Black Characters We Identified With Growing Up
In honor of what a fantastic Black History Month we had and Black Panther (2018) giving the new generation of black kids characters they can identify with, I decided to ask my fellow Geeks of Color what characters they identified with when they were growing up. Some of the characters I expected, but some were really eye-opening to their personalities.
I identified with Akeelah. I always loved Akeelah and the Bee (2006), but I never really knew why other than it just being a great story. As the years passed and I continued watching it again, I realized I saw myself in Akeelah. Like me, she’s a black girl who grew up with a genuine love of learning and was great at it. Like me, she took pride in it. Fortunately, my support system never discouraged me from pursuing knowledge—inside and outside the classroom—but they did think it was pretty strange, especially my older siblings. After realizing how important spelling was for her and how good she was at it, her friends and family came together to support her, rather than forcing her to give up on her dreams and stay in the ghetto. While I was by no means raised in the ghetto, she taught me that it was okay to love learning and that with faith, confidence, and hard work, I can go anywhere I want—even if I am the only black girl there.
Okon identified with John Stewart’s Green Lantern from Justice League. He explained that even though Hal Jordan is his personal favorite Green Lantern, John was the first lantern he was exposed to. He says that John was not only someone that looked like him, but someone who was “making whatever they wanted. All they had to do was put their mind to it.” While I personally don’t really like Green Lantern in general, I can definitely see the appeal and why a black kid would identify with John.
Dre identified with Virgil Hawkins from Static Shock. Dre revealed that Virgil was “one of the first sparks that lit [his] passion for teen superheroes that looked like [him] and [his] friends and family. He described the black teenage superhero as the “coolest nerd on TV”, excited by the fact that he actually looked like him. This is understandable because Static Shock is such an awesome superhero and I was drawn to him as well.
Erlene identified with Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She said that even though she is female, she identified with “every single aspect” of the character. Erlene told me that like Carlton, she grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood with mostly white friends. She even said that like the sitcom icon, she was described as an “overachiever” at school and was often accused of “talking white”. She felt that she had to “frequently prove [her] blackness to those around [her].” She would liken her experience to Carlton’s and this would give her hope that if he ended up okay, so will she. She profoundly stated that his character gave her self-confidence and showed her that there was “no correct or wrong way to be black”. If I had to identify with anybody from the sitcom, it would be Jasmine, but thanks to Erlene, I can now better appreciate Carlton’s character and what he did for other black people.
Mikey told me he identified with Lafayette from True Blood. He went on to say that Lafayette was queer black character “who wasn’t a stereotype [because he] had agency, talent and drive” that gave made him relevant to the story. Mikey proudly said that Lafayette was able to hold his own storyline because he was so “fully fleshed-out” and the supporting character so much more impactful to him than any of the other characters. I have honestly never seen True Blood, but after finding out how important Lafayette was to Mikey, I will definitely be looking into it.
Tevin and Stephanie both identified with Storm from X-Men, but for different reasons. Tevin described to me how X-Men: The Animated Series was his first exposure to the mutants and how younger him was instantly drawn to Storm because she was actually the first black superhero he ever encountered. He said that she always represented “hope, wisdom, elegance, and power,” regardless of the adaptation. Similarly, Stephanie described her as “strong, powerful and self-assured.” But unlike Tevin, she said that she always identified with the group of mutants because she was a misfit herself. She told me that she was the only girl in the family and the only black girl at an all-white school. Because Storm was also the only black woman, she drew Stephanie’s attention too. She relays that her adventures comforted her because it made her feel understood. It’s no surprise that people identify with Storm, but is certainly eye-opening to see why such a special character is special to so many different people for so many different reasons.
I call myself Stark after Tony Stark and often catch myself referring to him in the first-person. Clearly, this is solely because his personality aligns so much with mine. While I am Iron Man for all intents and purposes, I am not a middle-aged white billionaire man. I’m saying this because I discovered Akeelah at a crucial time and she was the first character that looked like me and I wholeheartedly admired and identified with.
Who was your first? What black character did you identify with when you were growing up? Did we mention that character? Let me know in the comments down below!
Nothing but love.