This year, women of color were allowed to take a breath of fresh air when they turned on their televisions to catch up on their favorite weekly shows because they were seeing more and more representations of themselves. Hit television series like ABC’s Scandal and BET’s Being Mary Jane and The Game hit the airwaves showing black women in a more successful light and, this time, with lead roles.
Photo courtesy of People.com
Scandal features Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, a successful “fixer” and political crisis manager in the nation’s Capitol. Although Pope is very good at what she does, her job on the show is not what she is most recognized for by viewers. Those who tune in every week and, even those who don’t, only remember Pope for the biggest ongoing scandal within the show: her affair with the president.
Photo courtesy of theatlantic.com
On BET, viewers finally had a chance to watch the long-awaited premiere season of Being Mary Jane, starring Gabrielle Union as single and successful news anchor, Mary Jane. The 2-hour pilot for this series premiered back in July of 2013, leaving viewers confused and anxious to keep up with main character, Mary Jane, in a series that wouldn’t show up again until January 2014. Mary Jane, once again, was not to be remembered for her superb broadcast journalism skills, but for her personal life as well. Union’s character received lots of backlash for her affair with a married man, despite her ability, or assumed ability, to get and keep a man of her own.
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BET’s other hit drama series, The Game, features fictional exploits about the lives of professional football players and their families. This show has been airing since 2006 and fans were excited to see the new developments in season 7, which aired back in March of 2014. Although The Game does depict some aspects of black success stories, one of the main stories that caught my attention was that of Wendy Raquel Robinson’s character, Tasha Mack, single mother of pro-football player, Malik Wright. Tasha Mack is also a successful businesswoman but, yet again, it is her rollercoaster of a love life that has been the focus of her character’s story. Are you catching the pattern here?
All of these characters have three commonalities: success, singleness, and inability to get married, for whatever respective reason. These women are all depicted as educated and successful black women, yes, but only successful in the professional sense. Aside from their work, every other aspect of their personal lives seems to be falling apart bit by bit; they all represent that stereotypical black woman who, no matter what, can’t get or keep a man.
Millions of people tune in each week throughout the seasons to see these fictional women who are, according to journalist, Teresa Wiltz, “strong yet conflicted, [and] filled with both save-the-day bravado and hide-under-the-covers neuroses.” But what happened to the shows that would uplift the black woman and encourage the idea of the positive black family? What happened to A Different World? What happened to The Cosby Show? Why is this how black women are shown in television now? Because this stereotype is how America sees black women in real life. Although these shows are written by black women, they are made to cater to a diverse audience; an audience that believes these stereotypes to be true for most black people.
America has painted a portrait of the black woman that displays anger, independence, insensitivity, and loneliness. This widespread image has overpowered the positive facts about women of color that come from databases like the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Census which state, respectively, that one-third of black women now work in management or other professional jobs and that black women now make up more than 900,000 business owners in America; and let’s not forget that black women currently make up the highest percentage of college enrollment by race and gender, according to the U.S. Census.
Despite these facts and statistics, it’s still so funny that America and the media choose to highlight the less appealing aspects of the black woman. No one cares about the fact that Scandal’s lead character, Olivia Pope, was inspired by a real life crisis manager in D.C., Judy Smith, who is a happily married mother of two, the complete opposite of Pope.No one has chosen to focus on the fact that Wendy Raquel Robinson, aka Tasha Mack, has been happily married for over 10 years now or that Gabrielle Union recently snagged NBA superstar, Dwyane Wade. Instead we choose to feed into these overwhelmingly misconstrued and unspecified stats and stereotypes about a plague of “lonely” and “bitter” black women in America.
Of course you can get into how black women marry at a later age due to their personal career and educational goals but, for now, the focus is on these black shows that are written and created by black people [women] yet catered to the non-black American population. Why is it that every time a woman of color finally sees herself on the big screen, the character has the same repeatedly tragic love life? Viewers are still waiting for the day where they are shown more realistically happily ever after black love and family stories like those of Cliff and Clair Huxtable in The Cosby Show or Phil and Vivian Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Hopefully there is something more refreshing in store for viewers who would like to see a positive change of pace in the 2014-2015 television season.