Tag Archives: media

Letting Mary Jane be Mary Jane

MJ

Most Tuesday nights I slip into the bedroom with a glass of wine or grape juice and watch “Being Mary Jane.” I don’t update my Facebook status and I rarely tweet about it. I just sit back and watch.

I’ve had this conversation several times with soulsistah4real, that I sometimes find Mary Jane hard to take. I wish that she was happier and that the show was less depressing. She tells me that while she sees where I’m coming from, she still appreciates the show because it depicts a reality she understands.  I’ve let that sink in for a while and continue to watch the show because I realize that just because it’s not a reality I understand, that doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly relevant. In addition to that I always try to be critical of where the standards I measure television shows come from, particularly shows featuring women of color. So I ask myself questions like:

-Why do I need Mary Jane to be happy?

-Where does my definition of happiness for female characters on television and particularly women of color on television come from?

-I happen to claim “dark” and challenging dramas and films in general among my favorites and they are usually dominated by white actors and actresses. Why do I need one of the few hit dramas on a Black television network to be more of a delightful romp?

-What is my definition of happiness anyway? (That’s a subject for a whole other blog entry)

Through my study of film in undergrad, and research I did for term papers on early Black film, it became obvious to me that because of the pervasive monopoly White America has long held over film and television studios, the visual and verbal dialogue of racial prejudice and stereotypes have become the things which Black filmmakers have either dedicated themselves to reacting to and disproving or swallowing the lies and profiting from.  As people of color begin to create more films and television programming that address our own interpersonal, social issues and struggles,  the reality that is unearthed is often tied inextricably to the daily and long term effects racism has on multiple parts of our lives in ways that predominantly white dramas do not.

“Sex in the City” the hit HBO series about the relationship challenges of white women in their 30’s and 40’s employs a large percentage of fantasy and artifice while selectively addressing issues of gender equality, sexual politics and oh, maybe there was like one episode where Samantha dates a black guy and we’re reminded that racial politics exist in this white world of fashion, sex, shopping and female bonding. Oh yeah, there are Black people in New York City ladies. Interesting. Now let’s get back to Manolos and Mr. Big.

In Mary Jane, a show about a highly accomplished Black reporter who takes care of her family, faces numerous relationship challenges, desperately wants to be a mother, and like all of us makes bad decisions that have worse consequences (like real life) why do I struggle with wanting there to be more “lightness.”

The last few episodes of Mary Jane find her making some tough and ballsy decisions for herself despite the ways in which they may be received by men who think she’s crazy, friends who think she’s gone off the deep end, family who find her exacting, snobby and know-it-all and employees who probably think she’s a bossy Black bitch with some nerve because she wants full control her own show which would cover Black issues only.

Mary Jane doesn’t have gay accessory friends like SATC’s “Stanford” who disappear with no explanation after a few seasons. She has one good friend and co-worker who is gay and going through the heartbreaking experience of seeing a relationship end because he was unable to be open about who he was to anyone but Mary Jane.  She has brothers, one of whom gets racially profiled by cops just for sitting in a parked car near a school. She has an overweight and unemployed niece with children who refuses to let her Auntie meddle in her life and yet relies on her for financial and moral support

Why should I expect these things to happen to Mary Jane and then end with her buying bags of shoes and then meeting “the girls” for cosmos.

This is not that show.

This is “Being Mary Jane.”

And I have to say, I really look forward to it, because I don’t always get what I think I want but I always get something that makes me question what I think I know about what it means to be a Black woman in America.

soulsistahseries

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What’s News?

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He saw it coming

It was only last year on a hot July night in Brooklyn that Life as I Know It and I were sitting in front of the Brooklyn Museum after a long steady stroll from her place where had convened for a Soul Sista Circle. We were talking the whole way, maybe about something totally unrelated to the Trayvon Martin case. But the verdict, still to be announced was a like a stone in the pit of my stomach. Perhaps we were both partially avoiding our nervousness with chatter. But it was she who got the message on her cell that night on some social media platform that Trayvon’s murderer, Zimmerman was acquitted of second degree murder and manslaughter. We sat in the sadness, the deep heartbreak and anger of disappointment and something else, something worse before we began speaking again. The something worse was the newest in a long line of affirmations from America that BLACK LIVES DON’T MATTER. My heart broke for his family, for his mother, for all Black mothers.

Last night I was again having a long, enlightening phone conversation with Life as I Know It, again pretty unrelated to the verdict that was to be announced at 9:00 about Ferguson, both of us knowing it was coming up but still able to have a much-needed meeting about collaborating and positive building in our lives. Mid conversation she told me that the jury in Ferguson did not indict Officer Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown, and then my husband who was watching the news in our living room came and told me the same. None of us were surprised.

You see the American legal system is not broken. People keep saying things like that. As if it’s been so fair up until now and my God, what has happened? No, I think the American legal system is running smoothly and performing at an optimal level for those it was designed to work for. It is not broken at all. And if it is, then it’s been broken for quite some time.

Black people have never had the luxury nor the delusion to feel safe or protected around “law” officers. I’m a Black woman and I have rarely ever seen a Cop that I didn’t immediately feel I had to protect myself against. Kinda the way some white women feel when there are adult Black men anywhere nearby in public. That’s how I feel about cops. I hold my bags closer and get as far away from them as possible. I am not a fan of their work.

And when I watch the looting, destruction and demonstrating that is happening in the aftermath of this decision, I’m not surprised at that either. Raise your hand please if you made bets that the Ferguson verdict would be a call for dancing in the streets. Please sit down. You are clearly not Black.

This was just another bitter wait for the inevitable again, the broadcast again, what the majority of White America really believes about Black lives again: They don’t matter. And that’s not news anymore.

“Black Women Fight Back”

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That may sound like a positive statement. But as it left the lips of my husband this morning as we watched the GMA report of Carlesha Freeland Gaither’s rescue and video footage of her fighting off her abductor, I objected to his statement on the grounds that it was made generically, based on the experience of one Black Woman. Ideas like these can potentially reinforce a stereotype about the strength of all Black Women and be dangerously interpreted as “Black Women fight back. So they don’t need help.” Angry Black Women, Strong Black Women, they don’t need us.

I know this was not my husband’s intent. And I was careful to explain that I was not trying to be argumentative. When I heard him say it, I could tell he meant it as a triumphant compliment. But I heard it as yet another reason to engender Black Women in the media as “Strong” in ways that in fact, do not  empower them. It only empowers an already racially biased system to further marginalize and devalue woman of color as strong angry beasts who do not necessarily need to be protected and rescued from danger the way that White women do.

My point is simply that all Black women who identify or are identified as strong need and deserve compassion, rescue, respect, rights and value. I think it’s great that Freeland-Gaither fought back and that there is video footage to prove it but I remain perpetually and reasonably suspicious of the media’s depiction of Black Women. And I’m very wary of the way in which the coverage of this “heroic rescue” story is a potential opportunity to make others feel like my dear husband and innocently declare “Black Women Fight Back!” The declarations beg the question “As opposed to whom?” White women? And if so, then who gets to be seen as the “Damsel in distress,” another stereotype which illustrates weakness and helplessness in women yet demands immediate attention in major news networks whenever a white woman goes missing? To say that white women don’t fight back would be just as offensive, but not quite as dis-empowering.

Many women fight back against perpetrators, probably more than we know. I hope that Freedland-Gaither is an example of many more strong women whom the police force deem worthy enough to take immediate action towards rescuing from dangerous perpetrators regardless of race.