Race and the City
And Just Like That, a tale of woke gone wrong
As a teenager in Vegas, I’d crawl into AC blasted crevices to watch Sex and the City with dreamy, glazed over eyes. I had a black box, and with it, access to the good channels. I’d watch the infamous 90s quartet and try to imagine a world where you could walk everywhere in six-inch heels, enjoy an endless supply of virile, attractive men, and accumulate countless numbers of Manolo Blahniks by quipping over sex once a week. A world where you could lunch with besties, eat hot dogs and consume endless sugary cocktails while remaining 120 pounds. This was a place where dreams came true, where you could find love, happiness, and you could even make it on the big screen. If I could somehow, without a dime to my name, set spiky heel in concrete jungle, I too could enjoy the bountiful fruits of this mystical land. Right?
My obsession with SATC didn’t end in high school. It carried over to college, where I continued to yearn and ache to one day be a star, to one day be desired. But years of watching episode after episode, first the hot pink DVD collection until it was scratched and worn to death (unlike any pair of Carrie’s shoes), then the remastered streamers, does something to a person. It leaks into the subconscious, and eventually you can’t help but notice, no one living your dream looks like you. It didn’t help that I went to Princeton, where beauty, intelligence, success were all interchangeable with whiteness. In order to achieve something, be someone, to make it, you needed to look a certain way. That was clear. So, I did what any young mixed-race Black woman would do with this information in hand. I tried to turn myself into them. I tried to erase myself.
SATC told me over and over that men want women who are white, men want women who need saving because they spend too much money on shoes, men want some version of Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, or Samantha, because they don’t bring up the complications of race or identity. They want something clean, white, shiny, dressed up, blown-out, and bedecked with the latest trendy baubles. I got the message, and I took matters into my more than capable hands. It turns out I had some natural acting talent after all. I meticulously began to craft my character. I started straightening my hair, relaxing it, deliberately destroying it. I stopped talking about race. What was race anyway, other than a tool to sew division and discomfort? If my hair was curly, if I was Black, if I had curves, I was different, other, invisible. Best not to even bring it up. Best to let people assume whatever they wanted about my race, fully co-opt it. Who was I to tell them they were wrong?
It’s not to say I didn’t have male suitors, but the guys who liked me, they didn’t look like the guys in the show either. If I could just get white men to want me, I would acquire a key ingredient in the recipe for success. I would be one step closer to achieving the dreams portrayed in SATC and just about every other TV show and movie at the time. Who knows, I might even be able to star in a show of my own someday. At every turn I was discouraged however — when my male friends on campus gushed to me about girls who looked nothing like me, when I kept seeing shows with the same kinds of characters. Sex and the City drizzled over my consciousness like fertilizer, sewing seed after seed of doubt.
Nevertheless, I made my way to New York. I wasn’t confident enough to pursue my real dreams — those seemed impossible, but maybe I could still live in a West Village brownstone one day. I’d have to get it on my own, as the women in the show feigned to do. Instead of marrying a banker who treated me like trash, I had to become one. Somehow, despite a long-term career on Wall Street, my West Village apartment remains curiously smaller than Carrie Bradshaw’s. Nonetheless, I came pretty close to becoming Carrie Blackshaw, had a white boyfriend and all. I even started dabbling in some writing when I wasn’t battling through negotiations on the trading floor. The characters in my stories were always white. I couldn’t even imagine a story with a character like me.
Then, somewhere around the 13-year mark, after being cheated on and dumped for a real white girl (naturally), and spending as much money on therapy as Carrie spent on shoes, I realized my dreams were polluted, polluted by the homogenous imagery surrounding me — imagery squandering my imagination and influencing my grasp of what was and wasn’t possible. I didn’t believe I was worthy of achieving my dreams, due to the minor detail that I was Black. I came to loathe the homogenous, monochromatic nature of the neighborhood I once dreamed of living in, dreams born out of a perspective that was never my own. I couldn’t help but wonder, where did all the Black people go? Where did I go?
Signs of hope started to emerge however. I watched shows like Insecure, Euphoria, and I May Destroy You, fresh faces, perspectives and voices I’d never before heard. This was encouraging and empowering territory for an outsider. I started to pursue my dreams in earnest. I stopped acting so much in real life and started pursuing it as an art form. I started writing my own stories, my own TV show. I created a world where a mixed-race Black woman could be the star. The increasing diversity in film and television nursed my belief, enabled it to grow into the courage needed to share my work. Against all the odds, I found my way back to Black. And then just like that, I got a throwback, a haunting reminder of the way it used to be and the way it still is. Sex and the City came back to me, like an ex-boyfriend, a Big if you will, who senses you’ve moved on, and reemerges to claw you back to the past.
Out of pure ignorance of an impending reboot, I decided to return to the illusive promise land of female sexual enlightenment a few months ago. I was struck by how incredibly racist it all was and how incredibly high my tolerance must have been for the insidious white superiority once endemic to television. That being said, I could have forgiven the show, because it had done something daring and new for women. Women were no longer complete whores if they explored and embraced their sexuality. That was something.
SATC, I wish I could have remembered you that way. You should have let bygones be bygones. You should have let your ignorance rest peacefully in the past where it could have and most likely would have been forgiven. Instead, you tried to turn yourself into a vehicle for stories about race and sexual orientation, and you did it through the same old characters we have watched for ages. You dressed up your racism, put heels on it, topped it off with a Vivienne Westwood veil and presented it to us, the viewer, as something woke, reformed and inclusive. On the bright side, I’ve found the Black people. They’ve been crammed into And Just Like That to serve as tokens deposited into our Apple TVs — penance for the show’s racist past.
The offenses in And Just Like That are far too numerous to catalogue, but it’s worth addressing a few cases of woke gone wrong. Apparently, it’s acceptable in this show to refer to a high society Black woman as Black Charlotte, as if it isn’t already clear enough that the Black characters serve as pawns in the white protagonists’ lives. It’s acceptable for the only young Black pianist in a room full of white parents to underperform versus his white and Asian peers. It’s ok for the white characters to save the Black characters if they later joke about it and name their savior complexes. It’s ok to be exclusionary if you make up for it by forcing Black people to be your friends and attend your dinner parties for the sake of appearances.
The offensiveness ventures into absurdity. It brings all kinds of questions to mind. Is this show shedding light on stereotypes or justifying them? Do we really need these women to explain the current cultural moment? Samantha was the only one who ever had a shot. Why is an ex-sex columnist suddenly uncomfortable talking about sex? How is it possible she has never masturbated? In what world would a Black woman who has endured a pernicious racist attack decide to open up to and befriend her microaggressor? What responsibility does this show have in a city where you can opt out of entire racial groups with the click of a button on a dating app? After all, it opted out of any form of diversity beyond gender and the occasional gay for more than a decade.
I’m sure there were good intentions behind AJLT. There are probably even some women who can relate to it, but that’s nothing new — an ability to relate without ever really having to understand a perspective that is truly different. This show offers a superficial form of relatability, relatability that draws a definitive line between us and them. This reboot has only served to illuminate the racism embedded in this franchise, and the fact that feminism is so often reserved for white women.
I have tried, with great difficultly, to get my stories published, to sell my TV show, to share an experience that is other. Look how easy it was to create something this offensive, how easy it has always been. And Just Like That, you are tired, you are dated, and no amount of filler or Botox can save you. You are affirming and honoring privilege. You are not the vehicle for change. You are only relevant as a way to remind us of the damage you have done, of all the subversive ways you painted white as superior. Most importantly, you are muddying the narrative. I’m relieved to be done with you. For real stories, for real experiences, holler at the Carrie Blackshaws of the world.