BET’s Being Mary Jane — Another “broken” black woman on TV?

I literally couldn’t wait for the season premiere of “Being Mary Jane”, BET’s new one-hour drama series starring Gabrielle Union.  This summer, I watched the two-hour pilot/movie that BET aired and was so excited to see a young professional black woman on TV dealing with “real life” problems on a prime time television show.  I usually can’t do BET because, in my opinion, the programming has been crap.  What they did to “The Game” is a travesty.  And, so, when I watched the BMJ pilot and actually liked it, I was thrilled to be able to support a BET show.

It’s not often we get to see a fly Black woman anchoring a TV drama.  When Kerry Washington first showed up on our television screens as Olivia Pope in ABC’s hit-show “Scandal”, Black women everywhere did a collective happy dance.  We were doubly-ecstatic because the show is penned by Shonda Rhimes of “Grey’s Anatomy” fame, so there was a black woman behind the curtain writing a role for another black woman who took center-stage.  Initially, I was just as excited about “Scandal” as everyone else.  If for no other reason than to see a black woman “handling” her business on television, displaying intelligence and sex appeal in one very sharply-dressed brown body.  That said, I quickly lost interest in the show.  Why?  Because of her dysfunctional-ass relationship with Fitz, the show’s very-married President of the United States.

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(One of “Olitz’s” steamy scenes.)

At first, I was attracted to the rapid dialogue of the show, and over-the-top story lines of the “cases” that Olivia and her Gladiators “handled” every week.  But then, I couldn’t get past the fact that outside of the professional realm, Olivia was a basic side-ho.  I also couldn’t stand the hundreds of posts flooding my Facebook and Twitter feeds, hyping up this crazy-ass relationship.  People were “#Team Olitz” (an annoying combination of the names Olivia and Fitz), and swooning over the steamy love scenes in the Oval Office where this woman was banging someone else’s husband.  These same Facebook friends posting these pro-adultery posts are the same ones quoting the Bible on any other day.  I was shocked that women who claim to have morals in tact conveniently disabled their moral compasses for an hour every Thursday.  Isn’t it ironic?  Well, I’m sorry, but homewrecking hos get no love on my TV, so as much as I wanted to support Kerry and Shonda, I started changing the channel.

Fast forward to July when the BMJ pilot debuted.  I was happy to see that Mary Jane was family-oriented (even if her family presented with some extremely stereotypical issues), career-driven, and frustrated with dating.  These are all things to which I can fully-relate.  I especially understood the pressures she was under to be all things to all people.  She felt the need to be Superwoman and had no one with whom she could curl up next to after she took off her cape for the day.  I get that, and I think many other black women know just what that’s like.  We’re all forced to be so strong and to appear that we have it all together at all times.  We can’t afford to show any cracks in our veneers  because everyone is expecting us to be half a woman anyway, and so we overcompensate, which can be totally exhausting.  We’re afraid to show people that we’re vulnerable because we’ve been told all our lives that we are supposed to be strong.  And so many of us are the proverbial backbones of our family and can’t afford to take a break from saving everyone in spite of ourselves.  We are constantly putting everyone else’s needs before our own, and when we do take the focus off others and instead choose to focus on ourselves, we feel selfish and guilty.  It’s a terrible conundrum.  I felt her pain, her frustration, her loneliness, and her guilt.

So when the season premiere of BMJ aired last week, I was there for it.  I set a reminder on my phone and tuned in to BET to check it out (since I never watched BET, I had to Google to figure out which channel it is!).  It started off well, and I was sucked right in.

And then, things went south.

Mary Jane, on top of her other personality quirks (and we all have them, so no judgments here), is knowingly involved with a married man.  So… that went from sugar to shit in just under 60 minutes.

And here we go… AGAIN.

Now we’ve got yet another otherwise positive black female character sleeping with a married man.  Mind you, during the pilot movie, Mary Jane discovers that Omari Hardwick’s character, Andre, is married and she’s devastated because she mistakenly believes she’s finally found a man who’s worth her time.

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(Mary Jane and Very-Married Andre)

In the pilot, she breaks things off with him.  But in the season premiere?  She is confronted by his wife in a meeting during which she shows NO remorse for the relationship that she has had with this woman’s husband.  The wife asks her whether her husband has performed oral sex on her and, in response, Mary Jane doesn’t say “yes” or “no”… she says: “It’s required” with a very smug sneer.  Really, trick?!  I wish you would come at me like that.  Then, after she pretends that she’s going to leave the man alone, he confronts her in the gym locker room and, during their exchange, she spies a photo of his family (yes, there are children involved) that she herself describes as “beautiful”.  And, yet, she f*cks him in the public shower (after he removed her shower cap, which I found hilarious).

