Being Mary Janes or Being Moral Mules?
While partaking of various items in my websurfing diet I often find myself struggling not to get sucked too deeply into the veritable smorgasbord of mind-numbing, click-through slideshows. At the same time, I value and congratulate sites like Madame Noire and the constellating blogosphere within its close orbit. I like how it provides a viable platform for young black women to cultivate their voices and share opinions. So let me borrow a quote from one of the blog’s contributors when I say there’ll be no stank face over here.
Anyway, having recently found myself in the throes of binge-watching BET’s newest dramatic series, Being Mary Jane, I came across this blog post in today’s newsfeed. And as hyperlinking would have it, I found myself clicking to one content contributor waxing blogosophical about the social import of Being Mary Jane as somehow representing a cultural leap for black women. (Of course, I’m all too aware of the debates surrounding the applicability of “social import” when speaking of popular television shows and other trending media; that’s a blog post for another time.) The assertions about the show’s dramatic realism regarding the title character’s character match the general commentary made about the Kerry Washington vehicle, Scandal. For instance:
Being Mary Jane gives black women something shows with predominantly white casts have been hip to for a while now: Our very own Walter White. Dare I say, our first anti-hero. She’s the woman we hate to love because she’s the perfect validation of the fact that villains have feelings too.
I understand the sentiment behind such perceptions, but beneath the accolades lies a flawed logic. The impulse to praise any opportunity in which black women can see their lived realities portrayed on screen, projected as multi-dimensional, nuanced leading characters is a temptation to be sure. However much beyond that, claims about cultural groundbreaking are farfetched. The concept of an educated black woman emotionally supporting her parents and extended family by succeeding through hard work and tenacity all while looking fabulous breaks new ground — really?
Mary Jane’s agonizing over the health of her living and unborn nieces, reciting the Lord’s Prayer on behalf of a terrified nation on live television, and baking awesome cakes from scratch for her mother’s birthday somehow makes her a villain of the highest order. Clearly, this assessment provides further evidence that assumptions about black female malfeasance have become so pervasive in our culture that other black women are themselves actively engaged in the vilification of black femininity. The logic doesn’t hold; black women having normal human appetites and unapologetically striving toward the fulfillment of those desires does not a monster make. As a black female character looking for love, good sex, and professional status, is Mary Jane an antihero? Does the shoe actually fit?
Yeah, okay. Mary Jane is evil because naughty noogy is exactly the same as being a meth-cooking, neo-nazi affiliated child-killer à la Walter White. I’ll buy that.
No, really I am buying it… every single month through DirectTV on demand. ”She pulled up her black fishnets and called in Verizon to come and watch…” It’s possible that I may not have gotten that quote absolutely correct. Oh, Zora, you were so wise! (I don’t care one bit about Richard Wright calling you a handkerchief head opportunist.) Indeed, “de nigger woman is de mule uh de world” as far as I can see too — especially when it comes to shouldering America’s social and moral burdens. Oh well, onward and upward! Episodes 4 through 8, here I come! And please, dear mother-goddess Afro-d!te, I promise I’ll be good if you don’t let Gabrielle Union kill anybody this season.