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Let’s Retire The “Angsty White Girl With Telekinetic Powers” Trope Forever

Let’s Retire The “Angsty White Girl With Telekinetic Powers” Trope Forever

What is it about telekinetic powers that make this the go-to thing for those who are angsty and of the eggshell persuasion?

I love superheroes.

It’s true. The only thing I could possibly love more would-be cowboys… if they hadn’t been whitewashed and popularized at the expense of Indigenous people. I also hate the shit out of John Wayne so there’s that. Still. Part of the appeal of superheroes to me is the fact that they are [usually] average-ass people that discover that they have extraordinary-ass powers. And the range of powers is what I found most interesting. I mean, you could quite literally be a flying brick-like Superman OR you could have the power to apparently change the channel by blinking like that one kid in the X-Men film franchise.

The possibilities are endless… unless you’re a white girl. Then apparently the only power you’re allowed to have—and max-the-fuck-out—are the powers of telekinesis. 

I know. You’re probably wondering where my intense feelings on this are coming from. Well, a couple of weeks ago, Netflix put out a trailer for their upcoming show I Am Not Okay With This. It stars 2 out of the 30923490324018292 It kids (with one of them, Stan, quite literally carrying over his name from the It movies), involves Stranger Things producer Shawn Levy as part of the creative team, and features, exactly, one light-skinned Black bestie because… diversity.

I have since started watching the show (reluctantly) to see if there’s anything of critical value to be sussed out, but mainly, I just have one request besides the obvious:

It’s time to retire the angsty white girl with TK powers for like… a decade.

To be clear, I have nothing against Sophia Lillis. I think she’s a fabulous actress (even though she is quickly being typecast as angsty-redheaded-teen-meets-Molly-Ringwald-2.0). And to my knowledge, IANOWT is based on the book series The End of The F***ing World. So it’s not like they pulled this story from thin air. And still, I ask, why people continue to give these white girls TK powers in these “coming-to-age” stories when A) Superpower Wiki exists and B) The Misfit-White-Girl-Has-TK-Powers-Thing has been done into oblivion already. IANOWT and Stranger Things are the most obvious and recent examples, but we have people like, say, Carrie (which were the vibes I got from the original IANOWT trailer), Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (who they lowkey turned into a bargain bin Jean Grey), Jean Grey (our perpetual, flopping ass queen), and the best one to ever do it… Matilda. And my whole thing is… what about TK powers makes this the go-to thing for those who are angsty and of the eggshell persuasion?

Is it the fact that rendering it onscreen looks better and/or is a bit easier than rendering other certain powers… outside of easier ones like fire, water, and electricity? Is it the go-to thing because of what it represents (total control) and these characters’ perceived lack of it? And what of the fact that said girl is also usually from some “disadvantaged” background? Where are the successful and popular (and perhaps) bitchy-ass white girls who suddenly hit puberty and have all this power at their disposal? Or is it just cinematic AND narrative laziness? Does the ease of slapping a boring white girl (which is not as self-aware a critique as the creators of IANOWT think) with these starter powers outweigh the potential narrative award of assigning them literally any other fucking power?

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In a perfect world, the answer would be a combination of all of these things, but more than likely, it’s the latter one—the ease of it all. And the fact that they can throw this same person, this same character up, change like one thing on them (like, say, how they wear their hair) and throw it up on our screens. But honestly, what a waste. I’ve always viewed superpowers in terms of their allegorical potential and these shows are truly missing out. Like, where’s the story where the popular white mean girl has to suddenly struggle with the power of invisibility? Where’s the closeted Latinx kid—who is used to shrinking themselves for their survival—who suddenly has to confront their power size enhancement powers (re: becoming a GIANT)? Where’s our millennial Black Pamela Isley knock-off who wants to stop climate change and suddenly develops the plant manipulation powers to do so?

The possibilities are truly endless, my friends. And it’s time to retire this one.  

Clarkisha Kent is a Nigerian-American writer, culture critic, former columnist, and up and coming author. Committed to telling inclusive stories via unique viewpoints from nigh-infancy, she is fascinated with using storytelling and cultural criticism not as a way to “overcome” or “transcend” her unique identities (as a fat and queer Black African woman), but as a way to explore them, celebrate them, affirm them, and most importantly, normalize them and make the world safe enough for people who share them to exist. As a University of Chicago graduate with a B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and English, she brings with her over five years of pop culture analysis experience, four years of film theory training, and a healthy appetite for change. Her writing has been featured in outlets like Entertainment Weekly, Essence, The Root, BET, HuffPost, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and more. She is also the creator of #TheKentTest, a media litmus test designed to evaluate the quality of representation that exists for women of color in film and other media. Currently, Kent is working on finishing a novel about a Black female outlaw and a TV comedy pilot about an immortal familiar.

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