Black Hair, Iris West, and Colorblindness on #TheFlash

iris-west-2

It doesn’t matter what the meta-human of the week cooks up for #TeamFlash every week, we can count on flawless hair and a dope outfit from Iris West.  When I first heard the news that a Black woman was being cast as a main character in CW’s The Flash, I was elated.  When television shows want to focus on diversity and more equitable representation, they generally take the “Agent Carter Route”.  This means White women characters that kick ass, and a man of color (generally a Black man), which leaves us women of color out in the cold.  In fact, we see this same pattern on Arrow, The Flash’s broody, older step-brother*.  Overall, I’m incredibly impressed with The Flash; I formed a real attachment with all of the characters, except Eddie (the personification of the color beige).  However, through two seasons there is one thing that has been niggling in the back of my mind: when do the Wests get to be Black?


Black people are not a monolith, and not all Black families look the same.  However, there are cultural experiences that we identify with, and it is valuable to see them on-screen.  I am not expecting a Kwanzaa extravaganza in the West living room, or that they sit down with Barry and watch Roots (Did slavery exist in this universe?); however, the complete lack of Black cultural markers pushes the show from diversity to colorblindness.  It would be problematic to have Iris say all of the lines with “flava” (thank God for Cisco Ramon), but us blerds need something.

I have a deep, deep desire for this to manifest through food as retribution for that flashback scene with the mac and cheese:

[RANT BEGINS]

WHAT THE SHIT WAS THAT?  Black people take our mac and cheese seriously.  I know Iris was young in that flashback, but that looked like upgraded Kraft.  This is what Iris made:

Iris's "mac and cheese"

girl pick a noodle type please

This is what mac and cheese actually looks like when we make it:

Mac and Cheese

This is how it’s done

Mac and Cheese

Gooey Goodness

Mac and Cheese

Damn.

I mean come on.  Did Candice and Jesse have nothing to say to the prop department?  Whew.

[RANT ENDS]

 

Despite the fact that I’m in my feelings about that flashback scene, I think the show has to contend with hair because a discussion about Black womanhood frequently includes the messy politics of Black hair.  Iris West wears her hair straight, and almost always down past her shoulders.  It’s startling in its consistency.  I’m not saying that Iris needs to go natural; a ton of Black women wear straight hair in real life and Candice Patton slays the style she has.  However, our hair is a big part of our life.  Can Iris miss the first part of a #TeamFlash meeting because the stylist started on another head when she was under the dryer?  Did she ever come home to Eddie toting a terrible mix tape because a dude who came into the salon badgered her into buying it?  Did she ever forget her silk scarf before a sleepover at Eddie’s?  Better yet, who gets to touch it?  Eddie?  Barry?

It would be unrealistic to have a “hair episode”.  I don’t need an episode or even a B plot line where Iris decides to go natural or where she has to explain Black hair to Cisco.  Further, I don’t want that; it would seem like an out-of-place derailment.  I just want it to feel real, and I want to identify with Iris in this way.  I just need a moment, a spark of recognition.  Even if it’s just her snatching Barry’s umbrella at the first sign of rain.  Speaking of rain…

Do y’all remember this:

Iris faces a tsunami

That’s a lot of water for a press to stand up to

There was a lot happening in this episode, and if you need a recap there is no one better than Christelle G. at The Nerds of Color.  Let’s see… Cisco gets freaking murdered, Barry stops a tsunami, Joe gets kidnapped; it’s an edge of your seat kind of episode.  However, we are here to talk about hair.  To Iris’s and the writers’ credit, there was a lot going on, Iris surely shouldn’t have been worried about her hair.  Yet, I needed a dose of realism here.  What Black girl with straight hair sees that much water coming towards her and doesn’t have the reflex to protect her hair from reverting.  It just doesn’t make sense.  Further, it speaks to a different problem.  If no matter the situation Iris’s hair is always silky straight with few strands out-of-place, we have to question whether or not The Flash’s commitment to diversity exists behind the camera.

I will always be for more Black girls on-screen, but it matters that they get to be Black girls, silk/satin scarfs and all.  The producers and writers of The Flash have given us so much with these wonderful characters, and the Berlanti verse has shown Black fatherhood on-screen in a really wonderful way, so it may seem like I’m asking too much.  But I’m not.  I deserve this.  I can see every type of White girl under the sun on almost any channel.  The Iris Wests of the TV world are rare.  So, it’s especially important that the representation be authentic.  Iris, Joe, and Wally West are race-bent characters.  When the producers and casting team decided to make the Wests a Black family, they needed to do more than just change their skin color.  Iris, Joe, and Wally’s race does not have to be an integral part of the story, but it isn’t too much to ask for a few small moments.  We needed to see Cisco’s family sing Feliz Cumpleaños at his brother’s birthday, and we need more Iris moments like this:

Iris West

Iris starts a sentence with “Girl”

Diversity on-screen has created a much richer television landscape; how many Latino men like Cisco exist on a show you watch?  However, we can’t forget about diversity of experience.  We move through the world in different bodies, and thus experience it differently.  Central City is not Los Angeles, or New York, or even Minneapolis.  Maybe racism never touched this universe (lol as if), but there are very real Black girls in our universe consuming this content and some parts of Iris should be for them.

 

*Amanda Waller is not a main character, so I didn’t count her.

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