How Could I Be Ugly If You Don’t See Me? On Being Mary Jane, Black Women and Invisibility

How Could I Be Ugly If You Don’t See Me? On Being Mary Jane, Black Women and Invisibility

images-3This week’s episode of Being Mary Jane circled back to a topic the title character wanted to explore in the first episode—ugly Black women. More specifically Mary Jane wanted to address a 2011 Psychology Today article that attempted to show that Black women were scientifically less attractive than women of other races. Many of the topics examined in the episode coincide with a weeklong series of webinars hosted by the African American Policy Forum under the title #HerDreamDeferred. Each day of the webinar series examines an aspect of life for Black women in the United States- state violence, sexual assault and domestic violence, economic security, education and health.

The episode discussed the invisibility of Black women and the lack of support from Black men on issues that impact Black women. We know the stories of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner in part because Black women rallied around the #BlackLivesMatter cause. The African America Policy Forum held a webinar yesterday that addressed just that—the invisibility of Black female victims of state violence. Harm to Black women in other areas remain invisible as well. On Mary Jane’s show, her audience was challenged to find a Black man who knew what fibroids were, a condition that afflicts almost 80% of Black women.

When Black women are seen, their visibility becomes an opportunity to point out what people perceive as wrong. Skin tone, hair and body–you name it and Black women are discussed in negative terms. This subsequently plays into self-esteem, which ultimately impacts things like healthy relationships and academic performance. From Serena Williams to Mo’ne Davis, we’ve watched the bodies of Black girls and women become sexualized and degraded. We watched the world marvel at the beauty of Lupita Nyong’o as if dark skinned Black women were the exception and not the rule. We see that for all of the Black women starring in T.V. shows (Scandal, Being Mary Jane, How To Get Away With Murder, Empire, Sleepy Hollow) none of the lead Black female characters wears her hair natural.

Mary Jane also talked about carrying the burden of making sure everyone around her was ok. Loaning money, supporting her siblings, making sure her parents were ok. In all of this, she realized that such behavior was a one-way street. Her family and friends only called when they had a problem and rarely, if ever, did anyone call to check on her. Too often Black women feel the need to carry the weight of their families and communities. Even in employment, Black women are charged with ensuring that they “look out for the people” as we see with Mary Jane and her job.

A few standouts from the episode:

  • After being called a Black bi**ch and being told she looks like an ugly monkey, Mary Jane retreats to her closet to cry. All too often Black women are forced to privately deal with very public harm. The notion of the strong Black woman often denies Black women the space to express pain, both mental and physical.
  • Mary Jane’s ratings dropped when she used her show to examine human trafficking. People of color are disproportionately impacted by human trafficking and the issue goes ignored in many communities.
  • At some point, Mary Jane’s friend suggests that she try Xanax in lieu of drinking. Self-medication is prevalent among women of all races, both illegal and prescription drugs. Women of higher economic status are more likely to have access to the kinds of drugs that will not prevent them from gaining or maintaining employment (ex., an employer can smell weed but not Xanax). Women medicate for lack of resources to deal with issues such as sexual assault/abuse, domestic violence, low self-esteem, and poverty.

One of the takeaways from the AAPF #HerDreamDeferred webinars is that Black women have the ability to tell our own stories. To share the magic of being Black and female that Michaela Angela Davis spoke of on the last episode of Being Mary Jane. We’ll be sharing much more of that Black girl magic here at Life Behind The Veil. Stay tuned.