My inaugural year on Grey’s Anatomy was defined by two points: my character’s boyfriend and the episode when said relationship began. For the audience, the episode is noteworthy because it features a classic spectacles-to-contacts, curly-to-straight transformation. For myself it’s noteworthy because, even after Carol’s Daughter in Sephora, I Am Not My Hair on Billboard’s Hot 100 and decades of mop-headed kids in GAP commercials, the public still goes batshit over bone-straight hair on a black woman.
After the episode aired, the praise I received from strangers, friends and even my own family was staggering. I suddenly had mass-appeal and the undertone was clear: with a single blow-dry, I had arrived.
What was intended as flattery was profoundly insulting and it hurt me deeply to realize my natural form wasn’t considered feminine or desirable.
The response ignited that same young rebellion I had all those years ago. My hair had graduated from the purview of my parents to become of direct concern to the masses and, in both cases, no one considered the effect on the person at the center.
We, the marginalized, all have some version of that story. You know the one: When I grew up, I never saw people like me in magazines/on TV/in books/in movies. This is how I learned that my skin color/eye shape/hair/nose/culture/sexuality/identity/entire self is peripheral to the rest of the United States. Our country projects to the world an image of white heteronormativity, an image that was never true, and becomes more ridiculous as we progress through the 21stcentury.
So when I first watched “Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell,” I couldn’t believe it actually existed. As a real show. On a TV channel. With a set and everything. This contradicted everything I knew about the world: Black men who do comedy criticizing catcalling, anti-Muslim bias and homophobia do not get a national megaphone.
And it wasn’t just Kamau, as if one black man over 6 feet tall plus another 4 inches of ’fro weren’t enough. No, there were more black guys, one with dreds all the way down to here, a couple of desis and a lesbian woman with soft butch style. A Japanese guy! A gay man! And not as caricatures written by other people, but as themselves doing their own jokes! About their own lives! Suddenly, my screen resembled my reality, and it was blowing my mind: These were my people!
Every time I watched “Totally Biased,” I felt like I was watching history, a revolution in television. I laughed my ass off, but I was also in awe. For the first time in my life, it was like someone was writing TV for me.
Except I wasn’t watching it on television, but on my laptop like, I’m told, many of us do these days. Because Internet in my household is a necessity, but between a mortgage and preschool tuition, cable TV is a luxury we can’t afford. We do “new media” by default. So once a week after the kids were in bed, my husband and I settled down with cookies and bourbon to stream “Totally Biased.”