Watch a New Web Series That's Like Awkward Black Girl for Academics

Slate's Culture Blog
March 24 2014 9:16 AM

Awkward Black Girl Meets Academia in a Hilarious New Web Series

Ariane Anderson and Aphrodite Kocieda in a scene from Tales from the Kraka Tower.

Still from YouTube

It’s Lakisha Wisniewski’s first day in the “Diversity Department” at Kraka University, and there to welcome her is Dr. Kimball, the school’s self-proclaimed “diversity specialist.” A white woman decked out in a dashiki and kufi, Dr. Kimball fails to recognize a photo of Angela Davis—“Is she a rapper?”—before asking if Lakisha is “fully black.”

Rebecca Schuman Rebecca Schuman

Rebecca Schuman is an education columnist for Slate.

This is but one of the facepalm-worthy scenes in the first episode of the new Web series Tales from the Kraka Tower, created by University of South Florida MA student Aphrodite Kocieda, who also plays Lakisha. It’s a laugh-out-loud funny (and stroke-inducing enraging) look at race and privilege in the academy—a must-watch for anyone who enjoys the cult hit The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, and anyone who believes barbed satire to be an effective weapon in the fight against everyday prejudice.


Kocieda—who just defended her MA in communication with a thesis about race, gender, and the “Slutwalk” phenomenon—worked with no budget and cast her grad-student friends in the series, which she created to stimulate discussion about exclusion in academia, an industry we often think of—erroneously—as a “politically correct” fortress of progressivism. Instead, Kocieda explains, many academics—such as scholars of color, or scholars with disabilities—discover that “the academy disciplines you in a way where you can be political as long as you stay within the lines,” lines created by a mainstream that is often far from inclusive.

For example, it might surprise viewers outside of academia that the existence of African-American studies departments does not mean that the university is a welcoming environment for black scholars. Rather, Kocieda explains, the so-called identity politics disciplines are “not proof of our success, but should be a reminder of how far we have to go,” and of the fact that “mainstream” academic curricula still exclude minorities.

Kocieda’s tool of choice in highlighting the isolating experience of “those labeled ‘diverse’ ”—in college, grad school, and the professoriate—is wicked satire of several key culprits in this isolation: ableism, tokenism, and being treated as “exotic” (as Dr. Kimball, played by Ariane Anderson, describes Lakisha whilst asking about her hair).

The outsized characters also include Sam (Kyle Romano), a disabled grad student made to hold his office hours in an elevator, and Dr. Akintola, a black senior professor in the Diversity Department whose Stockholm Syndrome at Kraka University is so acute that he proclaims that race, class, and gender no longer exist. His “proof” that “Black people have been free for about 400 years”? “We’ve got Eric Holder, who talks about guns!” Dr. Akintola’s character may be exaggerated, Kocieda says, but “his advice to Lakisha is very real: ‘My job is to teach you how to write absolutely nothing.’ He even tells her to just ‘be a bag of black skin.’ ”

As for that title, and its critical reference to the term some racists believe is equivalent to the n-word? As Kocieda says (referencing an epic Louis C.K. bit), “If you’re offended by the term ‘cracker,’ you really have to re-evaluate your understanding of American history.”

Kocieda plans on producing at least six episodes, which Kocieda hopes will “reignite the activist spirit in any minoritized person who feels defeated or depressed because of daily microaggressions.” Such microagressions, she says, are unsurprising in an academy that operates not unlike the suburbs in which Lakisha grew up: “There’s an appropriate way to act, an appropriate way to speak, and appropriate subjects to talk about. There’s a desire to attain prestige through publications, and a desire to quietly settle down through tenure.” And, of course, “There’s a hell of a lot of white people.”

Rebecca Schuman is an education columnist for Slate.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

iOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. Then I Married Someone Like Him.

  News & Politics
Sept. 17 2014 12:02 PM Here It Is: The Flimsiest Campaign Attack Ad of 2014, Which Won’t Stop Running
Sept. 17 2014 12:13 PM “For a While Liquidity Led to Stupidity”
The Vault
Sept. 17 2014 1:04 PM The War Department's WWII Advice Booklet for Soldiers Headed to Syria
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 1:26 PM Hey CBS, Rihanna Is Exactly Who I Want to See on My TV Before NFL Football Games
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 1:01 PM A Rare, Very Unusual Interview With Michael Jackson, Animated
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 12:35 PM IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.