When we think about the love that can be experienced in high school versus that of college, it’s almost like comparing apples to oranges (or if we’re thinking about it from a holiday theme, then pumpkins to sweet potatoes.) Sure, high school and college are both times of self-discovery, but there’s usually an assumed level of maturity that comes with college relationships.
Moesha captured the life of a middle-class black girl growing up in Los Angeles facing the same dramas many other high school girls of her age and background often deal with. It showcased her relationships with her family, and through her journal entries, the relationship that she was continuously building with herself.
The Parkers gave us Kim: the bubbly and “not so bright” blonde black girl who attended Santa Monica College with her mother, Nikki, who had given birth to Kim at a young age. It may seem like their stories are at complete opposite ends of the Black experience spectrum, but there are parallels and unique moments that bookmark how our favorite sitcoms dealt with the pleasure and wellbeing of Black women.
Moesha’s first season opens up with her wanting to date, secretly dating and experiencing her first love. Her father, Mr. Mitchell doesn’t want her to date, but that doesn’t stop her from doing it, keeping it from her friends and unfortunately, getting her heart broken for the first time. She was also navigating her relationship with Dee, her new stepmother and the principal of Crenshaw High (where Moesha went to school). Juggling was sort of what Moesha did best between home life, school life and her social life. She prioritized the people she loved even when the going got tough. Unfortunately, we observe the underappreciation of her relationship with Kim unfold time and time again.
These two young women who are supposed to be best friends are often held together by memories and comfort when Kim’s weight and intelligence are constantly questioned. It wasn’t to the benefit of Moesha nor Kim for Moesha to entertain comments from others, and even issue her own. It was definitely representative of the time and how we explored conversations around the beauty of curvy, Black women —however, it points to a bigger issue that still impacts our identities today: body image.
Within the first season we watch Moesha find new ways to place herself on a pedestal— except for when she describes the parts of her body that make her uncomfortable. But that’s teenagehood, right? Narcissism laced with a little bit of self-loathing because we’re still figuring out how to process and balance our emotions. We can look back now and judge, but a good number of us were right there with her in all of that as high schoolers.
That’s where parenting plays a significant role. Dee makes it her business to step up as a mother-figure for Moesha and Miles with the love and support of Mr. Mitchell. Their love for one another fuels their love and support of their children, even when they’re creeped out by it. There’s even a moment where Dee and Mr. Mitchell consider having children and completely gross out Moesha and Miles with the discussion of lovemaking/sex. Ironically, this episode is paralleled with conversations regarding unprotected sex: essential to having children, yet detrimental to those not wanting children yet.
In The Den, where Andell ran her own business, she often hosted artists. And in one episode in particular, a rap group performs a song about unprotected sex and what comes with that. We know that, in high school, sexuality is explored in so many different ways. Moesha even viewed cheerleading as something that went against the “New Millenium Woman”. As if loving your body and using it for expression needed to be controlled and/or ridiculed.
The pride the girls held towards their bodies was revisited throughout the first season and the entire series as a whole. Even in helping Kim make the cheerleading team, Moesha was upset when she herself didn’t also get chosen for the team — with one of the reasons being her apparent confusion that Kim could make it with the body type that she had. Thankfully, Hakeem lets Moesha know that she was wrong to stoop to that level and make the comments she did towards her supposed best friend.
Throughout the rest of the show, the writing in Moesha dances around consent, pregnancy, sex between young adults, and one-sided relationships. This style of pursuing someone in spite of their disinterest and unrequited feelings carries on into The Parkers; not only between The Professor and Nikki Parker, but between Kim and T. The Parkers picks up where Moesha left off, this time focusing on Kim and the relationship she has with her mother as they both attend junior college together: a really unique dynamic between mother and daughter. And it’s this relationship that frames the rest of their experiences throughout the seasons.
We get to see how this relationship operates while the two are on their college campus. Their first day starts off with exploring social activities and stumbling upn the sister sorority to Professor Oglevee and T’s fraternity. While Kim was expecting to join on her own, Nikki also saw it as an opportunity to try something that she herself never had the chance to do. And both Nikki and Kim made it through the hazing phase of becoming AAA, despite jokes about Nikki’s weight and Kim’s intellect.
With their acceptance into the sorority, Kim kept her eyes on her prize, which was partying; while Nikki always had her eyes, intuition — and everything else— pointed towards Professor Oglevee. And as her affections grew stronger for Oglevee, she soon let go of her sorority dreams to have more freedom and time to keep up with The Professor’s whereabouts.
This also gives both Nikki and Kim the chance to have certain experiences on their own, and allow themselves to build a mother/daughter identity separately. Living together and going to school together can make it difficult for two people to truly cherish their relationship without putting in a conscious effort. For Kim, college was all about partying and connecting with people, whereas for Nikki it was primarily academic. Nikki even found time to be a mother-figure through a Big Sister program. Of course, it was mostly to work next to and impress The Professor, but she took the responsibility wholeheartedly.
Black women of 90’s and early 2000’s sitcoms always had so much to do and so much to give. There was no option to just be successful without also having the added weight and responsibility to be nurturing on top of it. It’s a reflection of how we operate in real life, true — but it’s also paved the way for women to now start prioritizing themselves in an authentic way.
For example, on top of being a mother, a student, and The Professor’s future wife, Nikki also was a force in the community. She sold Lady Egyptian products and even assembled a support group for curvy women after one of Kim’s soon-to-be ex-boyfriends made fun of curvy women in his comedy skit. She was a force to be reckoned with, and a great role model for her daughter Kim.
Thankfully, The Parkers approached the topic of body image a lot more gracefully than that of Moesha. And while we accept our favorite shows for what they were, they also present us with the opportunity to ask the harder questions and have the deeper conversations. Bold fashion, hair and ways of moving through the world are what Nikki and Kim gave us, and they’re everything that many of us didn’t even know we needed. Sure, Nikki’s pursuit of the professor got a bit old, but that was only until he realized that he had feelings for her too. A little late in the game, yes, but not every happy ending is timely or chronological.
Sister Sister, One on One, The Game, Half & Half, Moesha and The Parkers were all on a vast spectrum of Black experiences, which each reflected the ways it can differentiate based on location, home, income, education, etc. It was definitely an amazing time for television that’s still providing us with advice, style, and beauty tips.
So, while you’re enjoying this new year, take some time to stroll down memory lane with one of the series above. Remember the moments and characters that were your favorites; and take note of which new favorites you resonate with the most right now. It’s definitely been a learning experience — and an entertaining one at that.