“Tampa Baes” is Thin, White, and Colorist — But I Knew That Already

LOL, WOT IS THIS MESS?

Within the first two minutes of Amazon’s new lesbian reality series, Tampa Baes, one of its many white cast members Cuppie gloats that the city has a diverse population. The scene laid over her voice shows a bunch of giggly white and fair-skinned folks at parades and bars in sunny Tampa Bay, Florida. So already I knew what I was in for.

Tampa Bay has an almost 23% Black population, so while that may not be a lot — there ain’t no way in gay hell you can tell me you couldn’t find at least a handful of dark-skinned thick niggas to put on this lily-white show. Am I aware that there are folks on the show from diverse backgrounds? Yes. But I urge you to remember that you can be from those backgrounds — and still be white. Something that lovers of the series seem to have overlooked when they took to social media this past weekend to defend it, listing cast members from Middle Eastern, Native and Latinx backgrounds under the POC moniker. Most recently, Amara La Negra (who is Afro-Latina) brought that point up when she was on “Red Table Talk: The Estefans”, where she spoke about being denied roles because they wanted someone who looked “more Latina” (fair-skinned with straight hair), essentially telling her because she was dark-skinned and Black, viewers wouldn’t read her as Latina. Anyway, back to my issues with this mess of a show and less on my love of Amara La Negra.

The cast includes self-proclaimed lesbian it couple Murphy and Haley, who are known for throwing elaborate parties at their very fancy home. Would I party in their house? Nah, I’ve already served my time being the only visibly Black girl at the party. That’s no worry anyway because the way their crew is portrayed in the show, I’m sure I wouldn’t receive an invite. I don’t fit the mold of a snapback sapphic, nor am I the Black Fat Lesbian friend that’s going to let you attempt to twerk on her and look the other way when you drop AAVE.

The Black cast members (Mack and Jordan) feel like characters instead of actual cast members. Filming reads like production wanted to heighten their Blackness when they are on camera. Whether it’s Mack wearing a t-shirt with a still from Friday, or when she’s in the background of cast member and artist Mel’s video talking about the importance of her Black Lives Matter mural. Amazon cast two Black folks who they thought were acceptable for their viewers, and it’s as simple as that. Two folks who probably went to PWI’s, grew up surrounded by whiteness, and often talk about the plight of being a mixed-race person who was separated from and rejected by the Black community. While I don’t agree with folks on social media attempting to erase Mack and Jordans’ Black identity due to their mixed heritage, I do agree with folks saying that dark-skinned Black women will forever have it harder than our racially ambiguous, loose curls sisters.

Some of the cast addressed the response to the show’s colorism. On Jordans’ Instagram in an interview with People, she’s asked about the absence of dark-skinned Black lesbians. (Editors Note: I reached out to her to have a chat but she kindly directed me to Amazon’s PR team and referred me back to the Instagram highlight). While she says it’s important to listen to the critics and that she understands, her answer — to me — was significantly underwhelming and tone-deaf. She says that Amazon didn’t “cast” anyone, that they were seeking pre-existing friend groups. Fine, that’s all well and good. But the problem here is that Amazon didn’t find any issues with moving forward with this particular friend group that looked the way it does. I am sure that with a little more work and effort, they could have found a lesbian friend group that looks far more diverse than this very thin, very light, very cis, very white, very femme group they opted to go with. So while it’s not her fault, her defense of Amazon and her seemingly being okay with how her friend group looks speaks loudly to me. Black queer lesbians should be allowed to be rightfully upset with our CONSISTENT lack of representation in media, especially by media companies who have the money and resources to do better. We have been asking these shows to just do the bare minimum for years to little or no avail.

