The new season of one of my favourite series begins tonight. I am a hopeless fan of BET’s Being Mary Jane, a show that chronicles the life of a beautiful, smart and successful black woman struggling to navigate through her career and personal life. You would think that the show’s narrative would make for a pretty simple storyline, yet Mary Jane is anything but simple. MJ is a nutcase. Her beauty is endearing, while her opposition to failure could land her in jail or a mental institution. She loves hard, raw and without reservations. I love her clutter and confusion. I really do. As much as I am motivated and smart, I also have hours, days and weeks when my actions solidify me as basic and stupid. But isn’t that what life is about: The unbalanced, awkward and triumphant experiences that reveal who we really are. I do believe in breaking stereotypes but I also believe in the authenticity of a story. If you are messy, I expect to see the mess. The professional single black woman clashes with herself daily. She constantly finds herself stuck between what she wants from life and what life keeps dishing out as her ‘just’ due. She walks the thin line between sanity and insanity. She could be living the life destined or she could be struggling to find her footing. Her family life could be a picturesque display of Perfect Patty, yet she constantly cries in her bathroom when everyone else is asleep. Her career might be a well-polished machine while her personal life is bag full of cheap tricks. To hide these parts of a multi-dimensional character means that you are sharing an incomplete story.
Black actresses are expected to ALWAYS depict educated near-perfect women on screen, when in reality, none of us are. So I accept Olivia Pope’s successful career just like I absorb her affair with the married President. I accept Annalise’s love of the law and her tenacious ambition just like I accept her often times problematic interracial relationship with her husband. I embrace Clair Huxtable’s ability to balance her quirky family while maintaining her career all the while still looking flawless, the same way I applaud Florida Evan’s struggle in Good Times and the fierceness of her afro. The Love and Hip Hop franchises are a mess, don’t get me wrong, but I have seen, and in some cases experienced, women that behave that way. Truth be told, I am plenty ratchet; my close friends will tell you. I recently sent someone a drunk sex-text at 2am (I’ve never done that before), and I’ve taken nude photos of myself with my phone on days when I was feeling myself (I didn’t say I sent them though lol lol). I understand the struggle because I live it every day. Some days are great, some days are bad, but I embrace every experience for what it is; an opportunity to do better the next time around. If you were to put me in a room with all the women I’ve fore mentioned, be assured that we will find commonalty amidst our differences. While I will always encourage young black girls to be better, I also advocate for them to be themselves. Self-discovery occurs in the dark, in the mud, it doesn’t happen on sunny days. It happens when you find yourself doing some fucked up shit. You will be messy until you accept and figure out how to clean things up. It is a process.
Mary Jane and I are more alike than we are unlike. I will never save my ex’s stolen sperm in my refrigerator, but I understand what it means to feel accomplished professionally yet unable to craft the relationship you want. I understand what it means to be drained from repeatedly explaining to well-meaning family and friends that the sacrifices you make personally are a needed part of accomplishing your end goals. I understand the pressure and high expectations that we place on ourselves in the hopes that our value will be counted on the same platform as our male counterpart. The booty calls, occasional sexual mishaps and side-woman roles are very much our personal experiences that we would prefer no one to know about. Which one of you would willingly admit you’ve had an abortion or searched a phone or guilted your best friend into aiding a reconnaissance operation on a guy you were dating? It is ok though, I would never be the one to judge you.
The reality is that we are all just here trying to shovel our way through this thing called life with the hope that the happiness we seek will be worth the journey, and that it will not render us tired and broken at the end of it all. I will endure MJ’s empty-headed decisions in every episode, and I will laugh when she does things that I would do, because truth be told #IAmMaryJane.
Editor’s Note: I wrote this article in ten minutes during my lunch break. After editing and posting to my Facebook page, I discovered the For Harriet post from yesterday that addressed some of what I spoke of above. I encourage you to read ‘Why We Need Complicated and Messy Depictions of Blackness on Television’.