We Wear The Masks: On Being Mary Jane and Black Women Code Switching For Sanity and Survival
It’s been a long time, shouldn’t have left you…
Look, I been broke lately. Not as in pockets but spirit. But if you need to borrow money, then just pretend I said pockets. This thang (whole damn world) been getting to me for a while. But I put on a good face. A beat face. Shoutout to my Beauty Blender #notsponsored. I digress. If that surprises you, then welcome because you must be new here. So yeah, I’ve been laying low. Because self-care. But my sisters been holding me down. As always, Black women on television have been providing much needed relief and reflection. Last night while we were watching Being Mary Jane together but separately thanks to the interweb (introvert heaven) a few things hit home. Warning, a few spoilers. Don’t say I didn’t tell you.
First, can I just say that Cardi B + Mary Jane made my Tuesday? In a case of art imitating life imitating art, Cardi B joined the cast of Being Mary Jane as a reality show star. Cardi played Mercedes, a wild child babymomma whose antics made her the breakout star of the show (sound familiar?). Long story short, Mary Jane gets played once again by them folks at work so her and Kara devise a plan to get Mercedes/Cardi on the show. Mercedes comes on and calls MJ out for being bougie. In her defense, MJ did send for her. MJ claps back on air. Got all the way unprofessional. Later MJ is walking through the hall and hears Mercedes and squad going in on her *cue Black girl neck snapback.* MJ storms in to remind Mercedes standard English ain’t her mother tongue and she is indeed about that life. You know it’s real because MJ kicked it off like, “Look bitch…” Next thing you know MJ done told Mercedes she should have swallowed all them kids. Homegirl took it all the way back to the motherland and called Mercedes a hoe Ibibio style like, “Eyen ntime nsene.” *Google it for today’s Black history lesson.* You welcome. Anyway, that’s when Mercedes realizes MJ is down. Mood changes when Mercedes realizes Mary Jane was just wearing a mask for them folks. When I tell you that we are all too familiar with the mask. Most of us do it. Code switch. With language, dress, and demeanor. You might not even recognize my voice if you’ve only ever heard me speak at work. AAVE is my mother tongue and my comfort space. Triple negatives and omitted copulas all up and through here. But everybody don’t get to witness that. That’s in large part due to requirements of conformity in the work space. Since our names alone are sometimes a barrier to even obtaining an interview, we have learned to master the rules of the game. So we put on the mask. Use 7 words to describe what can be said in one word. Girl. Tone down the bright colors that look so good on our skin because them folks made blue/black/gray the uniform. Wear smaller hoops. Throw in those unnecessary copulas and pretend there aren’t 5 tenses of the verb to be. But we can’t survive like that all day. Because it’s constraining. Suffocating. So whenever we get the chance, we take the mask off. Lunchtime phone call to a friend. A blog. Soon as we walk through the door at home. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to work with folks who speak our native tongue and every so often you can release in your office (or the hallway/corner/water cooler), “Girl these folks be trippin’.” We’ve watched Mary Jane struggle to find the balance with her mask. Hell, we watch ourselves struggle with it daily. Which makes it that much more crucial to maintain safe spaces to unmask. And we do. Because sanity. And Survival. But since we don’t live TV lives, we got bills and rent to pay. Squad got you though. So next time you’re tempted to hit somebody at work with the “Look bitch” punctuated with the Black girl handclap, just find one of us – on the phone, for a lunch date, on social media. We’ll understand. Because we speak the same language.
Side note for follow up: Ain’t it funny how Being Mary Jane went from white males oppressing Mary Jane to now having another Black woman and a Black man gunning for her? Look BET, if I want to watch shows where I can’t see healthy Black women relationships, I’ll turn on Shondaland or Love and Hip-Hop. Find MJ some Black girlfriends in NY quick.