Being Mary Jane

It never fails. Whenever I post on Twitter or Facebook about how much I enjoy watching Being Mary Jane some Debby Downer comes along to remind me that Mary Jane Paul is a disgrace to Black women and the Black race at large because she’s sleeping with a married man.

When this first started happening I would explain that the show is a work of fiction, and despite the fact that Mary Jane is one of the few Black women lead characters on TV, she does not represent or speak for ALL Black women (duh, right?).

But it doesn’t work. Being Mary Jane’s critics go on and on about how “the media” is trying to turn all Black women into side chicks and hoes, because…Olivia Pope…and it’s becoming exhausting. And annoying. And a little bit sad.

You see, typically these same folks assert that “the media” has not produced one single project depicting Black women in loving relationships since The Cosby Show, which forces me to give them the side-eye of life because they seriously haven’t been paying attention. These folks either don’t watch TV, or merely rely on blogs that sometimes label Black women as “negro bed wenches,” and often work themselves into a tizzy over respectability politics.

I always want to ask these same folks if they’ve read Sula or The Color Purple or Americanah or For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf or The Women of Brewster Place or any other book that peels back the layers to show Black women in our most human, f—ked up states. However, I think I can guess the answer.

And just for kicks I also want to know if these people railed against the Wire in the same way they hate Scandal or Being Mary Jane, because in the Respectability Olympics, surely drug dealers and crooked cops are worse than an adulterer, right? (Don’t answer that–their silence on rappers calling Black women 50-11 bitches/hoes tells me all I need to know).

But I don’t. It’s too much work.

Whenever these conversations come up I do, however, point out sitcoms that depict Black women as happy wives and mothers—like Nick’s Instant Mom (which is really, really good), TV Land’s Soul Man, and BET’s Let’s Stay Together—and I am never surprised when folks haven’t heard of, or watched, these shows.

I mean, on one hand they claim they’re hungry for a larger diversity of images of Black women on screen, but on the other they don’t bother tuning into shows that give them exactly what they claim to want.

But we know the truth, don’t we? These folks want to be riled up about something. They want to blame someone, and Shonda Rhimes and Mara Brock Akil are two successful sisters who give zero damns about armchair critiques of their scripts, so why not hurl stones at them because they’re getting paid ( I can hear it now: “to turn Black women into hoes!“), right?


So listen. If you hate Being Mary Jane (or Scandal or any other show) I have a very simple fix—don’t watch it.

And if you’re soooo concerned about Black women and girls becoming side chicks en masse you have a few options: write your own show, don’t let your daughter/sister/niece watch it, or become a mentor.

But please, whatever you do, just let me luxuriate in Mary Jane’s made up drama in peace. Cool?

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  • Ames

    Do you post about the shows with decent black women? No one on my FB timeline has posted about instamom. All I see from multiple black women are scandal, mary Jane and Have nots.

    It is good to know some networks and some writers develop shows that do not portray black women as the whores, history and media portrays us as.

  • Bakunzi Matemane

    Good morning. I read your article and I must say it was thought provoking. i would say what I thought but it would be a rehash of what you already said. The only thing I can add is that I agree and know several women who do not let their daughters watch: The Have and Have Nots / Scandal / Being Mary Jane which are the most popular television series with black women portraying women in less than stellar moral positions. I think when you have a “I am Mary Jane” campaign as BET does then you can see how fiction can easily be influential in “real ife”. So to be apathetic to the degree of dismissing it as entertainment flies in the face of many actresses who despise the popular and rare roles offered to A women in Hollywood.