Issa Rae’s award-winning web series Awkward Black Girl has cast a flattering and compassionate spotlight on the world’s heretofore ignored by the media awkward Black girls. However, one thing I noticed while thoroughly enjoying the show is that J and Cece magically become friends after one too many awkward long hallway encounters. They simply recognize each other’s inelegance and become instant partners in all kinds of deliciously awkward crimes. Unfortunately, this is not how most real-life friendships begin. As a very outgoing but often awkward person, I wanted to give some real life tips from my own experience on how to make friends if you’re an awkward Black chick.
Find your fellow awkwards and commiserate
The first week of college, I made the mistake of showing up to an intermediate aerobics class with no prior experience with exercise organized fitness classes. I snuck to the back of the room, hoping to not be too noticed by my self-assured tight-bodied blonde classmates. As the routine increased in speed, intensity, and complexity (as did the male instructor’s shrill commandments to “Work it!!!”), I found myself a bumbling, shuffling mess of cardiovascular confusion. I was completely overwhelmed with the requirements of the “intermediate” class and feeling like a rhythmless, out of breath fool. Then, I looked over to my right and saw a petite, pretty Latina looking just as bewildered as I was. Once the class was over, I went over and introduced myself and we laughed at how hard the class was for us, and how crazy we must have looked falling all over ourselves. Whenever we saw each other around campus the next few weeks, we shared a knowing look. Neither Carla nor I ever went back to that class again, but our first shared awkward experience motivated us to be roommates while on study abroad in Cuba, where we once again ended up being very awkward together in salsa dance classes. We’ve been close friends ever since.
Speak up when things are awkward
In my freshman seminar, we read the book Nickel and Dimed, an account of a journalist who goes “undercover poor” and writes about what it’s like to live off a full-time Walmart salary and then work as a maid. To my astonishment, one day it became a class discussion to share how much our families paid the cleaning ladies. As my classmates said in wide-eyed hushed tones, things like, “I can’t believe Merry Maids get paid so little. We are totally never using them again, and I’m going to tell my parents to pay our maid at least $12 an hour,” I sat in silent disbelief. I had never even conceived of the idea of having a maid, much less felt rich guilt over how little my parents paid her. After class, while standing around with a group of my classmates, I blurted, “Wasn’t that so awkward when people started talking about how much they pay their maids?!” A visible look of relief passed over my classmate Shadiah’s face. “Yes it was!” she exclaimed, a bit too loudly. “I thought you silently agreed with everyone else! But you were feeling awkward too!” We then went on to talk about all the different things about college life that made us feel out of place–and poor: the nonchalant references to ski vacations that baffled us, accidentally buying knock-off purses that we just thought were cute, and not knowing what tortellini was when going through the lunch line. From that day on, the two quirky “poor” girls of Pomona College were inseparable. Awkward Shadiah went on to be awkward Carla’s roommate our senior year of college.