She was the stuff of dreams. Brothers had posters of them on their walls from Word Up! And Right On! Magazine. She was on the cover of magazines like Ebony and Essence. She was a girl’s best friend, the girl guys wanted to date and some brothers wanted to bring home to their mothers as the woman they planned to marry.
Bobby Brown even wrote a song about her called Tender Roni.
Who was she? The Black Girl Next Door.
From the mid 1970s to the mid 1990s she was a staple of Black television shows and movies like The Last Dragon and House Party. Chrarcters like Thelma Evans from Good Times, Denise Huxtable from The Cosby Show, Hilary Banks from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Tia and Tamera from Sister, Sister, Laura Winslow and Myra Monkhouse from Family Matters and Zaria Peterson from the Parent’ Hood.
In movies we saw Black Girls Next Door with characters like Brenda from Cooley High, Laura Charles from The Last Dragon and Sydney and Sharraine from House Party.
The Black Girl Next door was a concept created by Black men to present a positive image of Black women and Black womanhood in media. It was a representation of how they saw the girls in their neighborhoods. A chance to tell the stories of the sistas they knew like their mothers, sisters and girlfriends who never got a chance at being in the spotlight.
What happened to the Black girl next door? Why don’t we see her in media anymore? Simple. Heterosexual Black men no longer control the image of Black women in mainstream American media or Black mainstream media.
Gay Black men like Lee Daniels and Tyler Perry and Black feminists like Oprah Winfrey and Shondra Rhimes control the image of Black women in Black media. And because they control the money, they push a narrative for the Black woman’s image that is designed to make White liberals they seek to please feel comfortable. That image is one that presents the Black woman as a hapless perpetual victim of Black Brutes, a promiscuous Black jezebel, or a fat asexual mammy who provides sage advice to an attractive white female character.
And on those rare occasions when she’s seen as a love interest she’s shown in the arms of a White or a nonblack man.
The concept of the Black girl next door was something created by heterosexual Black men. It was their image of what they saw of the Black girls in their neighborhood. Black Men like Berry Gordy, Quincy Jones, Bill Cosby, Robert Townsend, Reiginald and Warrington Hudlin and sistas like Suzzanne De Passe created to present the ideal of a friendly approachable Black girl to counter the numerous negative stereotypes presented of Black girls in mainstream media. A way to show the world that the Black girl was our neighbor. Our friend. Someone who was attractive, desirable, and was loved by the people in her community. Someone girls wanted to be a best friend to. Someone who men wanted to date and marry. Someone who could stand in her own spotlight. Someone who was the equal in terms of beauty and character to the White Woman, the so-called pinnacle of beauty in American society and the world.
One of the reasons I write Black girls next door in my stories like The Isis series, The E’steem series, All About Nikki, The Thetas, A Recipe for $ucce$$, Spinsterella and Spellbound is to show how I see Black women. I see our sistas as the girl next door, the friend who looks to help out, the girl girls want to be friends with and boys want to date. I want our sistas to see they can have their own spotlight, not resign themselves to be in the background of some White woman’s small world. That there’s more than one role for Black women to play in life.
I want Black girls to understand they can portray many of the same roles that White women play in life. That they don’t have to imagine themselves as the mammy, the jezebel, or the sapphire. They can be can be the goddess, the demon, the Goth, the sorority girl, the rich girl, the movie star, or whatever she wants to be. And that when they step in that spotlight there are men and women all over the world who want to see her and cheer her on when she plays whatever role she chooses.
Are some of my stories similar? I don’t think so. Do some of the characters seem similar? Not really. When you compare my depictions of Black females to people like Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels, Shondra Rhimes and Tyler Perry, they present a completely different narrative than the one they present. One that I believe that is more positive and in line with that of traditional Black culture and consistent with the image of Black women presented throughout Black history by Black men.
I grew up on Black girls next door. And I want to continue sharing their stories in my work. I understand how important the image of the Black woman is to Black girls and when a Black girl sees her self as girl next door, she usually becomes a neighbor who seeks to help out her Black man and her Black community. Because when the Black girl next door grows up she oftentimes becomes a Black man’s wife.