In 2021, Black Boyhood Got More Complex on TV

It’s a refreshing change, but it also represents a major shift in television. With “The Wonder Years,” which premiered on ABC this fall, the network has joined a group of new shows, including “Swagger” on Apple TV+ and Netflix’s “Colin in Black and White,”

in focusing on the vulnerability, curiosity, and emotional complexity of Black boys. As a result, we can expect to see more nuanced depictions of Black boyhood on television in 2021 than ever before.

In 2021, Black Boyhood Got More Complex on TV

There is a growing body of work that challenges the stereotypical representations of Black boys in popular culture as impoverished, clumsy, violent, or in some other way threatening.

Reboot writer/director/producer Saladin K. Patterson told me recently that he just wanted to be a part of that conversation. It’s important to portray a Black boy with a high emotional intelligence who is also intelligent and sensitive.

This isn’t unusual, but it still feels that way. When I was a kid in the late 1980s, I used to watch the original “Wonder Years,” but the only Black boys I saw on television were on comedic relief shows like “Family Matters” or “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” where Carlton Banks was frequently ridiculous.

Of course, Theo Huxtable of “The Cosby Show,” a two-dimensional supporting character like “Dif’rent Strokes” and “Webster” that featured orphaned Black boys saved by wealthy white households, was the only hope I had.

Films like “Boyz N Hood,” “Juice” and “Menace II Society” depicted young black protagonists caught in the cycle of gun, gang and police violence.

Books About Black Boyhood

In the 2000s, it was difficult to find a show that addressed the concerns of young Black men with seriousness and nuance or without inevitably framing their lives as shaped by poverty and a lack of opportunity.

In my new memoir, Black Boy Out of Time, I recount my unconventional coming-of-age as a Black boy, including how I came to choose a non-binary gender identification as an adult.

Even a Black homosexual kid raised in a Hindu and Muslim environment who never reaches “manhood” has a lot in common with other Black males, while living in a society designed to negate their existence.

As a society, we are all up against scripts that have been crafted by limiting gender norms, the school-to-prison pipeline, and the ubiquity of unexamined sexual violence, but we also have a common history to draw on in our fight against these destructive ideologies.

The term misafropedia, which I coined to name the specific oppression Black children experience, was inspired by the following texts by some of today’s most insightful thinkers as I wrote to uncover how we Black adults who have lost our childhoods to the violence Black boys face might become whole with them again.

Moore’s memoir, No Ashes in the Fire, is an honest account of the effects of overpolicing and anti-Black urbanisation projects on his life as a Black queer boy growing up in Camden, New Jersey.

Several sections of Moore’s book deal with the abuse his mother suffered at the hands of his father, and how that violence may have been influenced by the systems under which they lived.

Final Words

The narratives used to demonise and discard the existence of Black boys are complicated, and No Ashes in the Fire forces the reader to face that possibility head-on.