Great TV Moments in Black Girl Badassery Vol. 9: Whitley Gilbert
March 10, 2016 at 2:29 pm
Queen of pretentious.
Next Up: Whitley Gilbert
A Different World turns 30 next year and it’s subject matter remains relevant today as it did nearly three decades ago. For the first time, American audiences witnessed the Black college experience from 1987-1993. The lives of students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities were on display with an evolving sense of community and culture. Where else can you find honest discussions tackling affirmative action, mammy, segregation in World War II, and Black owned slaves? Hillman college, the fictional HBCU schooled viewers on sensitive topics while ushering in a wave of socially conscious Blacks eager about education of the past, present and future.
Whitley Gilbert, a prima dona and Southern belle played by the illustrious Jasmine Guy, served up a never seen before vivacity to TV’s portrayal of what it means to be in the Black upper crust. Happily funded by her daddy’s money and overbearing mother’s socialite status, Whitley made no qualms about living the high life. Throughout the series’ six season run, Whitley’s character arc gracefully fell from her high horse. The self-absorbed freshman walked away a warm and gentle mother-to-be.
She never quite got the hang of sports, though.
As ADW pushed the envelope, causing NBC to be nervous about advertisers and critical reception, a number of the racier episodes involved Whitley peeling back her own naive layers. Wealthy in riches and poor in life experiences, Whitley’s role at Hillman came in many antagonist forms which in turn brought on hard lessons. In the season four episode, “If I Should Die Before I Wake” guest starring Whoopi Goldberg and Tisha Campbell-Martin as a student living with AIDS, Whitley learned very quickly that how she had imagined making love to Dwayne would be far more riskier if unprotected. In season three, “To Have and Have Not”, Whitley’s stereotypes about inner-city youth and urban communities, surfaced when she begins volunteering at a youth center. The Rodney King trial, ageism with Mr. Gaines, and workplace sexual harassment, you name it, Whitley was in it. Then there was the steady dramatics in season five with Dwayne (Kadeem Hardison). It was all worth it though.
We were blessed with arguably the greatest wedding ever televised (sorry William and Kate).
In times of love and war, Whitley always came out swinging.
Whitley’s reaction to a racist store clerk is what earns her the title of badass.
Season 3, Episode 14: Pride & Prejudice
Money bags Whitley wants to find an extravagant gift at a local jewelry store for her dad’s birthday, instead she walked away with a pricey lesson on racism. The store clerk figured that Whit and Freddie (Cree Summer) couldn’t afford to shop there, so she initially showed them the more inexpensive items. Catching on to the clerk’s prejudicial tone, Freddie insists they leave. Whitley, wet behind the ears to racism argues the clerk’s attitude was merely superficial and not to a level of racism. Once making a hefty purchase, believing her money and kindness would ease over the situation, Whitley chats with Jaleesa (Dawnn Lewis) only to find out she’d lost moral ground. Swallowing her pride, a rarity for Whiltey, she returns to the store for a refund and to directly address the stereotypes often associated with Blacks.
In all of her lavish costumes, Whitley’s self-love and appreciation of African American culture were the most stylish.
Thank you, Jasmine Guy for Whitley.
You set a high bar for generations to come.
Missing A Different World? Live tweet it on Netflix every Saturday morning with @hillmantoday.
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