Critical Essays of Popular Culture, Essays, Longform Essay Series

“Turning 22 in 2022”, Essay One: Media’s Pacification Of the Masses and Outgrowing Coping Mechanisms

Yara Shahidi turned 22 the other day. She is a beloved actress, activist, and starlit treasure of the Black community. She has a beautiful mom who doesn’t look like she hasn’t aged in decades, a father who is seemingly loving and is actually there for his family, siblings, and they all look attractive with clear skin that reaks of good money. She is a Harvard student and future alumni. She has a long-built career that includes “Black-ish” and “Grown-ish” as the main character of the main characters. She was wished ‘Happy Birthday’ by strangers on the internet who will more than likely never know her in person. But that’s okay, because between her features being pretty enough for the Black masses and mixed in a way that this not too Black for white executives and Afro-humans who do not like any person or object more melanated than Zoe Saldana, her being an out-of-reach figure who isn’t actually a part of our community is excusable. She gives them what we wish was our Afro-American, lived experience. Therefore, we worship someone who isn’t real. And we’re okay with it.

I turned 22 years old in December of 2021. I was physically alone for most of the day. I was verbally harassed on the way home by a big-bellied Black man smoking a joint and probably had not washed himself before having the audacity to be a incel with idiotic audacity. He misgendered me and called after me like a lazy pig of a nigga. He let the pretty white girl and white couple who looked like they had money walk past before being verbally violent to me. I live alone in the city. I have no money currently. I do not have a full-time job that pays an attractive salary with benefits. My mattress is on the floor. I wish I had a box spring. My chosen family spread across the country and different time zones. I have enough trauma that would make me equal to a nintety-four-year-old non-binary grandmother living on a prairie.

But I am real. I am me. And that is more than enough.

I talked to my beloved mentor and super close friend, both of them being my family, on zoom and through text between that day in addition the rest of the week. I gave that dirty jackass of a nigga a middle finger and kept it moving. I was having lovely conversations with people who gave me my pizza, my ice cream, my smoothie with chocolate shavings, and my seasoned fries across the three places I visited. I enjoyed getting a new big cup with a straw and other things from Family Dollar. As someone who had to depend on other people for furniture, housing, and dishware, it is one of the most deeply held things in my heart regarding buying and owning my own of anything. I bought a bowl on or after my birthday that I had my eye on for a couple of weeks. The cup I bought had become so cracked I could not use it anymore. I still enjoyed having it so much because it was mine. And I bought it with money that was mine, however little the amount it was.

One of the worse parts of growing up as a trauma and abuse survivor is realizing that the things used for coping during the warzone periods of your life will not work now that you are in a stage of rebuilding. Peacetime doesn’t automatically mean you are at peace. Serenity is a state of being that must be cultivated with brutal efforts often gone unseen by the masses. I used “Grown-ish” to cope with not having many real friends, a nonexistent love life, and being trapped in the never-ending cycle of violence and torrid isolation that defined most of life save for a few months ago. Seeing the characters wear beautiful clothing, go out to parties, and live their best lives was my means of escapism. When problems were solved in under twenty-two minutes I could pretend that that was applicable to my own life. I often imagined myself as Zoey, a person who could be talentless, tasteless, selfish, conceited, ignorant of the world, rude, and still be physically attractive, have money, and be beloved by everyone around her. There was a time I wanted a Hotep like Aaron. I used to want to be blessed with vapid wisdom by someone like Luca while the smell of his blunt wafted through the room. I even wished to be in hand-clapping sync with Sky and Jazz. The lonely, sad, and beaten-down child within me wanted to be in their circle so badly.

Now, I wish the show had been canceled before it even began.

My story, my life is real. Unfortunately, Hulu, ABC, and Disney would not want to produce it in its raw form. Pacification of the population is the ultimate goal of amalgamated corporations swollen with densely constructed monopolies and money that most people will never see. To distract people from the degenerative state of our economy, political system, governments destroying whatever little chances we have at material wealth, they create shows like this to latch onto the very fantasy that they never want to be our reality. We are currently living in a recession at the top of the new decade, during an endemic. I live in the Midwestern United States, in one of the poorest cities of the country. I describe myself as Afro-American/Jamaican/Indigenous, am pretty sure my ancestors are descended from Ghana in West Africa, and I also posses White Irish ancestry. The problem is that I am melaninated enough to be treated with racist sentiment. I am also queer, transgender, non-binary, and get misgendered as a Black woman on a regular basis. Add being disabled, neurodivergent, and the child of an immigrant and we have a sixteen servings of intersectional identities that can be used as flaccid justification for oppression against me. I experienced homeless and extreme poverty. I worked until exhaustion to ensure I had ways to stay off the streets. I am still looking for a stable job and income because I have no parents or blood family to support me.

I may still be struggling, but I have suffered too much of the real world for this show to be my blissful escape anymore. And that’s okay. I know I am a real person living in the real world. I know that I can find the smallest pieces of light in the bleakest of dark periods. Creating my pockets of joy that turn into mountains is not new for me. Unlike the people I watch on a screen, who have fortunes, fame, and glass mirror cages that keep them from seeing the cracks in their mirages, sitting with truth is not something I shy from. Truth lives in me. Truth is me.

No show, movie, or celebrity can compare to that.