*Below is a reposted think piece created by the owner of The BOS Foundation, dedicated towards healing, uplifting and strengthening the culture of Blacks of the State through education, empowerment and advocacy. Enjoy.
It’s 2019. You’re a Black Woman. Let’s be real. Dating is hard (in my Tasha Mack voice). “Fresh Prince Syndrome” is a paradigm I thought of one day when thinking about my own bad dating choices and why I made them.
If you consider yourself a ‘Millennial’, ‘90s baby’, or ‘80s baby’, you’re most likely a fan of the iconic sitcom starring Will Smith “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”. The Fresh Prince character has inspired pop culture, fashion, comedy, hip hop, and Black culture since the 1990s, and continues to do so today. I mean, when the first line to J. Cole’s 2014 hit single “No Role Modelz” drops, it’s crazy to see how the stadium, nightclub, or whatever entertainment venue you’re at, silences — then chants in harmony with SO much passion:
“FIRST THING’S FIRST, REST IN PEACE UNCLE PHIL!!! FOR REAL!!”
J. Cole made it a point to begin his artistic work honoring the life of James Avery, the man portraying the character of Uncle Phil on the Fresh Prince show, who had passed away in 2013, months before J. Cole released his album Forrest Hills Drive. The death of James Avery was the death of ‘Uncle Phil’ for many, a father figure who impacted the lives of millions on a weekly basis from 1990–1996, when the show aired on NBC, and beyond as reruns continue to air regularly today.
Beyond that, even more Fresh Prince legacies live on that have been etched in our subconscious because they are such memorable moments: theCarlton Dance; the dark skin versus light skin Aunt Viv debate, which J. Cole also references in his No Role Modelz song (that’s a whole other medium article right there); every teenage boy’s crush on Ashley, portrayed by Tatyana Ali; Rafael De La Ghetto (‘nuff said); the theme song that everybody and they mama can sing at the drop of a dime; being thrown out of the house like DJ Jazzy Jeff; the epic scene where Will breaks down to Uncle Phil after his father abandons him again; the ‘dap’ between Will and Jazz; Will and Carlton dancing to Sugar Hill Gang “Tonto jump on it, jump on it, jump on it”……
These are just a few of the images and memories that fans would conjure up at the mention of the Fresh Prince. I mean, the gifs and memes that exist are endless. The show is arguably one of the funniest sitcoms ever created. It dealt with complex issues related to race, family, relationships, and youth, and felt authentically representative of how it feels to be young, Black, and vibrant.
I’m not sure how I coined this concept of the “Fresh Prince Syndrome” but I’m sure its related to my rollercoaster ride of relationships, situationships, and just dismal dating experiences as a 29 year old Black woman. It’s also possible I was watching a reality show, trying to draw sweeping sociopolitical conclusions from White supremacist, historically controlling images dictated in the media.
Whatever it was, I’m sure I was ranting to myself, a friend, or on social media about why us women, more specifically Black women, tend to fall for the wrong type of men. The same way that Black people consciously refer to nostalgic Fresh Prince moments when we hit the Carlton or the jump on it dance, we subconsciously refer back to the Fresh Prince when making our dating decisions.
The Fresh Prince is the Black culture equivalent to the “Alpha Male” image which exists in White American culture. The image of the Fresh Prince that is etched in our subconscious is of a young, tall, athletic, charismatic Black man. He is very stylish and trendy. He wears colorful clothes and plays basketball. He is a rapper and musically gifted. He is passionate and energetic. He uses trendy Black vernacular. He hides his intelligence in order to fit in. He is very humorous, always making others laugh, sometimes at the expense of others. He consistently cracks jokes on Uncle Phil for being overweight and on Carlton for being short. He places a lot of value on his own outward appearance and the outward appearance of others, especially the women he dates. He dates multiple women, usually for just an episode. Over the course of 6 seasons, he has long term commitments with only two of those women, Nia Long (Lisa) and Tyra Banks (Jackie). He often centers his sexuality and his sexual attraction towards women (He even marries Kim Fields one episode just so she would agree to have sex with him). He is self-absorbed, constantly admiring himself in the mirror and expecting admiration from the girls he dates.
Now, my point is not to judge whether or not these characteristics of The Fresh Prince are racist or intentional; whether they are virtuous or not; or which characteristics are more or less pronounced. My purpose is to draw attention to how many of us young, Black women have internalized the image of the Fresh Prince as that of an ideal Black male partner.
