Amanda Seales, creator, and host of Smart, Funny, and Black Entertainment, just finished a successful run portraying Tiffany DuBois on HBO’s hit dramedy, Insecure. An influencer with million-plus followers on social media, the comedian, writer, and social justice activist uses her life and education to raise awareness about the Black experience with a charismatic style that brings people joy, straight talk, and facts.
A 2005 alum of Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Science, Seales earned a degree in African American Studies with a concentration in Hip-Hop. She studied with the late Professor Manning Marable, a leading scholar of Black history whose biography of Malcolm X broke new ground with its flawed portrait of the Civil Rights leader. Studying with Marable, Seales says, was a time in her life that “grew her up” and provided a lifetime of connection beyond what she envisioned.
Columbia Neighbors recently had the opportunity to speak with Seales. She shared the backstory on why she chose Columbia for graduate school and what Black History Month means to her.
What piece of African American history has stuck with you throughout life and your career?
Everything that James Baldwin has said. His approach to being creative at the same time as being ardently and vehemently and loudly opposed to white supremacy has been the framework for the way that I live my life. We’ve looked at the Civil Rights movement like it was a really long time ago, but it actually was very recent. I really look to so much of James’ writing and his thought process around his responsibility as someone in the limelight, as well as someone who has the gift of words, as a beacon of light to what direction I have to continue going in with my work.
If you were teaching Black history, what would be on your syllabus?
Smart, Funny, and Black is a Black variety comedy game show where I teach Black culture, Black history, and the Black experience. I always try to reference things that are historical, pop-cultural, and also things that are experiential. All three of those things are important tentpoles because Black culture is not just about the historical figures and the ancestors who have come before us. It’s also how we live and how we’ve lived in spite of all that has been done to us, and how we have created, in the midst of the madness, continuously and prolifically. If I was in the classroom, I would keep that same framework.