When we talk about the wellbeing of Black women in America, we have to talk about the ways in which we’ve been portrayed. Media has often been the platform that’s provided us with representation, whether through the eyes of others or creators from our own communities.
However, as Black women gained more access to the opportunities of directing, producing, writing and acting, young Black women became the center of our stories…told in authentic ways. One on One & Sister Sister were critical to the childhood and early adulthood of many Black women, women of color and even white women who watched. The series captured the diversity of Black culture and teenage life while also speaking to the realities of young women around the world. When it came to any kind of drama around friends, boys, or school, both of these shows featured issues in ways that were relatable. They reminded us of how confusing it can all be, while showing us how to put ourselves first while still prioritizing family and friends.
One on One takes us through the lives of Flex Washington and his daughter, Breanna. Those of us who’ve seen at least the first episode know that Breanna was only meant to spend her regular, two weeks with Flex. It wasn’t until she was presented with the opportunity to move to Nova Scotia with her mom that she asked to stay in Baltimore. While she and Flex were both excited about the extra father-daughter time, neither of them knew how difficult it would be to establish a set of rules that would take both of their wants into account. Practicing discipline can be difficult whether you’re working with your children or working on yourself. “Fun houses” are great in theory: they allow both parents and children to be free of responsibility and accountability. However, after the two were vulnerable with one another about their fears and feelings, they came to an agreement that allowed them to establish trust and respect.
Moving forward, they were able to talk things out with each of them being heard, even if Breanna didn’t end up getting her way. Like, for example, Breanna was missing her best friend from where she used to live with her mother. And Flex, wanting her to feel comfortable, gave her permission to invite her best friend – not knowing he was a young boy. Once “Tracy” arrived, and wasn’t a young girl, Flex immediately felt uncomfortable. Breanna explained that their relationship was only friendly and that they’d been there for each other as kids. Knowing his own motives as a teenager, and his current motives as a single, middle-aged father, Flex refused to believe the nature of their connection which opened up the bigger question – can men and women be “friends”? Now this is a conversation that we’ll probably be having for the rest of our existence as humans and it’s possible that our answers will change.
For the sake of Breanna and Tracy’s relationship, Flex had to let things play out. Breanna learned that she has feelings for Tracy, and after expressing them, found out that Tracy didn’t feel the same way – even while valuing their friendship. Flex helped to break the news to her because Tracy wasn’t mature enough to do it and it all ended up working out for the best. Throughout the season, we see several situations that ironically mirror in the lives of both Breanna and Flex. And the ways that they handle them are similar, with their own flare and reflecting their own set of experiences. As Flex dates, his girlfriends develop relationships with Breanna leading her to want to learn more from them about how to date – as a woman. She’s still a teenager at this point, but it creates some bonding opportunities between Breanna and the women in Flex’s life – sometimes for the worst. Like when she was “learning to be a lady” while hosting Tracy, she ended up putting everything on the line, but also experienced her first kiss. It’s in these moments that we’re reminded of just how bittersweet our experiences with like and love can be especially when you really care for that person. Breanna goes on to develop an on-again, off-again crush on one of her close friends, Arnaz. And it’s brought to the surface by the opportunity to star opposite him in the school play where they’ll be forced to share a kiss.
Spirit was their other close friend whose wit and style was often underutilized, but led her to secure the role opposite Arnaz. Breanna was a bit offended at first, but relieved that she wouldn’t have to confront her feelings then and there. One of the things that stood out about their unit is how much they value their friendship above anything else. This comes into play after the popular boys, also known as the McKinley Pros, notice how close Arnaz is to Breanna and Spirit. He has no idea but the group invites him to join their brotherhood with hopes that he’ll put them on. And it’s also around this time that Breanna first, and then Spirit, make the McKinley Hotties list: a list of women that’re considered hot by the pros and then invited to a party where one or all of them will be taken advantage of.
The leader takes an interest in Spirit seeing her as an easy conquest, and once Arnaz and Breanna figure it out, they try to prevent Spirit from getting hurt. They’re both able to come to her rescue – all while learning about the dangers of seeking and accepting validation at the hands of people who mean you no good. Validation (seeking and accepting it) is a dangerous game that appeals to our insecurities and our egos. We learn this time and time again and every time can feel just as intimidating as the time before if we aren’t ready to learn the lesson. In Tia & Tamera, the twin sisters stumble upon one another in a clothing store and convince their parents to cohabitate so that they can start a life together – one where they’ll be able to experience their insecurities side by side.
Tamera shows Tia around and within days they’re attending Tia’s first dance at their shared high school – an event that Tamera already decided wouldn’t be worth their attention. Tia, in her excitement, asked for them to go together and Tamera was down until she was asked to the dance by a boy in their class. Not only did this force the twins to realize that their dynamic has limitations, but it forced Tia to reconsider her options. She ended up going with Roger, but it was a good lesson for both sisters about prioritizing their relationship. Tia & Tamera continued to share experiences that redirected our focus back to their sisterhood and the importance of familial relationships. Similarly, One on One showed us that the tightest bonds often served as foundations and points of reference when it came to navigating difficult situations.
Think about Breanna’s bond with Spirit in relation to Tia & Tamera. Their value of sisterhood is what helped them to survive high school and gain confidence in their individual identities. Even when they dressed alike and one member of the duo enjoyed it more than the other, there was compromise and a general love for one another that fueled their actions. When they had moments of wanting more independence and tested the waters with their parents, they had each other to fall back on – in the moment and after their punishments. Their toughest moments were when they couldn’t rely on one another because they shared a crush or were forced to withhold information from each other. Like when Tamera fell for Tia’s crush while out on a date with him because Tia’s pimple made her self-conscious. This is one of a few times where their switching places completely backfired. One of the best things about this series is how they tackle the impact of being twins: in appearance and personality: how looking the same and being different led to confusion for multiple parties. It also drew attention to other relationships between women on the show like Lisa and her mother. A general lack of encouragement is what led Lisa to feel underappreciated by her mother which inspired Lisa to be hands on in loving her girls.
No matter what they did Ray & Lisa always made Tia & Tamera feel loved and supported. They’re co-parenting looked a bit like Flex’s with Breanna’s mother, Nicole. Both series show us that unorthodox situations and events are never too big for family to handle and that positivity along with sacrifice always lead to success. For many of us, there are scenes from both series that are etched in our brains and it’s because they represented us in ways that we’d never seen before.
Black Girl Magic isn’t recent and it’s not exclusive to age or shade of skin or economical background. The diversity of characters between the two casts was also a great portrayal of the diversity among the Black women of the past and present. We’re dynamic, we’re resilient, we’re sweet, we’re intelligent and most importantly of all…we’re learning to put ourselves (our wellbeing and our pleasure) first.