuable of all, I could actually talk to boys. At my command!

Before my parents caught wind of frightening news reports of child predators, I spent my days and after-school evenings in chat rooms, learning to speed read, talking to kids my age who were also ahead of the curve. Or pedophiles, who were remarkably creative and persistent in their forbidden pursuit. Pedos actually had it made in the mid-nineties, before the media exposed them. Talk about the glory days.

My friends at school, other fifth graders, didn’t seem to relate when I mentioned “chat rooms” and “profiles” or when I sang along to the dial-up internet song I made up in my head. It seemed that, for a brief moment, only I was privy to this alternate American universe that lived online.

By the time my family moved to Los Angeles to join my dad, a pediatrician, who had seized an opportunity to open his own family clinic there, my relationship with the computer had grown immensely, much to the dismay and irritation of my mother.

“You’re always on the computer! Go do your homework.”

“I already finished.”

“Well then, go outside and play!”

She just didn’t get it. Only recently, in my late twenties, did she come to realize that my excessive computer use is what led me to becoming the self-employed, almost-focused career woman I am today.

By the summer of 1996, more of my friends from Maryland had adopted AOL. It helped us bridge the three thousand miles between us. By then, I was already over the handwritten letters of yesteryear. That was a form of communication of the third world, reserved for pen pals from Ghana and Spain. Besides, the “You’ve Got Mail” greeting was way more exciting than the dead silence of receiving a letter. Exclaiming, “I’ve got mail!” in the foyer to yourself isn’t the same—trust me.

It was through electronic mail that I’d tell my friends back home about my Hollywood adventures. Never mind the fact that I lived in Windsor Hills, thirty minutes away from Hollywood, and that I was struggling to make friends. Or that my sense of style was horrendous, and my middle school had done away with lockers so the authorities could better monitor drug use. ALL I EVER WANTED WAS A LOCKER! I felt robbed of the middle school experience I saw on Boy Meets World and Doug, but my friends didn’t have to know that. I led them to believe I was on the brink of stardom, just by breathing in the recycled smog of other celebrities around me. Plus, I lived down the street from Ray Charles’s old house. I was famous by association.

Our move back to Los Angeles also fulfilled a dream I’d held on to for five whole years: we were finally reunited with my father. He’d visit us in Maryland once every two to three months for an extended period of time, but for the most part, I spent my elementary school years without him and, in his absence, had constructed a superheroic, Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque Father of the Year image of him in my mind. My dad was the man, and whenever I’d tell my teachers my father was a doctor who was too busy to come to Back to School night, their surprised and delighted “Oh!” always gave me a sense of pride. I didn’t speculate then that they were making an assumption about my family’s income and placing my blackness into a Huxtable category. To me, their reaction implied that a doctor was an important profession, which meant my dad was important. And I wanted to be just like my dad.

I so longed to live with him and see my family complete, I neglected to figure out that the reunion meant double supervision. The only computer in the house was in my dad’s home office, and now internet activity was being monitored without my knowing it. Going through puberty during the dawn of the internet could have left me unscathed if my dad weren’t so annoyingly tech savvy. If only he, a native African, were like the tribal stereotypes I read about in my middle school history books, I would have gotten away with so much more. Instead, I found myself sneaking to look up “sex” in the encyclopedia and then cross-referencing my findings with the Yahoo.com search results. Also, unbeknownst to me, my dad had added a kid-safe image blocker, so I was always limited to boring text-only definitions.

I was wrought with hormones and obsessed with finding a boyfriend. All I knew was that boys cared about sex and I didn’t know enough about it. I was too embarrassed to ask my peers. They were already über-judgmental about my naïveté to all things black after I accidentally exposed myself when Tupac died. “Two-pack died? What did he sing?”

Normally, I would have been spared from middle school humiliation by asking my two older brothers directly. They would have happily explained who Tupac was and I would have happily plagiarized their responses and relayed their feelings about him as my own. But my second-oldest brother had by then also graduated from the house to go to college and I was left as the oldest in the house. If I had trouble attracting the boys at my school before, my ignorance about Tupac destroyed any remote chance I might have had.

All I knew was that I had all these developing feelings for boys and that I wanted desperately for them to notice me. They did, but for reasons that didn’t help my quest: my nap-tural hair; my underdeveloped, seemingly concave breasts; my white-girl accent, and my tomboyish appearance. The prototype of lust for the boys my age was a light-skinned girl with long hair, and I just didn’t fit that profile. But I didn’t want to believe that. So I would imagine instead that I held the interest of all the boys and often convinced myself of that. All the while, I remained the continued object of disdain from my peers. I often found myself emboldened whenever a guy would show me any attention at all, i.e. “Ay, you did the homework? Let me copy,” or “You got ten cents for the vending machine?” I blame any misread social cues on Saved by the Bell. Zack and Kelly’s romance was something I wanted so badly to emulate.