So, look.  As I said before, I am not here for hos.  And that’s when BMJ lost me.

I was profoundly disappointed by the turn the show took.  Discovering that a man is a cheater and then using that to become a better person yourself?  Well, that earns my respect.  So, had the show allowed Mary Jane to grow as a result of her experience, I would’ve been a proud supporter.  But to have her go from sidepiece-victim to sidepiece-sumbag turned me all the way off.

And then I had this realization: here we are with two beautiful, educated, professional, black, “independent” women as the main focus of two primetime TV shows and they are both reduced to f*cking married men.

This is problematic for me.  Here’s why:

I grew up in school districts where I was often the only black student in the class, and I learned that in those situations, I was the room representative for the entire black race.  What do I mean by that?  See, I realized that I might be the only black person that someone has the grace to encounter, so I determined that I had to be the best representation of who WE are that I can be.  We don’t have many black women on TV these days, especially not in dramatic series on major networks, and when we finally get the spotlight on us, this is the kind of garbage we put out there.  For those people who already believe in the stereotype of the Black b*tch/ho, we are affirming those beliefs by making them integral to “our” story lines.  Why is this necessary?  Both shows would be just as good without the “side-ho” twist.  Can we get one whole healthy black woman representative on TV?  Just one?  Apparently not.

A few minutes after the Andre/Mary Jane public shower sex scene aired, Madame Noire posted a Facebook comment that said “Lawd Jesus the ending of #BeingMaryJane… Do we have to care that Omari Hardwick’s character is married?”.  Lemme answer that for you Madame Noire… the answer is YES, we should care.  And with that little “tongue-in-cheek” thumbs-up to adultery, MN, we’re nurturing the next generation of homewrecking whores. Great. Just great.  Listen up, ladies who want to pretend men they’re sleeping with are not married, heed the warning of that great oracle of reality TV, Nene Leakes: and “close your legs to married men“.

And now, it seems that moral compasses will be switched off on Tuesdays AND Thursdays at 10:00 PM with two black female lead actresses leading the charge.  We’re f*cked.

Maybe someday I’ll go into why it’s ironic that Gabrielle Union is even playing a character who “has it all”, yet ends up dating a married man.  Or, you can do your own research and discover the irony for yourself.  Art imitating life?  Perhaps.

Oh, and that reminds me.  There was another “GTFOH” scene in the first episode.  Mary Jane, in addition to sleeping with Very-Married Andre, also rekindled her relationship with her college sweetheart, David, who is “affectionately” known as “Do Not Ever Answer” in her iPhone (we’ve all got one of those).  Look, we slip up and return to past mistakes — it happens to the best of us.  That said, not only is Mary Jane depicted as a desperate chick who is willing to do whatever just to have piece of a man, she is also willing to do whatever it takes to get a baby.  So, what does she do? When she and David finish doing the do, she secretly scoops the used condom up off the bedroom floor, takes it to the bathroom and uses a turkey baster to extract the sperm, puts it into a plastic container, and stashes it in the box of baking soda she keeps in the freezer.  This was a WTF moment for me.  Is it really that serious that you have to go around stealing sperm from old boyfriends?  That’s some trifling sh*t right there and shows that her judgment is clearly all the way off.

I’ve had fans of both Scandal and BMJ tell me that the characters are flawed and messy for a reason — because “real” people are flawed and messy.  Um…  *side eye*  So, these arguments actually bring me to my next thought: REAL people are flawed. A fictional character, which both Olivia and Mary Jane are, (Hellooooo?!  Is anyone home?) can be written any way we want them to be written. Since there aren’t a ton of black women on prime time TV, it would be nice if the ones we DO see weren’t all falling apart at the seams, which is what the mainstream thinks of us anyway and now here we go perpetuating that mess.

After I went all the way in on the show, I’ll leave you with this final thought.  To me, “BMJ” was another disappointing show in its representation of black women.  The pilot was great, but the season premier took Mary Jane in a direction I wasn’t expecting. It was like having a great first date and then on the second date the dude farts at the table, flirts with the waitress, and stiffs on the tip… but, believe it or not, after all that, I’m still willing to go on a third date.  It was only the first episode, so I’ll watch to see where she ultimately ends up.  I just hope her final destination is a therapist’s couch or a confessional.  She needs Jesus.

Why do we hate Black hair?

