“Professional Black Girl is, like, my favorite thing that I didn’t plan to do.”
Dr. Yaba Blay is talking about her self-produced sleeper-hit video series, Professional Black Girl, which quietly rocked our worlds when it debuted in fall 2016. The 14-episode first season was an exploration of what Blay calls “black-girl culture”—in all its regular, degular, schmegular everyday magic. As she stated in her launch video, “Whatever it means to be a black girl, I’m that.”
Here at The Glow Up, we couldn’t agree more, which is why we were excited to speak with Blay about the next phase of Professional Black Girl. It’s been a profound and joyful labor of love for the professor and now producer—with an endowed chair in political science at North Carolina Central University—whose academic work has focused specifically on black body politics and black racial identity:
Most of my work is about trying to teach through images. I use images—and now, moving images—to spark conversations ... [but] the fulfillment for me now is coming from recognizing that the internet and these platforms are my classroom. The joy that I get when the light bulbs go off for my students, I also get that when just being able to have regular conversations with folks and throwing some information, or pushing folks to think a little differently.
The conversations sparked by the first season of Professional Black Girl resonated deeply with all types of black women. This, despite the show’s concept being a happy accident that occurred while Blay was developing another series, centered on black hair:
And then, once I launched it, it just became a thing. I mean, I wasn’t ready for it, but it brings me so much joy. I’ve gotten so many messages from women—I mean, women have stopped me on the street just to say “Thank you.” And it’s, like, amazing to me to hear women who are, like, literally rocket scientists, and medical doctors, and CEOs who are saying, “Girl, thank you.”
Now she’s ready to take her show on the road, hoping to film her second season in New Orleans—hopefully, with a little help from her Professional Black Girl friends:
New Orleans is and has long been considered probably the most—not just black—but the most African city in America ... I’m used to being in black spaces, but, like, there’s something different about New Orleans and it’s really—for me—it’s culture, you know? And so, when I think of how I came to be a professional black girl, of course it’s based upon my memories and my experiences growing up in New Orleans. There’s just nowhere like New Orleans, you know?
I just feel like we deserve so much better than the memory of Katrina. Like, we still there, so wanting the joy that Professional Black Girl has brought to us up to this point, [I’m] wanting to bring some of that to New Orleans.
In a brief 48 hours, Blay’s season 2 Kickstarter campaign has gained significant steam. But as she now works to bring this project to NOLA and beyond, she could use our support—and is already focused on the bigger picture:
My intention is to crowdfund this, But I hope it catches the attention of a major platform or production company or angel investor or somebody with some money who recognizes how important this is to black women. ... We’re out here, [and] we want to see a variety of depictions of ourselves and our experiences in the same kind of regular ways that white folks get to see themselves. And this is regular, everyday kind of joy.
And so, I’m constantly thinking of how I can move the project forward ... each season will be another city, and through Professional Black Girl experiences, then you would get to know a little bit about the city, outside of whatever is the popular area ... I’m trying to think of places that we don’t always go to.
As Professional Black Girls ourselves, here’s the official endorsement from The Glow Up: If you haven’t yet checked out Professional Black Girl for yourself, you definitely should. It’s addictive and affirmative. And if you feel moved to support, you should do that, as well. But more than anything, whatever kind of Professional Black Girl you might be, be that—in all of your regular-black-girl glory. Because all other credentials aside, trust us, it’s enough. And it is uniquely ours. As Blay reminds us:
Because even though I’m these things and people have these expectations of me, at the end of the day, I’m real regular in some ways, and I want to be OK being real regular in those ways ... I’ve spent so much more time being Yaba than I’ve been Dr. Blay, you know? And those three letters (Ph.D.) don’t make me, but what makes me honestly me—Yaba—is my connection to black women and girls. And I just see this black girl culture as just a beautiful thing that I recognize us sharing.
So I’m just trying to make sure we acknowledge that, and that it’s not reactionary—that we are not mad when Kim Kardashian or the Jenners take something from us, and now we want to claim cornrows. Because we claim cornrows every day. So our pride shouldn’t be reactionary.