Riverdale has a problem. No, it's not the serial killer on the loose. It's bigger than that, and has been ongoing since season one — but it struck me the hardest during last night's episode.
The entire town of Riverdale turned out to support Pop's Diner, lining up in the parking lot to watch a performance on the rooftop from the local trio Josie and the Pussycats. While their "Milkshake" remix was satisfactory at best (did we really need a new rendition of Kelis' hit? Probably not, but we get it! Milkshakes are life in Riverdale!) and the entire performance was awkward, the really terrible part was this: Cheryl Blossom was singing along with the Pussycats. Why does this matter? Because Cheryl Blossom is white.
Josie and the Pussycats is described on the Riverdale Wiki as being "noted for their signature cat ears and all being women of color." Did you catch that last part? All. Women. Of. Color.
That's why Veronica (who is Latina) joined the band when they were down a member last season. But this time around it was Cheryl Blossom, a white woman.
It's actually the second time that Cheryl was on stage with the Pussycats; they teamed up for a version of "Sugar Sugar" in season one. Back then, Cheryl joined Josie in some type of rap break-down mid-way through their performance. Did Josie really need Cheryl to help her rap? I don't think so, but there she was. Suddenly, Josie didn't seem so much like the leader of her own badass all Black girl band — instead she became part of a backup ensemble for the school's mostly white cheerleading squad.
And there lies the problem. Riverdale is a town dominated by whiteness, save for the shady principal, the shady mayor (who is also Josie's mom), and the quaint old timer running the diner. Sure, Josie joined the River Vixens this season (without any explanation or tryouts), but it felt like a strained and rushed attempt to better incorporate the show's Black women into the storyline.
The truth is the one space that is strictly FOR Josie and her black friends is their band. But they can't seem to keep it for themselves.
Archie and his pals have been hell bent on being a part of it since episode one, when Archie got shut down by Josie after offering his untested (and lackluster) songwriting skills for the Pussycats. Hell, the Pussycats don't even get full autonomy over themselves because there's always someone using their band or their songwriting skills for personal gains, namely Archie, Cheryl and Josie's mother, Mayor Sierra McCoy.
It's funny to think that Josie was pushed into performing at the "Save Pop's" party — an event designed to save a safe space for Riverdale's mostly white teen heroes, Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead. And it begs the question: Where's the safe space for Black girls in Riverdale?
Nonexistent, if the episodes are our only evidence. In a way, it's probably Riverdale's most honest commentary on race in the show: In the real world Black women often create, innovate, and work hard because they have to. And they're often forced to watch white people claim Black women's creativity as their own.
The end result is this: Black women sharing their spotlight — or pushed out of the limelight altogether, confined as backup for someone who hasn't worked half as hard to be there.
Cheryl and the Pussycats moved completely out of a sync, wiggling their hips in matching short-shorts. Cheryl had the cat ears, but gone were the instruments and leather jackets. It was a far cry from the first time we watched the Pussycats perform. It seemed like a vanilla, watered down imitation of the original — a type of milkshake that will bring no one to the yard.