Updated: Jun 21, 2022
“Black Lady Courtroom,” I said in a singsong voice. Not surprisingly, the young African American co-worker seated across from me smiled. “Black Lady Courtroom,” she echoed, kiki’ing and clapping.
Four Black women ages twenty-six to forty-five of varying hues, sporting both permed and natural hairstyles, from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, had gathered together at the end of a long school day. We seldom have opportunities to fellowship in groups. As I looked around the office, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that the space was poppin’ with melanin. The phrase “Black Lady Courtroom” comes from HBO’s Black Lady Sketch Show. The skit, aptly named “Courtroom Kiki,” centers on three Black women, a judge, court reporter, and bailiff, who are elated to be together. Soon they are joined by two black female lawyers and a black female defendant. The women celebrate each other simply for being... well, Black. The women praise each other for where they attended law school and connect over Greek affiliation. Hairstyles are complimented and selfies are taken.
Growing up, romance novels were my “Black Lady Courtroom.” When I was fifteen years old, my mother gifted me Beverly Jenkins’s third book, Indigo. I can remember staying up late to finish it. I became an avid romance reader going forward. I attended book signings. I read and then reread Jenkins’s earlier novels. They provided an escape. I didn’t have to code-switch to fit in, appearing one way at school in front of my white peers and another way on Sundays in front of people who’d watched me grow up. The heroines in romance novels were relatable. I laughed with them, cried with them, and celebrated triumphs over adversity with them.
I also credit romance novels for teaching me about relationships, sex, and love. My parents’ generation had Porky’s. Then, there were John Hughes films like Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. The American Pie series followed in the late 1990s. It appealed to young people slightly older than me. In contrast to the raunchy hijinks of middle-class white America, Beverly Jenkins’s Indigo showed me that a “storybook” romance is possible for girls who look like me. Jenkins writes about Black men who are in love with Black women. She gave me hope at an age when no one in my predominately white middle school or high school looked twice at me. For years.
Being a teenager is difficult no matter the decade. Still, in the 1990s and early 2000s, I found myself searching for Mary J Blige’s real love while wishing the neighborhood Backstreet Boys would quit playing games (with my heart). My radio presets were saved to a mash-up of conflicting channels that featured east coast Black power indie neo-soul, thrash metal, pop chart-toppers, gangsta rap, and Seattle misfit punk rock. I also gravitated to guitar-playing, melancholy Black female artists. Tracy Chapman and Rebekah, with their folk-funk rock-a-billy blues, not only understood my non-existent love life better than broken-hearted Toni Braxton ever could but these two songstresses empathized with the reality I faced. I'm a double minority. Growing up, I experienced both racist and sexist microaggressions daily. I was a Black girl in an all-white Catholic school.
I wish there were affinity groups for teachers, time carved out during the workweek for us to collaborate, vent, and most importantly co-exist. Affinity spaces are places where like-minded individuals can come together. Sporadic after-work happy hours don't cut it. Black women along with other groups of people with shared interests and of similar cultural/ethnic backgrounds need time to be together without the man standing by. As we grow older, adulting often trumps reconnecting with old friends or picking up a new or forgotten hobby. I used to make beautiful jewelry. I couponed with my toddler and we spent Saturday mornings in search of treasures at flea markets and estate sales. Somewhere along the way, I decided it took too much effort so I stopped. If the pandemic has taught me anything, it has taught me the importance of human-to-human connections. I don’t have a lot of girlfriends. At least not locally. I went away to college and then moved even farther away from home after graduation. My ride-or-die BFFs are spread out across the country from Michigan to Indiana, Texas to Louisiana. The ones you can call after a long night out at the club and ask to wake you up because you’re going to take a quick twenty-minute nap before heading home. No judgment. One of my greatest fears is being forgotten. So invisible that no one notices that I haven't been around for three or more years. (If you haven't seen the Joyce Carol Vincent documentary, check it out here: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1819513/?ref_=ext_shr_lnk.)
One of my new favorite things to do is to shoot pool at a dive hole-in-the-wall bar. On Friday and Saturday nights, a DJ spins the kind of hip hop and pop music that stirs my teenage soul and gets me out of my seat. I'm not the best dancer and far from a pool shark but "living" for a couple of hours is worth the embarrassment of a few balls flying off the table or someone laughing at me as I stumble through the latest line dance craze. Maybe I've found my "After-work Moms Courtroom."
Check out Tracy Chapman's "Give me one reason" https://youtu.be/V6hQ9HSKlIE