I have found myself, pursuing relationships with men because I believed that they were more desirable because they had “Fresh Prince Vibes”. Now, this is a subconscious process. I am not actively searching for guys similar to the Fresh Prince. However, I find myself more intrigued or drawn in, feeling more validated, when I meet guys who give off the same energy that the Fresh Prince gives off.
These are the guys that are really charming. Funny as hell. Tall and handsome with an athletic build. They tend to stand out in a crowd and know how to draw attention to themselves. They have a slight to super inflated ego, feeling themselves beyond measure. They always have to have the newest shoes, or most expensive jewelry, or most exclusive and trendy brands. They always use the trendy lingo. And, either at the present point or at some point in the past, they were the greatest basketball player or rapper or both in their hood/city/state/country/continent.
The guy with the “Fresh Prince Vibes” is definitely a womanizer and a player, but for some reason that makes him more attractive. He is very flirty. He is currently dating other women, has lots of admirers on social media, or has a lot of previous sexual encounters with women. These things make him appear more powerful, more charming, and more unattainable. The fact that he is so seemingly unattainable makes him even more desirous to us Black women, because we are inherently powerful. We want to feel as if our power is being matched by someone equally as powerful.
In western culture, POWER =MONEY, SEX, & ABUNDANCE. So many times, a powerful woman can mistake fly clothes and multiple women as indicators of power. Will, as the protagonist of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, has inherent power being the center of the show (receiving an abundance of attention). However, when he is portrayed as a self centered, trendy womanizer who downplays his mind for more shallow interests, the audience subconsciously understands not only Will/The Fresh Prince (representation of a Black man) as being this way, but POWER as also being this way. The audience sees that POWER is when you have multiple women, obsess over vanity, center yourself, and strive to fit in with the group.
When Black women fall for these mis-markers of power, they are suffering from Fresh Prince Syndrome. If you are a Black woman seeking monogamy, commitment, holistic love, respect, and reciprocity, the Fresh Prince type ain’t for you. It may be validating to feel as if this admired man admires you. You may feel special knowing that this artist or entertainer with a platform is giving you attention. You may feel powerful dating a man that so many other women want to date. However, you must also ask yourself, is this the man you want to build a future and a life with?
Its 2019, lets be real. 9.9 times out of 10 that charming guy who is extra lit on social media is indeed that womanizer, liar, and cheater you intuit he is. He is the Fresh Prince who will be with a new ‘A-List actress’ the ‘next episode’. Y’all remember how many fine ass Black actresses starred on the Fresh Prince as a love interest for Will?!? Jasmine Guy, Vivica Fox, Queen Latifah, Nia Long, Tyra Banks, Kim Fields, Mari Morrow, Elise Neal, Tisha Campbell, & Naomi Campbell, etc…… This is the reality of who the Fresh Prince is (not Will Smith, the fictional character he portrayed). Relationship wise, is that the man you want?
Black women, as Fresh Prince viewers for nearly 30 years, have had these images consistently reinforced. Without critical analysis of our beloved pop culture icons, we can dismiss how the images we love can have detrimental or unwanted affects.
Realizing that I ended up with some of my exes because of my own misperceptions was a major revelation for me. I had to be real with myself and say:
“Self, why did you stay with an asshole for such a long time?”
Self to self: “Oh yea, he was tall, handsome, swaggy, in touch with the trends, and arrogant af.”
Simple. That was real for me. Especially being the nerd I am, and so out of touch with trends and pop culture. I felt validated by men like him. I felt accepted in a society predicated on finite power, materialism, and racist European beauty standards because HE accepted me. I thought if this worldly man can accept me, then the world must accept me too, right??
Fresh Prince Syndrome is not about pathologizing all Black men or claiming that men with any of these character traits are “bad”. It is also not a sickness that Black women have as a result of some deficiency. I look at it as a subconscious thought pattern that places Black men who exhibit Fresh Princecharacteristics on a pedestal. This thought pattern has specifically influenced Black women to choose to date and value men who are egotistical, energetic, womanizers, athletic, vain, musical, self absorbed, center sex, and value materialism and trends.
As Black women continue to reflect on our lives and relationships, I hope that this paradigm can assist other Black women with putting their dating patterns in perspective. Its a unique take on how pop culture images have influenced Black relationships and dating expectations. As Black women dating Black men, do we always want the Fresh Prince? Would Carlton be so bad?
Have you ever dated a Fresh Prince type? What was your experience like? Comment and share and let me know if you agree or disagree!