In Season 1 of “The Bold Type,” Kat Edison was the quirky, outspoken, “blackish” friend who challenged social norms.
As the head of Scarlet magazine’s social media department, viewers watched Kat explore her career, her sexuality and her wanderlust — everything but her racial identity.
In a trio of best friends, Kat is the only woman of color. While viewers love watching her sisterly bond with coworkers Jane and Sutton, there was no reference to her race as she navigated a predominately white workplace with white friends in New York City.
As Season 1 concluded, “The Bold Type” was subsequently slammed for its avoidance of race.
In a particularly tone-deaf episode, Kat is shown punching a white man that hurled Islamophobic slurs at her love interest, Adena El-Amin, and then resisting arrest. While the nation is divided over the police killings of black men, the show chose to portray a young black woman as an aggressor.
After being bailed out by her white boss, Kat returns to normal life and is invited to happy hour drinks. Outside of her feminist protests and newfound passion for Adena, Kat is not political about much else.
Cut to Season 2, Kat is suddenly acknowledging her blackness onscreen.
In the new season, Kat struggles with her multiracial identity. After being called out by a colleague for her reluctance to openly identify as black, she begins to question her resistance. Emboldened by her relationship with Adena, a proud Muslim lesbian, she confronts her parents about why she was raised to resist societal labels and pretend race doesn’t matter.
“The label of race — we didn’t want that for you,” her dad admits as he describes his experience being raised in a segregated city. We learn that Kat doesn’t know any of her dad’s relatives, which is the black side of her family.
Kat’s mom reveals different motives. “Maybe I avoided labels because I just wanted to be your mom, I didn’t want to be your white mom,” she admits.
Their dialogue illustrates a common struggle.
As a mother of multiracial children, I understand trying to overcompensate when society makes your child or your family seem like an anomaly. I cringed when I heard the story about the mom who was asked by a Southwest airlines employee to prove she was related to her biracial baby because of his skin color.
Yet, my discomfort and intolerance for racial bias does not prevent me from having honest discussions with my children about race.
Ultimately, Kat’s parents apologize and acknowledge how she chooses to identify is her choice. Kat decides to publicly identify as black to inspire young black girls.
A few episodes later, Kat is in the breakroom with her black coworkers for “black people snack time.” The group is brainstorming ways to avoid hiring one of Scarlet’s typical Ivy League job candidates.
While fighting to provide another woman of color an employment opportunity at Scarlet, Kat condemns Jane’s disdain for diversity hiring measures. Jane has just learned she may not get a position because the publication needs to diversify its staff. She doesn’t think it’s fair that she is being passed over for the job because she is white.
Instead of letting their disagreement cause a rift in their friendship, Kat and Jane have a diplomatic conversation about white privilege and why it’s important for companies to make a more of an effort to hire minorities. Kat also admits to her own privilege as a woman who grew up affluent. Jane recognizes white privilege is real and offers a sincere apology.
Along with evolving conversations about racism and racial identity, Kat continues to explore friendships with people outside of her trio. In this week’s episode, she shares an intimate dance and a kiss with a black woman at a lesbian club, symbolizing her growing acceptance of her queer sexuality and her blackness.
Instead of ignoring that she is black, viewers get to watch Kat address common scenarios that arise for women of color maintaining cross-cultural personal and professional relationships. For multiracial women struggling to figure out where they fit in, Kat’s character is especially important.
This season, “The Bold Type” proves networks can thoughtfully address #MeToo, give us queer heroines and feature nuanced conversations about race in America.