I’ve become obsessed with watching Best Friends Forever on Hulu, and I’m disappointed that it was cancelled. While the show’s plot isn’t groundbreaking, the two lead actresses, Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Claire, are incredibly funny and talented.
The witty exchanges between Lennon and Jess are punctuated by appearances from the little girl next door, Queenetta. Though I love the show, Queenetta’s character makes me uncomfortable. I see this type of character appearing more often: the outspoken black child with and a mouth that spouts adult-only language. Queenetta is only nine and a half years old, but her in-your-face attitude and sexually-charged dialogue is quite mature. For example, when Lennon performs a romantic ballet dance with her college friend who has questionable intentions, Queenetta comments “That man is trying to make a baby.” She frequently doles out sexual/romantic advice, telling Jess that she needs to maintain her figure to win back and satisfy her ex-husband.
She’s not just adult-minded about relationships — she’s also focused on making a buck any way she can and has a bit of a con-artist spirit. She often demands to be paid for tasks she does not complete, like when she yells “I am paid for my time, not for my results!” when Rav and Joe ask her to buy them sandwiches from a deli they’ve been banned from. She later tries to turn a profit from selling Jess’s furniture that’s been left on the street by a moving company.
A kid behaving like an adult and making sarcastic, mature comments makes us laugh because it’s unexpected, but is it really funny? In just six episodes, Queenetta’s character has embodied a number of stereotypes that real-live black women deal with on a daily basis: she’s inherently sexual, focused on making a quick buck with minimal effort, and perpetually angry. If you take a look at the incessant barrage of literature that attacks so-called “welfare queens” (which, of course, is conservative code for poor black women), you’ll see these stereotypes too, but they won’t be funny.
Queenetta’s behavior is mild compared to that of Ronnie in the 2008 movie Role Models. His character is obsessed with women’s breasts, routinely uses profanity and foul language, and fights with other children for no reason. A sexualized, vulgar, hyper-masculine, violent black boy: an exaggerated miniature of the unfair stereotypes that plague grown adult men.
Of course I don’t think the writers of these scripts have racist agendas, but I have to ask: why do we think this type of sexualized black child is so hilarious and would we be comfortable with a white child portrayed in the same way? In fact, I can’t think of an example of a white child-who-acts-like-an-adult-and-says-inappropriate-things who is also white in contemporary film or television. (Can you? Let me know.)
What does this reveal about our collective consciousness? It seems like we associate childhood and innocence with white skin. It also seems to show that many viewers are comfortable with the assumption that black children are inherently more sexual than white.
Should there be more public uproar about this? What other examples of this trope have you seen in mainstream media? Tweet me @rikki_rogers.