Thank you Whitley Gilbert. Than you Khadijah James. Thank you Vanessa Huxtable...These characters taught me life-changing lessons about all things girl power, feminism and love.
With fall shows gearing up to make their 2016 debut and return, I can’t help but think about all the strong representations of Black women on my television screen who taught me important lessons about love. They did so without fear, leaving imprints and providing lessons that have long guided me in relationships and beyond.
From A Different World to Living Single and Grey’s Anatomy to Scandal, these are the Black TV heroines who taught me something real about love.
Whitley Gilbert on A Different World
Favorite quote: “Well, women cry because they live in a world where men run them ragged.”
Growing up, Whitley Gilbert taught me to be selfish until it’s really time to be selfless and to be willing to submit to your heart’s true desire. It’s a different world where Whitley Gilbert comes from. The Hillman freshman stepped on campus ready to rule the world in her southern belle state of mind and with her high society thinking. She was about as quintessential of a bougie Black girl as they came, and with that, she never sacrificed her integrity. From Byron to Julian and ultimately Dwayne Wayne, Ms. Gilbert taught me that it’s okay to be stuck in your own selfish behaviors until you’re ready to outgrow them. Whitley unashamedly knew her faults were rooted in the most stereotypical and superficial ways. She behaved exactly the way she thought she should to find the man of her dreams, until it didn’t, and then she had to look within and move forward. (Something so many of us go through.)
Khadijah James on Living Single
Favorite quote: “Synclaire, it's basic male psychology. When a man sees an ex-girlfriend, he can't believe she's still breathing--and forming complete sentences. How does she do it? He must know.”
Ah, men...how wonderful and crazy they make us feel. The worst of their behavior, however, sometimes comes after it’s all over. Khadijah James and her flavor cool vibes were everything in a 90s kind of world. She was a boss, a big girl and she deserved love too. Her character taught me that even in moving on we sometimes stumble a time or two. She and her childhood love Scooter had plenty of highs and lows and they fell out many times before eventually falling into each other’s arms forever. Every time that she had a hiccup of the heart she handled it with ease.
Vanessa Huxtable on The Cosby Show
Favorite quote: “Mom, I know what is right for me and I am in love with Dabnis and this has been the happiest year of my life!”
Oh, to be young and in love and willing to give up your whole life for the one you presume is the actually "the one." Vanessa was always my favorite Huxtable daughter. She looked like me, talked the way I would grow to talk, she dealt with her first real true llove the way I always wanted to avoid. She fell for a guy and was ready to temporarily throw caution to the wind for matters of the heart. She, like me, was a twentysomething leaning into love for the first time with all her might. She had to learn that persuing true love--let alone mastering it--isn’t easy, but it's damn worth it.
Olivia Pope on Scandal
Favorite quote: “And tried and failed again to hide, to stop loving him, but I couldn’t. I was weak. I hated myself…I had to follow my own advice and stand in my truth, to own who I am. To accept my faults and I won’t ask for forgiveness, just don’t ask me to undo the past. Just don’t ask me to fall out of love with Fitzgerald Grant. Because If I could, I would.”
Olivia Pope's character has her flaws, this we know, but one thing she gets right is knowing that loving someone—however wrong it may be—isn’t something you can just stop doing because other people want you to. We’ve all been there. Sometimes, it’s hard to say goodbye to someone you’ve given your time and heart to. Some things are easier said than done and falling out of love is one of those things. Ms. Pope isn’t afraid to admit her flaws, and knowing that her heart is one of them, she’s taught me quite a lot about the slow but satisfying process of moving on.
Miranda Bailey on Grey's Anatomy
Favorite quote: “Guys like you don’t see girls like me. We don’t exist to you.”
Miranda Bailey is a true hero on Shonda Rhimes’ first of three ABC hit tv series Grey’s Anatomy, and sadly she’s often overlooked. Dr. Bailey is a one time divorcee, mother to a son and kick ass surgeon who isn’t here for any shenanigans. But in the midst of Ms. Miranda completely claiming each and every operating room as her own, she tries at love and fails multiple times. In her tear fueled delivery of one of my favorite lines of all time, she addresses the issue of body image on it’s impact of love. She stands as a true representation of what it feels like to be sometimes go unnoticed yet still yearning, trying and earning the love and respect she so rightfully deserves.
WANT MORE FROM ESSENCE? Subscribe to our daily newsletter for the latest in hair, beauty, style and celebrity news.
Maxine Shaw on Living Single
Favorite quote: “There is nothing wrong with wanting a man. God put them here for us and it’s a beautiful thing but they can’t complete us, we must do that ourselves. Once we give ourselves the respect we deserve, we empower ourselves to be free. Free to choose a man who deserves us or to march on by ourselves.”
Maxine was the blueprint for a badass. She was full of sass, humor and her own kind of elegnace. Her wisdom manifested in so many ways and so often she dropped some of the greatest gems about men, and it was everything. Ms. Shaw was unapologetic about her crazy, her sexy and her cool. She handled her professional business like a boss and approached her personal relationships with the same vigor. Even though she and Kyle took forever to make their move to love, it was necesssary for Max to explore all that her heart could stand, all that her spirit needed and all her mind ever wanted. I forever appreciate her standing by her convinctions on sex, on relationships, on friendships with each part of her gritt and grace.
Who are some of your favorite Black TV heroines? What did they teach you?