“Grown-ish” Recap S2, Ep 17: Lost in Appropriation?

Freeform/Eric McCandless

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By Sire Leo Lamar-Becker

This week, it’s all about Vivek — and how close is too close? How comfortable is too comfortable?

You see, besides academics, of course, some people also go to college to find love, some go to find their purpose, and Vivek? He went “to reinvent himself and finally fit in.” But there’ve been some bumps along the way, Zo explains in her opening voiceover. (Cut to the montage of Vivek’s past mistakes.) Now, though, it seems he’s finally found a home — in the Black dorm.

Voiceover Zoey continues, “But on the road to reinventing yourself and trying to fit in, is it possible to fit in too well?”

One look at Doug after seeing dormmate Raphael give Vivek some dap as he’s leaving and shout, “Get at me later my ….”, says probably.

No one else seems to be bothered by the exchange or really even notice, and when Doug brings his grievances to Aaron, Aaron says Vivek has always been comfortable. (Cue another montage of Vivek, doing Vivek-like things — calling Black girls “queen,” saying “Do it for the culture,” and raising a Black power fist.)

Doug’s problem isn’t necessarily with Vivek being comfortable, though. It’s with everyone else being too comfortable with how comfortable Vivek is, and he says dude needs to be checked with a quickness. Aaron thinks Doug is overreacting. After all, Vivek is their boy. Still not having it, Doug reminds Aaron of the word Raphael used with Vivek, but Aaron points out what Raphael said isn’t Vivek’s fault. Plus, Raphael says the n-word all the time. (Yep, another montage.)

Regardless, Doug still feels like V Digital is appropriating Black culture. Ever the activist, Aaron schools him a lil’ bit: “How can Vivek be guilty of cultural appropriation? By definition, it means taking the elements of someone else’s culture without knowing anything about it or having any respect for it. Vivek isn’t stealing anything. You are buggin’.”

Aaron gets up from the couch, but Doug isn’t done. He claims he feels “mad disrespected” essentially by the way Vivek brushes his hair and the way he uses Black emojis when texting. (Petty on 1,000? Maybe.) And he’s convinced Aaron would find it all suspect, too, if it was anyone else but his homie.

Meanwhile, at the girls apartment, Zoey, Nomi, and Ana are chillin’ on the couch. Zoey is scouring the internet for volunteer work, since finding out it can help boost her grades and get her off academic probation, and, you know, also help society. Nomi, who is always in her rich girl mindset, finds it unfortunate that Cal U won’t give extra credit for the type of volunteer work she does: “writing sizeable, tax deductible donations to private school students in Israel.”

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After finding out the Puppy Rescue is all out of volunteer positions, Zoey checks out another site and finds Project Ballgown, which is legit pretty perfect for her. “Not only can I stack extra credit, but I can also stack the confidence of high school girls who can’t afford prom dresses,” she says.

Going through Vivek’s Stories back in Hawkins, Doug is trying to get Aaron to see what he sees: that Vivek is trying too hard to “be Black.” But Aaron still isn’t going for it. Aaron thinks since Vivek is also a minority, he can’t steal from Black people. But Doug? He doesn’t believe being a person of color gives him an all-access pass and feels we should all stay in our lanes. “But how can you tell which lane is which when everyone’s tryna be us?” Aaron asks. “Black culture is pop culture. It’s not Vivek’s fault the lines are so blurred.”

They hear noise outside and go to see what’s up. Apparently, it’s Wave Cap Wednesday, and guys are huddled in front of the building unveiling the ripples under their do-rags. At the last minute, here comes Vivek set to show off waves of his own. “The lines aren’t so blurry now, are they?” Doug asks. Aaron is shook. 

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And now, on to the Zoey Johnson Styling Experience, Redux: The Philanthropic Edition. Emerging from a back dressing room, Zo’s first client Cameo looks fly as ever in a navy blue princess prom gown with floral detailing. Zoey tells the girl the dress is a tad big, but she will fix it ASAP. To Zoey’s surprise, Cameo isn’t interested. “It’s fine,” the promgoer says. “Thank you.” And then, she dips.

Regrouping with the crew at Titanium, Nomi and Ana walk in and Ana seems a little hesitant when she spots her former bae-ish. Nomi tells her they can totally get their own table, but Ana says she’s committed to “pivoting back into the friend zone with him.” Nomi jokes that Ana dodged a bullet anyway ’cause Aaron wears beads in his rat tail. (But did she lie?)

Ever since the #WCW incident, Aaron seems he may be getting a little suspect of V Dig’s actions, too, and takes notice of the next exchange: Doug snidely asks Vivek why he ditched the waves, and Vivek says, “Dudes was getting nauseous. ‘Ya boy was too wavy.” Then, comes the “too Black” drink order and the “too Black” slang. Aaron’s not sure what to think now.

