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Posted under: Opinion

Feminism, Ebonics And Braids: How Moesha Positively Impacted Me As A Black Man

Moesha was a beacon of hope for me ...

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In 2013 I came out — as a feminist.

This was the year that I finished my freshman year of my undergraduate studies at Michigan State University and as a result of taking a writing course centered on Women in America and the release of  Beyonce’s critically-acclaimed self-titled album, I wondered how I had gone 19 years without proudly wearing my feminist cap. I mean, any album produced by Beyonce should be enough to sway anyone in the direction of gender equality, but for me I think it ran deeper than that.

You see, I’ve always embraced gender equality and that, in large part, is thanks to the content I’ve consumed over the years, most notably by way of television. I could say that the mainstream white characters on television that I’ve fallen in love with over the years have had some impact on me in how I acknowledge and respect women, whether that is Blair Waldorf, Fallon Carrington or even Kim Possible. But with these fictional personae, who are textbook examples of white privilege, they haven’t had even an ounce of the amount of impact on my identity like Moesha Mitchell has.

Growing up as a '90s kid, I had a front row seat to view pop culture at its peak. Destiny’s Child was dominating the airwaves, Disney was in its renaissance period and hit TV shows like Sister, Sister and Living Single were major primetime events. I can vividly recall curling up with my mom to watch my big sister (in my head, of course), Moesha, every week. I was always in a frenzy of excitement to see what fly styles Mo' would be rocking that week and what situation she would have to get her or her friends out of with her erudite prowess. While Moesha, with her assortment of colorful fashions and signature braids, was aesthetically pleasing, her appearance meant far more to me than one could imagine.

You see, Moesha possessed a sort of familiarity to me by embodying qualities of the girls in my life — especially my older cousin Deja, who favors her quite a bit. Every week I tuned in to see Moesha’s beautiful braids, her bold and vibrant defining style of the '90s era, and her sass that could only be found in "around the way girls," whether you lived in Detroit or Crenshaw. Moesha, coupled with a superior intellect that was as sharp as a machete and could only be rivaled by her tongue, was the girls in my neighborhood. She was a young Black girl who didn’t just fit into one box, but made her own. She was a young Black girl who was educated and didn’t let herself be defined by anyone.

I remember in "Million Boy March," the fifth episode of the first season,  Moesha and her best friend Kim attempted to gain entry in the Council of Concerned Youth, an all-male organization. Through obvious displays of sexism, the leader of this organization was reluctant to give these young women an opportunity to get involved on the basis of their gender. Not backing down from this or any challenge, Moesha made an effort to fight for a seat at the table and eventually won the favor of the group despite their leader’s hesitance.

When I think about the importance of building equitable communities where everyone has a seat at the table, and why I advocate for gender equality, I go back to this example. It is miniscule yes, but as a young boy seeing this on television and consuming the content, it impacted my ability to think critically on hot-button issues similar to this in the best way possible.

When Moesha wasn’t schooling the masses on gender equality, she was teaching another equally important lesson — the value of not curbing your brilliance to accommodate someone else’s insecurities.

What I’ve noticed throughout my life is that people will consciously make an effort to make you fit into the narrow boxes that others will try to create for you. Linguistic imperialism is real and as a Black man from the east side of Detroit, this is something that I have been subjected to more often than not. It could be that annoying ass professor who tries to correct you on the mispronunciation of your name, or that pestilent colleague who is somehow bothered by the way you pronounce certain words.White people have tried to police our language for years and Moesha taught me that you can still be educated in every way possible yet speak how you would like to. Because who gon' check me?

At the beginning of the third season, Moesha’s parents had forced her to attend a predominately white private school, Bridgewood Academy. During the previous season, Moesha had been caught in a bit of a snafu with her high school boyfriend and her parents felt that the only way to get her on the right track was to separate the two. Transitioning to this school was a challenge for Moesha, who had been at her previous school, Crenshaw High, for a number of reasons. Crenshaw High, was a predominately Black school and home to all of her friends. The challenges she faced at Bridgewood stemmed from finding her niche and missing her community of friends, but not once did Moesha change who she was or how she spoke in this new white space. She continued to retain her sense of identity, which manifested in the way she dressed, spoke and carried herself. That spoke volumes to me because it proved to me that I can and should preserve my dialect, which takes the form of ebonics and is very much rooted in my identity, no matter the space that I'm in.

Moesha was a beacon of hope for me because every week I got to see this intelligent Black woman from the inner-city exercise her voice against structural systems built against her in the forms of sexism, racism and so much more, all while navigating life in the prism of Black womanhood.

In short, Moesha has had a personal impact on my life in a way that no other fictional character has. This microbraid wielding goddess taught me about feminism, the importance of staying true to myself and why it’s important to advocate for what I believe in. Evident in how she continues to have an impact on Millennials to this day, Moesha represents an entire culture and changed the landscape of what television means for me and so many others.

With Brandy’s debut album, Brandy, recently turning 25 and Brandy herself having turned 40 this year, we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss the impact that Moesha has left on television and our lives. As I get older and step more into the sphere of who I'm destined to be, I make more of an effort to grasp at the eminence of cultural artifacts like Moesha that had a profound impact on who I am and the identities that I have — whether that's being a proud feminist or embracing my ebonics in a world that doesn't value it. Moesha has helped me figure out who I am and encouraged me to be proud of that person.

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A Detroit native, Kenneth 'Kenny' Williams Jr. is a self-described cultural critic and visual storyteller. While at Michigan State University, Kenneth received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications and went on to obtain his Master of Arts degree in Public Relations. Kenneth's passions include pop culture, writing, and using his skill sets to actively and positively promote the narratives of Black people and Black culture. Interested in seeing more from Kenneth? Follow him on Medium at https://medium.com/@kennethwilliams310