My first-ever junior high school dance was approaching and, with the help of a Saturday morning marathon of Saved, I built up the courage that Monday morning to talk to Remington, an eighth-grade-looking sixth-grader who I’m pretty sure had been held back (though nobody talked about it). He had thick facial hair and muscular, athletic arms. He loved women, and frequently expressed his sexual desires in a way that hinted at experience. In my eyes, he was the answer. And I had so many questions. One of them, I worked up the courage to ask in front of his friends. I approached him right after our Environmental Studies class was dismissed, casually, waiting for him to pick up his only school supply, a single folder.

“Hey, Remington,” I started, shyly. “Are you going to the dance?”

He didn’t miss a beat: “Not with you!”

His friends didn’t even try to hide their laughter. Not a single one. I smiled and tried to play it off.

“Oh. No—I didn’t mean that. You thought I was asking for me?”

But it was too late; they had already pushed past to leave me in the classroom alone, my Environmental Studies teacher avoiding eye contact with me.

Ever optimistic, I went to the dance by myself, with the hope that maybe a boy there would ask me to dance. Maybe it would be Quentin, the skinny, half-albino/half-effeminate boy to whom I’d been sending “secret admirer” letters. It was the least he could do, after excitedly exposing to the class that I had been writing him love notes for weeks. Despite my humiliation, I couldn’t really blame him. It happened naturally enough. The homeroom teacher brought up “secret admirers” in her announcement about Valentine’s Day grams.

“Does anyone know what a ‘secret admirer’ is?” she asked.

“I do! I do, Ms. Nash!”

My heart plummeted to my stomach as I noticed him anxiously looking in my direction.

“What do you know about secret admirers, Quentin?” asked Ms. Nash.

“That girl right there was writing me ‘secret admirer’ notes.” He smiled at me, as if his public acknowledgment didn’t violate the very purpose of the “secret” in “secret admirer.”

Surely, he would save me from walking around the junior high dance all alone, in the jean jumper and white turtleneck I had packed in my backpack just for this after-school occasion. (I never wore dresses.) Somebody had to take notice and ask me to dance, based on that alone. Unfortunately, no one ever asked.

I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that boys didn’t find me attractive. That was heartbreaking. My self-esteem was in danger and had it not been for the saving grace of the Instant Message feature on AOL, I probably would have suffered death by trying too hard.

I don’t remember the first time I typed to a stranger. It wasn’t monumental for me. But it did speak to a desire to escape myself. For one thing, I could be anyone I wanted to be online. With each swift keystroke, a new, fearless identity emerged. I could be light-skinned with long hair, or blue-eyed with blond hair. Or experienced, witty, and seductive—things nobody saw me as in real life. I could be anyone’s type and was able to do so because during the early stages of AOL, pictures were pretty rare, though around the time that IMs came along, home scanners were growing more popular. Thankfully, however, pictures took forever to upload and weren’t in high demand, so people were content with self-descriptions. As people tended to be quite generous in their descriptions of themselves, I figured I could be, too. What did it matter?

“A/S/L,” the pop-up conversation would start.

Age/Sex/Location? (This blatant acronym had to have been tooled by pedophiles. The genius!) There was something flattering about being selected out of a pool of thirty to sixty people in a chat room for a private talk. I’d imagine it was like being chosen at a party to dance, though I wouldn’t know anything about that. But for my chameleon-esque purposes, responding to this conversation opener was the hardest part. I couldn’t become a type if I didn’t know what I was working with. If I were in the mood to talk to someone my age, I’d be honest.

“11/F/Cali, u?”

“13/f/az. hi.”

Trick, I don’t want no friends right now! On to the next. Sometimes I’d be the pursuer. I’d visit the R&B, Rap, or Games chat rooms and scout screen names that would give me hints at my preferred types: soccrplaya83, muscleman39, blkboy17. All I had were snippets of open chats to go by. What were they contributing to the larger public conversation? I couldn’t choose someone who was too active in the chat room; his chances of committing to a one-on-one were slim. Besides, someone who revels in being the center of attention is not my type. I don’t like to compete. Instead, I went for those who would contribute a few meaningful phrases here and there: “games are cool” or “yah i love r. kelly.” Subtle hints like those were enough to provoke me to reach out.

I’d begin:

SuGaLuv112: “hi. a/s/l?”

muscleman39: “18/m/de. u??”

SuGaLuv112: “17/f/cali.”

muscleman39: “cool, what’s up?”

SuGaLuv112: “nothin. chillin. bored.”

muscleman39: “are you horny?”

What? Like rhinos? My knowledge of internet slang was coming up empty. But I tried.

SuGaLuv112: “what do u you mean?”

Then came the door-slam sound effect from my computer speakers.

muscleman39 has signed off.

After a couple of weeks, and some more of these incidents, I decided to finally look up the definition of “horny.” What was being asked of me? My Encarta CD-ROM produced no answers, but Yahoo was full of them.

hor-ny (hôr ne): desiring of sexual activity.

Oh my freaking God. Of course. YES! That’s exactly what I was. The answer to what I was looking for in so many ways was being dangled before me, and all I had to do was respond with a simple “yes.” I couldn’t wait for the next opportunity to showcase my new personality trait. I sought it, thirstily. This time ready for the exchange and wealth of knowledge that would follow. I was so appropriately excited and ready.

My firs...

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