I found myself so upset at many storylines that featured Black cast members. At one of the parties, there was some dyke drama. After the party, Mack was recorded by Shiva during a moment in a car where she was rightfully upset and reacting to something that was said. Shiva admits that she only captured one minute of the conversation, but that’s worth noting because drunk or not, she opted to record the moment when a Black woman was angry and sent it to another person. A few days later Mack, Shiva, and a few of the other cast members aired out the situation and I hated every minute of it. Having to watch Mack explain herself and her anger at the moment to a bunch of white women was bullshit, they put the onus on her to not only dissolve the situation but also make everyone feel comfortable and happy afterward. Throughout this situation, Mack felt the need to continually reiterate to everyone that they are normally a chill and calm person, and that made me so fucking sad. I am on the side of calling out non-Black folks when they are in the wrong and letting them sit in their discomfort. I no longer feel the need to assuage them in any way after they have done me dirty and that doesn’t make me (or Mack) any less of a “Good Vibes Only” typa bitch. It’s my job to let you know how I feel and why, and it’s yours to look inward and think about the harm you’ve done and why you did it.

In another episode, Olivia antagonizes Reide, a Black woman who Shiva is interested in (who yeah, did her lowkey dirty) about how she’s leading her friend on — a situation that doesn’t have anything to do with her. I hated watching Reide sit there, legs shaking, looking this white woman square in the eye, and doing all she can to not show her anger because you very literally never know what’s going to happen. In the end, Reide decides to walk away while Olivia is laughing at the situation before the camera goes into the next scene. That hit hella close to home, too many times I’ve had to walk away from a white woman at a bar who got a little liquid courage and made me her target for the night. Sometimes they wanna put their fingers in my hair (yes — STILL), and other times they want to rap to the lyrics and say “nigga” with a smile — you literally never know what’s gonna happen when you party with white folks.

While I do have a few issues with her, I fuck with Mack. I have talked repeatedly about looking for myself in film and TV since I was a child, so even in pop culture that I may not completely adore, sometimes I still find a slight connection. Mack being a faith-based person is pretty dope. I grew up in the church and am a pastors daughter, and I’ve separated myself from most elements of the church and religion, but there are a few that I still vibe with and have tweaked to fit me and the dykey life I live. So I find it kinda fly that she is willing to share this side of herself for an audience who may need to see it.

Tampa Baes gives you exactly what you thought it would. When the original trailer dropped, I knew what it was gonna be and, as a Taurus, I am happy to report I was right. I’ll be saving my queer Prime viewing for Harlem because this show — ain’t it.


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Shelli Nicole

Shelli Nicole is a Detroit-raised, Chicago-based writer. Her work has appeared in Bustle, HelloGiggles & Marie Claire. She is terrified of mermaids and teenagers equally.

Shelli has written 178 articles for us.

38 Comments

  1. When I saw the thumbnail for the show, some pretty shitty memories came flooding back. I was in and out of Tampa and its gay scene for a bit the year prior to gay marriage becoming legal and as a dark-skinned black woman I could not have felt more like an outcast which is saying a lot considering I spent the first 18yrs of my life in a town in the deep south that was 98% white. I guess I expected something different because in the gay spaces in the southern state where I lived, it seemed like everyone whether thick, skinny, trans, little person or extremely tall was accepted because we were all trying to navigate otherness in all its forms together. Tampa was another beast though and I’m surprised I survived my visits without stomping a mudhole in someone.

    Now that I know that same vapid microaggressive bullshit still exists there (at least from the show’s POV), I will save myself from being triggered and give this a hard pass. I mean it is Florida, so what type of change could I really expect?

    • I agree.I don’t understand why the author takes issue with the Middle Eastern, Native and Latinx backgrounds being listed under the POC moniker. The author drops this with nothing to unpack her statement. I’m half Asian and i identify as POC with the understanding that this category encompasses anything other than white, including mixed race people. I recognize that I have light skin privilege, but i think the POC category can be useful to cultivate solidarity and to acknowledge that non white people also experience forms of racism. 

      As Angela Davis says: Because we are so accustomed to talking about race in terms of black and white, we often fail to recognize and contest expressions of racism that target people of color who are not black.

      I agree with Shelli Nicole that the show definitely lacks diversity. All of the cast is light skinned and the way the black characters such as Mack and Reid are treated and sidelined feels one hundred percent colorist. It’s important to call this out, but I wish the author had a more nuanced analysis of how racism and colorism are distinct from one another. Also, if someone complains about feeling rejected by the black community that doesn’t mean they are also claiming that they have it harder than dark-skinned Black women. The article creates false binaries that just cause division. This only undermines and detracts from the real issue of colorism and lack of representation in the media.

