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D.C. author's tale of young black women's loneliness catches Hollywood's ear
By DeNeen L. Brown Washington Post Staff Writer
Helena Andrews is 29, single, living in D.C., and might be the star of a black "Sex and the City" -- stylish, beautiful and a writer desperately in search of love in the city. Andrews's life appears charmed: The film rights for her memoir, "Bitch Is the New Black," a satirical look at successful young black women living in Washington, were purchased before the book was finished. Shonda Rhimes, the executive producer of "Grey's Anatomy," is set to produce the film and Andrews will write the screenplay. When Andrews pitched the book, she described it as part "Bridget Jones's Diary," part "Sex and the City." The book is to be published in June by Harper Collins. "What I am trying to say about single black women in any urban environment is, you don't know them as well as you think you do. They may not know themselves as well as they think they do," Andrews says, seated at a table with a white tablecloth in a restaurant on U Street. Her appearance is flawless: She is wearing an ivory blazer and skinny jeans, her movie-star eyes glisten with shadow and her hair is cut in a fresh bob. Perfect. Image is everything. And it means nothing. "The book was a time for me to step back and reflect," to capture the internal dialogue and the dialogue with girlfriends who are "caught in a quarter-life crisis." She is not talking about all young black women, but some. Revealing a story not oft told. A lot of black women put up an exterior that says: "Everything is together. 'I'm fine. Perfect. Don't worry about me. Keep it moving.' That is the trend," Andrews says. "Put on new stilettos. Put on a mask of bitchiness." But that image -- prevalent in both the media and the workplace, Andrews believes -- is one-dimensional. "When people think about black women, they have only one adjective for us, which is 'strong,' " Andrews says. "The girl you see walking down the street looks like she has it all together," but she may not. A journalist who has written for Politico and The Root, Andrews says her book attempts to reveal what's behind the veneer. In a series of essays, Andrews documents the lives of so many young black women who appear to have everything: looks, charm, Ivy League degrees, great jobs. Closets packed full of fabulous clothes; fabulous condos in fabulous gentrified neighborhoods; fabulous vacations, fabulous friends. And yet they are lonely: Their lives are repetitive, desperate and empty. They are post-racial feminists who have come of age reaping the benefits of both the civil rights movement and the women's movement, then asking quietly: What next? "Gone are the [college] days when friends are an elevator ride away, dinner plans are made on the way to somebody's hall, and Thursday is Friday or Friday is Thursday (who cares, you'll figure it out in Philosophy C203)," Andrews writes. "Soon enough, the little old lady living in a shoe is you -- and the rent is effin' unbelievable, and nobody comes to visit because you're too far from the Metro. Adulthood comes in little jigsaw pieces. Once the painstaking work of fitting them all together is done, the picture doesn't look nearly as cool as it did on the box." Andrews writes about what it is like for a young, black woman dating in D.C., trying to find a mate who seems ever elusive. The futile rituals are familiar: the dressing up, the eager cab ride over to the party, the hold-your-breath as you walk in, scanning the room quickly for any looks returned. The mantra sounding in the back of your head: "So-and-so found a man last year at a party like this. Maybe tonight is my night." Then one by one, the men prove to be disappointments and disappointing: married, uninteresting or uninterested. The disappointment as you end up at the bar once again, committing straw violence in your drink (stirring the drink frantically and unconsciously). Andrews writes the truth of those nights. The truth is for too many, they never work out. Not for Andrews and not for her friend, Gina, who is a prominent character in her life and in the book. "For a lot of black women, especially young successful black women, we have a lot of boxes on our master plan list checked off," Andrews says. "We think happiness should come immediately after that. But that is not always the case." Love is much too hard to find and when these women do, it may go all wrong because of issues that are too complicated for statistics, Andrews says. She is quick to say, "There are tons of black families who are healthy and good." Even so, black women are more likely than white women to grow up poor or otherwise struggling financially; to be fatherless and to experience a myriad of other societal and/or familial dysfunctions. Ironically, the "issues" can also include being a "strong" woman: the can-do, opinionated type many black women become after growing up in a matriarchal household, the type with whom some men still just can't deal. "I have tons of friends who are extremely successful lawyers and lobbyists, staffers on the Hill. They are great at what they do. They are in their late 20s and early 30s," Andrews says, sipping Ethiopian coffee. Her dog, Miles, is sitting beneath the restaurant table, whining softly. "But there is loneliness at their jobs, because most likely they are the only black person there and people treat them like they are the only black person there. They dress a certain way. They go out on the weekend. . . . And still they end up going home, and it's you and your damned dog."
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