I read a post on Feministing.com today that made my blood boil.  The post, entitled “Hating black hair starts young, just ask Blue Ivy Carter”, gave voice to everything I’d been thinking about the people who’ve taken to the internet rah-rah’ing about a baby’s kinky, curly, fuzzy hair, taking shots at both the parents AND THE BABY.  Huh?!  So, enraged, I posted a link to the article on my Facebook page with the following commentary:

THIS. It infuriates me that people hate to see hair in its natural state — unstyled, unaltered. Black people especially hate to be reminded of how most of our hair REALLY looks, so we pull, prod and burn our own hair into submission and/or wear the hair of someone else. (Sounds kinda crazy when I put it that way, huh?) And I am so disgusted by people who think it’s okay to take shots at a BABY and/or her parents for not “doing” her hair. She’s a BABY, and this is what her hair looks like. It’s like y’all expected the child to be birthed out of Beyoncé with a full virgin Malaysian weave that matches her mama’s. Ridiculous. The politics of black hair. *smh*

Naturally, because I’m friends with a great group of opinionated black women both on Facebook and in real life, this post created quite a stir.  The back and forth comments evolved into a discussion about whether natural hair should be “kept”.  And what I had to say in response to that is that I don’t believe that hair — any kind of hair — needs to be “kept” anything but clean.  Had you asked me this years ago, before I went natural myself, I probably would’ve had a different opinion.  But, today, after fielding many off-the-wall, inappropriate, GTFOH comments about my hair, I truly stand behind my belief that hair is a personal choice and people should be able to wear their hair the way they want to wear it without being ridiculed for it.

But what really burns me up is that people act like Blue Ivy was going to miraculously be born with some silky straight hair flowing down her back like Beyonce.  Well, newsflash, folks… that ain’t Beyonce’s hair!  I mean, it’s hers in the sense that it’s in her possession AND she paid for it (and probably paid a pretty penny at that!), but it did not sprout from her head in that texture, in that particular shade of honey blonde, and did not grow from her scalp to that length.

This GIF accompanied the Feministing post:

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(Blue Ivy is so adorable that I don’t even notice her hair here.)

And, then, let’s look at another photo of Bey and BIC that I adore:

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So, while we sit here and debate the merits of keeping a child’s hair “done”, nobody is going to mention that mommy is wearing two pounds and twenty feet of someone else’s hair?  Why is that not an issue?  While folks are busy criticizing Bey for sending Blue out with her hair “undone”, why aren’t they also taking shots at Bey for her own hair shenanigans?  I’ll tell you why: because in our society “kept” hair means “tamed” hair.  But Black hair grows up and out, it’s wild and free, it’s difficulty to contain, and that’s deemed “messy” or “unpresentable”.

I have more questions.  Just who decides what “presentable”, “kept”, or “done” means anyway?  And what subliminal messages are we sending to ourselves and to our children when we say that the way that Black hair grows naturally out of Black heads is “unpresentable”?  I know PLENTY of white women who roll out of bed without putting comb or brush to hair, and they are considered to be not only “presentable”, but beautiful in their most natural and “undone” states (so beautiful, in fact, that “tousled curls” and “bed head” are actually desired “looks” in the white world of hairstyling).  Why can’t we be granted the same pass?  Why does unshaped, unstyled, unaltered, natural black hair evoke cries of “unkempt”, “unkept”, and “uncouth”?  It makes me so sad to see that we hate our hair in its natural state to the degree that we’re driven to think it’s acceptable and appropriate to talk trash about a innocent precious baby.  It makes me uncomfortable that we are so disgusted by our own God-given characteristics that we would vilify loving parents who choose to let their baby’s hair go free rather than conform to society’s standard of “tame” or “kept”.  It hurts me that all signs everywhere always point to the fact that who we are is not good enough to be accepted by the mainstream.

On a lighter note, the most hilarious insinuation is that Blue’s “undone” hair is a sign that Jay and Bey are in some way neglecting her.  Blue Ivy’s hair looks “that way” because that’s how they want it to look.  Don’t believe for one second that her look is an afterthought.   Believe me when I say that The Carters could hire someone to comb and moisturize each individual strand of hair on Blue’s head if that were a priority to them.  But clearly Blue’s fabulous ‘fro is not something that concerns them, and the way she looks when they take her out to meet the paps is presentable TO THEM, so it should concern us.  And, really, until Blue is old enough to voice her own opinions about how she looks, her parents’ opinions are the only ones that really matter.

Look, I’m thrilled that more black women are embracing their natural hair — that’s a beautiful thing to see.  But, what I’d love more than anything would be for us to get to a point where natural hair is not a “thing” to be discussed or embraced.  I eagerly await the day that “natural hair” — Black hair — will just be hair… because that is all it is.

Remove the kinks from your mind and not your hair.” – Marcus Garvey