  2. “Am I aware that there are folks on the show from diverse backgrounds? Yes. But I urge you to remember that you can be from those backgrounds — and still be white. Something that lovers of the series seem to have overlooked when they took to social media this past weekend to defend it, listing cast members from Middle Eastern, Native and Latinx backgrounds under the POC moniker.”

    Wait.

    Are you saying that anybody who isn’t African-American or Black can’t be labeled as POC?

    How can a Native or a Native American be White?

    Iranians and other Asians who doesn’t look Chinese receives discrimination too. Just look at Afghanistan and Iraq for crying out loud. Please don’t be so close minded. They definitely don’t receive the same White privilege as the Trump family. U.S Census keeps labeling them as White but they’re not treated as White people by the government of the United States and the American society itself.

    https://www.latimes.com/projects/la-me-census-middle-east-north-africa-race/

    ^ That’s a good piece. You should read it.

    There are definitely a lot of Latin Americans who looks White or can pass as White but just like the Iranians, they definitely don’t get the same White privilege as the Trump family. Just look at the US-MEXICO border and what’s happening to those Latino kids. The U.S Census might consider them as White but everybody can see how they’re treated by the government of the United States.

    For the record, I’m not Latino or Iranian. I’m from Southeast Asia but I just wanted to give my two cents because I have a lot of cousins in the United States that are now in a multicultural family with mixed kids.

    • I don’t think Shelli is claiming that having thin bodies on the show is a problem, I think Shelli is saying that the lack of fat bodies on the show is a problem. I was happy to see a few cast members that weren’t size 0-4, but I don’t think anyone on the show is considered plus sized. It’s not thin shaming to want fat representation. Also, it’s not hard to find fat people in real life so why is it so hard to find them on shows like this?

        • My comment was removed when I was talking about THIN women/lesbians? What violation did I commit? Was it the wording? I don’t remember posting any slurs or cursing. But okay. I guess Autostraddle doesn’t allow freedom of speech or equal human rights to those people who would question a FEW LINES from an Autostraddle article.

        • It’s actually really obvious that you don’t have any plus sized friends because you completely lack empathy for fat people. Imagine, just for one second, that you’re a fat person reading your comment: Here’s an article on why you’re unattractive and an article about how you’re unhealthy. There are plenty of people attracted to fat people, and often times the poor health outcomes that fat people experience are a result of fatphobia, not of fatness itself. Fat people go to the doctor and aren’t listened to because the doctors assume the issue is related to their weight, no matter what symptoms they present. Fat people are harassed constantly and discriminated against in almost every aspect of their life. *Thankfully,* you took the time to remind them of how much the world dislikes them for a bodily characteristic that is often out of their control. Why are you so upset at people wanting to see more bodies like them on screen? Wouldn’t it be frustrating to you if there was hardly any accurate representation of queer women on tv?

          • While I’m very sympathetic to your intentions here, I don’t know that this a person who’s capable of engaging in meaningful debate. Their articles are cherry-picked (the ‘attractiveness’ one isn’t even by an academic and contains tons of unverified assumptions) and their reasoning is disastrous (at first they assert that reality shows intentionally don’t cast non-thin people b/c it’s not attractive, then at the end of their comment they say that it’s a total accident the show has no non-thin people, b/c it was just about picking a random friend group). Someone being this willingly illogical isn’t here to learn or listen. By engaging further I think you’re actually making it more likely their comments will stay up.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to explain why Mack was upset about Shiva’s recording. I’ve been watching the show and I was definitely confused about why Mack was upset about the recording when they all have cameras following them around constantly anyway. It didn’t make sense to me initially, but now I completely understand where Mack was coming from. I really appreciate the emotional labor you’ve extended here to help AS readers understand the more subtle (and not so subtle) ways that racism and colorism plays into the dynamics on the show. Sending good vibes <3

    • Just want to second this!! And shellis explanation of Reides POV (that the show really did not care to give) was also helpful. I was too mad at how she did Shiva dirty to notice that!

