Book Reviews

Colour is Simply Complicated: Exploring Issa Rae’s “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl”.

The discourse around race has become more prominent as many people are seeing racism more institutionalised and vocalised. The marginalised are beginning to speak louder to push governments to be more sensitive to the needs of minorities and ensure that legislations work for all not just for selected ‘privileged’ few. However, Issa Rae’s humorous yet beautiful personal experiences documented in her book ‘The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl’ is not geared towards becoming a big intellectual discourse yet contributes loudly to the ongoing social dialogue on race.

Issa Rae documents her own personal experiences, transitions and challenges as a black girl growing up in America. Not only is she American but she has a Senegalese heritage- Her father is from Senegal. The book begins with Issa Rae’s failed attempt to get people to pronounce her name right. When she tells them it is pronounced ‘Jiop’ she is upset that people want to teach her how her name is to be pronounced. It sounds more like ‘we can pronounce your name better than you’ or ‘the way we want you to pronounce it sounds better because it is easier for us.’ This then begins the need for Issa Rae to assert herself or at first, begin to find out who she is. It is the process of understanding herself and who she really is that forms the bulk of the book.

Issa Rae

Rae is from a good family with her father being a medical doctor and having a great mother and wonderful siblings, she speaks fondly of them all except when she had the disagreement with her father. Nevertheless, the bond is still strong between them. She speaks of her introduction into the music culture and how her mum wanted her to learn the piano much to Rae’s displeasure. Rae had found herself falling in love with other genres of music like rap and R&B which her mother didn’t think much of. She speaks of how music branded her and changed her. At first, she said she had a naïve perception that “black music was for black people” but music played a role in Rae’s creativity growing up. She even recorded some songs with friends.

The author also speaks of her experiences as a young girl and how cultural expectations of what a black woman should look like or be like was quite a challenge for her. She speaks at length of the ‘hair problem’ of black women- the struggle to maintain a black woman’s natural hair because society feels that it should be permed/straightened. She writes “If it weren’t for internet forums and fan pages, communities of dark women wouldn’t be empowered by their natural hair in a media society that tells them their hair should be straightened and their skin should be lighter.” Well, Issa Rae cuts her hair at some point in her life.

This is where Rae brings out one underlying purpose in writing the book and it is the need for people of colour to showcase their own styles, ideologies and beliefs using a myriad of platforms available to them. “The discussion of representation is one that has been repeated over and over again, and the solution has always been that it is up to us to support, promote, and create the images that we want to see.”

Rae talks about the complexities of growing up as a black girl and at some point she tries not to bother her head about societal expectations and to enjoy being her own person. What also showcases the complexities in colour is when Rae does a bit of categorization of the various types of blacks. They include; The Ambitious Black, The Basic Black, The Hustling Black, The Insecure Black, The Know-It-All About Blacks Black, The LGBT Black, The  Militant Black, The Nerdy Black, The Not-Black Blacks etc. She defines all of these people and suggests the approach to use when in contact with them. It only shows that even within colour, various perspectives, ideas and personalities come to play. You can’t just put a particular race into one particular stereotype. Rae says “I love being Black; that’s not a problem. The problem is that I don’t always want to talk about it because honestly, talking about being “black” is extremely tiring.” It would be tiring for a young girl who wants to understand her person and her race without being pulled into the complex discussions that surround it. Hence, colour becomes simply complicated when everyone isn’t properly represented or understood. But Rae clearly speaks of the need to enjoy one’s individuality and that is the universal theme of this book. “For the majority of my life I cared too much about how my blackness was perceived, but now? At this very moment? I couldn’t care less… And it feels great. I have decided to focus only on the positivity of being a black woman… I prefer to think of myself as belonging to an “exclusive” club.”

Overall, this is a good book. It feels a little chatty but you definitely feel like Rae is just having a chat with you and narrating her experiences in a deeply personal way.

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