Much of the contemporary conversations surrounding black women in the contemporary world centers on the rising popularity of biracial women, and their placement in roles for black women. Conversations regarding how and why this problem manifests so frequently prove far less common. Perhaps Netflix’s The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt best answers this unasked question.
On the surface, The UnBreakable Kimmy Schmidt follows the life of a young white woman who emerges from a fifteen year abduction in 2014. Covertly, the series presents a liberal white feminist utopia.
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt functions to illustrate a white female utopia as all main characters are different versions of the modern white women: Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper), the naive but well- intentioned optimist , Jacqueline White (Jane Krakowski)–the trophy wife turned business woman (aka Kris Jenner), and Lilian (Carol King)– the hipster and accidental activist who rejects psychical and moral standards for heightened personhood.
This utopia proves a welcoming stage for the effeminate gay black male, played by talented actor and singer Titus Burgess who plays Titus Andromedon on the series. bell hooks contemplates the other in the following except from Black Looks: Race and Representation:
The commodification of Otherness has been so successful because it is offered as a new delight, more intense, more satisfying than normal ways of doing and feeling. Within commodity culture, ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish of mainstream white culture. (21)
Burgess’ scene stealing dominates the series. His centrality in the series also exposes a startling dearth. Namely, I found myself asking the following query while watching:
“Where are the black women?”
Despite not featuring any central black female characters, the series does feature the occasional sapphire who in compilation compose five minutes of the show’s entire three seasons.
The conscious community understands that white women shine in black female dearth. But what many fail to realize is the white female supremacists who hide behind feminism, wish to birth their versions of black females from their wombs, and in nurturing black effeminate culture.
Titus Andromedon, a black, gay, overweight starving artist, is the series’ multi-layered other. As a flamboyant performer and character, Titus is effeminate, an attribute central to his role. While comedic, Titus’ effeminate and flamboyant ways make him a gender hybrid that poorly veils the white female plight to erase the black female body. In the white female utopia, the black man, in effeminate or traditionally masculine form is necessary. The heteronormative black male provides an option for white female to produce offspring with superior genetics, and posses what the white race so desperately seeks–color.
The effeminate black male is necessary, because he illustrates a contemporary castration. The contemporary castration has little to do with physically removing the genitals, but everything to do with allotting visibility to blacks whose sexual organs foment white interest. Furthermore, the black male gains visibility and access to conventional “success” if his fertility functions to limit the black female reproduction of black bodies. The effeminate or non-heterosexual male, acts a means to limit the opportunities for black females to reproduce with black men. Also, the effeminate black male often proves a vessel to preserve caricatured black femininity– employing products of a black female bodies to issue a racist portrayal of black women.
Moreover, Burgess’ central placement unveils the liberal white feminist utopia as allotting space for the black male body but in turn omitting the black female body. While the series appoints the black male body as “other” in color and orientation, it is Titus’s intersectionality that breeds a caricatured duplication of caricatured black femininity. Perhaps this caricatured black femininity is best illustrated by Burgess’ rendition of Beyonce in the show’s third season. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUYXk-QcXZ0)
Burgess’ comical rendition of Beyonce’s “Hold Up” proved a resonant portion of the show’s most recent season. The rendition displays Burgess’ vocal talent and comedic genius, while also illustrating a shift from the the angry black female to the angry black queen. Lemonade, Beyonce’s sixth studio album succeeds in bringing the visual narrative of the black female experience to the American forefront, to which it has no place. Thus, the parodies that follow Beyonce’s attempt at brevity function to dilute the seriousness of its content. Black pain, black love and black loss is real. But to the western world-this is all entertainment. Thus, The UnBreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s appointment of “lemonading” does not call for more black female narratives, but instead calls for an outpour of mockeries where privileged demographics abduct a canvass, or microphone to divulge pomp not circumstance.
Thus, while it may be tempting to laugh or even sing along to Titus’ cover, to laugh is to enter a state of oblivion where the intentions of white supremacy are lost in an escapists desire to “have a good time.” May this show be a warning to all black women who are not:
- in an interracial relationship
- a sapphire
that your erasure is an essential component to maintaining white female supremacy.
It is also worth mentioning that the series omits all women of color. Character Jacqueline White, a Native American “passing” for white, is actually played by a Jane Krakowski, a white woman. This could have been a breakout role for a Native American actress, but instead allows a white woman to occupy the racially ambiguous roles that are becoming more common in the contemporary world. This prompts me to question: What is racially ambiguous about a white woman?
A white woman occupying a racially ambiguous role is the same bizarre logic that allows white women to be the largest beneficiaries of affirmative action. Thus, Titus’ centrality, the indirect and direct references to feminism in lieu of black female dearth, unveil a persistent exclusivity with regard to societal elitism, but an inclusivity with regard to the concept of “other.” Thus, the “other” concept simply translates for “other” ways white women can obtain what they feel deserving of in western culture–which is everything.
Furthermore, to contest the title of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay, and all other contemporary black feminists who say “We Should All Be Feminists”–“we” being the black female collective, should not.
Just as the series functions to depict the white woman as “unbreakable,” feminism also functions to increase white female collective access. Thus, may The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s illustration of inclusion as a broken promise to all “feminists” who fail to encompass a non-male whiteness admonish a dystopia that may very well be our future.