  4. Shelli- I’m sorry that your article hasn’t been received well by some commenters, as I think you make some very good points. I’m starting to notice that a lot of articles on here that critique racial representation in queer media don’t get as many comments or get negative comments.

    I do agree with JJ that non-black POC are completely valid and experience significant marginalization in different ways. To me, the issue with Tampa Baes and similar shows is not that they have literally no POC, but that their casting shows blatant colorism and anti-blackness. I’m a black woman on the lighter side of medium-skinned, and these days I rarely see women characters who are as dark as me or darker, so I can’t imagine the rejection that dark-skinned black women feel. I noticed these things when this show was first advertised, and i find it off-putting as well. Thank you for pointing it out as something needs to change.

  5. Extremely valid points in this review. I actually quite enjoyed the show, especially when compared to the slightly similar “The Real L Word”, but that could be simply due to how modernized this was.

    I appreciated that it wasn’t hyper sexual and they actually had real jobs and most of the cast was really likable (Shiv!!) I understand Jordan saying that the show wasn’t really “cast” and that they already were a set group of friends. It would have been more awkward to force a (non-mixed?) black person on the show that wasn’t already part of the friends group just for the sake of diversity. I feel that’s what was done with Sajdah in The Real L word and she did not fit in at ALL.

  6. Are moderators going to delete every comment that disagrees with the author but makes a very valid point? I guess we know where this website stands regarding latina representation. Fyi I am latina, I very much enjoyed this fun show and 100% disagree with the author. I treat other people the way I want to be treated. I want equal rights and respect regarding my race, so I will not be racist towards ANY race. We are all human beings. Some of us are wrong in our actions but you cannot fight racism with racism. Dlete this if it will make you feel better :)

    • Hi! You can find a copy of our comment policy here: https://www.autostraddle.com/comment-policy.

      All the messages that were removed from this post were in clear violation, not because of any disagreement, but because of overtly racist and fatphobic rhetoric that endanger our community.

      For example, as you’ll notice, your comment, though also disagreeing with the author, has remained up. As have other respectful disagreements on this post, as long as they were not in violation of our policy.

      (I’m also Latina, have a great day and thanks for reading!)

  7. I don’t really get the deleted comments but I would just like to say that I could only make it through one half of two different episodes. I’m happy there is representation but all of these people seem so terrible that it’s really hard to jump on board.

    I was more alarmed that more than once one of the women threatened physical violence toward another. Weather that was posturing or whatever I would never be okay if someone joked about “backhanding me”.

    Was it any coincidence is was a white woman saying that to a POC? That made me stop watching because I just couldn’t imagine everyone sitting there drunk or not and allowing that to be “funny”. How sad this is all anyone could come up with. Ugh.

  8. The comments on here prove that maybe Amazon exces knew exactly who they were targeting. It seems like a lot of people don’t have complicated feelings about the show. People were okay watching a group of thin queer white ladies. Despite being located in a city with a strong Black queer population. The lack of representation of darker skinned people of color is troubling. Also if you are a non Black POC, apparently you can only be fair skin?? Colorism isn’t an issue just within the Black community. Finally as someone who watched the whole season, this “friend group” felt forced. Haley and Brianna seems to be burning bridges with the friend group there’s a clear opening for new people! We get it Summer/Marissa didn’t mix with Haley and Brianna. Most of the POC cast members outside of Summer were regulated to “friends of the cast” roles. Every episode I’d ask is it Nelly’s turn is it Mack’s turn?

  9. Not sure why this article is so obsessed with policing women’s bodies on a random Amazon series.

    The show was about LESBIANS and it gave representation to LESBIANS and POC LESBIANS— that is all that matters to me. Please let LESBIANS have nice things, Autostraddle.

  10. This is the most racist article I have ever seen. I am born and raised in Tampa Bay Area and there is a very diverse population what she meant by that is Hispanic black white asian Russian Italian. So you thinking just because you don’t see dark skin people on the show she was just saying that shows where your mind is. So sad

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