Vivek’s song comes on and he hits the dance floor, so Ana slides into his seat — next to Aaron. Aaron tells her she looks great, that he misses her, and asks her to dance, but she shuts him all the way down. Nomi gives her a thumbs up.

Back to analyzing Vivek’s every move. Doug points out that Vivek knows all the words to the song, and he’s willing to bet Vivek will have no problem dropping the n-bomb that’s on the come up. Nomi asks what’s going on — she and Ana are clueless to the “is he or isn’t he appropriating” controversy that’s been brewing all day. Jazz and Sky fill her in.

Just as they are about to find out whether or not Vivek will stop rapping to let the n-word pass, Raphael slides onto the dance floor in front of Vivek, just in time to rap it himself. Aaron, Doug, Sky, and Jazz throw their hands up in frustration, but Ana doesn’t get why they all think he’s appropriating, anyway. “From the Gucci he rocks to the music he listens to…”, Jazz begins. Ana comes in to finish, “Riiigggghhhtt, all the drugs that he deals.”

Record scratch.

What she just say? Ana tries to clean up that comment real quick. Aaron adds: “Rockin’ Gucci — we didn’t create that. If anything, the guy’s guilty of flexin’ too hard, not robbing us of our culture.” But Doug just won’t let it go and wonders why no one finds it weird that it’s always Black culture he’s celebrating. Sky says he may just prefer it, and then, Nomi feels the need to educate Sky on the fetishization of Black culture and how it’s problematic to excuse what Vivek is doing. Sky:

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Jazz decides to ride shotgun on this one, so Sky asks Nomi, “As an ally of the struggle, would you consider your own behavior problematic? Because I would.” She goes on to explain that Nomi hangs out with a mostly Black friend group and posts up in bamboo earrings. Jazz jumps in with, “And apparently, now you give lectures to Black people on how to stay woke.” Nomi is shook. “Oh my god. I’ve failed as an ally of the Diaspora,” she says.

Ana still doesn’t get it. Why can’t people dress, speak, and act how they want? she asks. Jazz drops that knowledge: “There is nothing flattering about picking and choosing elements of my life that you want to take — my body, my music, my hairstyles. All of a sudden, all of these white girls are rockin’ cornrows and wanna call them ‘boxer braids.'” (Meanwhile, this continues to happen to us.)

Ana tries to argue that Black culture is bigger than hair and claims Black people are trivilaizing their own culture by focusing on these things. Aaron explains these things aren’t trivial — they’re all we’ve got. “This is a culture that we’ve been forced to create because the first one was robbed from us,” Aaron says. “And now, it feels like we’re at risk of losing it again.” Doug doesn’t understand how Aaron can clearly see there’s an appropriation problem but can’t see it in Vivek. Aaron says he doesn’t think Vivek is doing anything wrong, so Doug gets up to check Vivek himself. “What are you gonna do?” Aaron asks. “Walk up to him and say, ‘Hey, Vivek, stop trying to be Black?’”

Turns out, Vivek is standing right behind them and overhears the convo. “What? You guys feel like I’m tryna act Black?” Vivek says, surprised. Doug goes on to explain that the wave caps, the language, and even the Black Santa emoji (for real, tho?) are crossing the line for him. Vivek looks genuinely stunned and says his intention was never to hurt anyone. He apologizes to the crew and offers to move out of Hawkins.

The next day at Zoey’s style experience, she’s trying to make sure her prom client Cameo is happy with her dress — so much so, it’s revealed, that Zoey texted her all night and into the wee hours of the morning to convince her to come in and give her another shot. Cameo is skeptical, but Zoey says she can work with that and pulls out more options from the rack. But after receiving lackluster feedback like, “nice” and “great” and “it’s cute,” Zoey gets a bit exasperated.

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As Zoey launches into her rant on how bomb that last dress is, Cameo speaks up and says those dresses just aren’t her. Finally, a little self-awareness sets in and Zo realizes she’s just been feeding Cameo dresses based on her own likes, instead of getting to know Cameo and her style. She decides to fix that now.

Back at Hawkins, Doug is playing video games when Vivek walks in to get his satin pillowcase, “It’s good for my waves,” his says to Doug. Of course, Doug already knows that. Doug apologizes to V-Digital, saying he may have been too harsh, but wasn’t trying to get him to leave Hawkins; he was just trying to point out the cultural appropriaton-ish of his actions. Vivek admits he’s always struggled with his own identity and that he wasn’t trying to appropriate, he just felt embraced by the dope Hawkins community.

The guys hug it out.

Cut to Zoey. She finally got it right with Cameo, who appears in a bright red tux (which Zo apparently “borrowed” from Luca), drop earrings, and sneakers. She is beaming. “Sometimes in life, fitting in isn’t always the best because it can prevent us from standing out and shining as our true authentic selves,” Zoey says.

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Our episode ends with everything mended and Vivek, Doug, Aaron, and Raphael playing dominoes in the dorm.

Catch up on the episodes you’ve missed here.

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