by MAYA DAWIT
Confession: I love Being Mary Jane. When the 90 minute pilot premiered on BET in the summer of 2013, I knew this show was something I needed and wanted to keep up with. Besides being one of the few times Gabrielle Union has played a character that wasn’t angry 95% of the time, the character of Mary Jane was what I sort of envisioned for my future as a journalist (without all the adultery.)
At her core, MJ is just a black woman trying to tell the stories that matter to her, whilst fighting the disease plaguing today’s news*. If you don’t watch the show, the first episode focused on a 2011 article written in Psychology Today by blogger/evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa titled “Why Are African-American Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”
Yeah, that’s what I said too.
At first, I didn’t think the story was real, but a quick Google search of Kanazawa’s name brings up the story and its subsequent backlash. Now back in 2011, I was focused on two things: graduating high school and going to Senior Week. The article or any stories written about it never entered my radar. So fast-forward two years to me hearing about it for the first time and I was pissed. In the episode, Mary Jane’s anger about the article is more or less written off and it was never spoken of again.
That is until this week’s episode. Quick recap: Mary Jane’s life is like something out of a Tyler Perry movie except it’s more bearable to watch. She has two brothers, one whose major skill in life is getting women pregnant and asking for money and the other who somehow saved enough money selling weed to start his own company. Her mother is sick with Lupus and constantly riding MJ about not settling down and her father is….well actually he’s kinda great.
Mary Jane hosts her own cable news show and recently decided to change the its focus to highlight more of the issues plaguing the African-American community. She reintroduces the idea of discussing Kanazawa’ article, much to the dismay of her producer who says “I just don’t know why people get so sensitive over this stuff. They have the president, NBA, Jay Z and Beyonce.”
She does the story and has panelists like writer Michaela Angela Davis and music queen India Arie appear as special guests. The three women, along with a male panelist, discuss the current state of black women’s beauty concluding that women of color are constantly forced to fight their own battles, often without the support of men of color despite women being the first to stand up for those same men. This is a point that has been reiterated time and time again throughout the recent #BlackLivesMatter protests.
Kanazawa’s article is just one of many examples of racist attacks on black women and their looks. The most recent comes from Cosmopolitan Magazine, who released a beauty trends article this week that used a number of women of color to illustrate “dying” beauty trends and none to show their “approved” beauty looks. This isn’t surprising, considering Cosmo is known for its lack of inclusivity with minority women (Nicki Minaj was the last black women on the cover back in 2011).
The magazine apologized after they faced huge amounts of backlash on social media but, let’s be honest, this wasn’t a simple mistake. Black women and women of color are constantly being criticized for their looks, while white women are praised for taking those same looks and wearing them. Whether it’s Kylie Jenner’s full lips, Kendall’s “epic” cornrows, or whatever culturally appropriating thing Katy Perry is doing, white women are celebrated for taking major strides in fashion and culture whenever they dawn a look most black women consider their norm.
Now I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, black women are some of the most diverse and gorgeous women in the world. Our skin comes in hundreds of shades and hues and our bodies range from long and thin to thick and curvaceous. I’m not saying that everyone has to love a black woman, but to make the bold statement that African-American women as a whole are less attractive is not only offense, it’s flat out wrong.
Black women are beautiful in both presence and spirit. They are strong-willed, outspoken and assertive…..qualities that have been spun to be depicted as bitchy, loud and angry. And despite all the criticism and setbacks they face, black women continue to lead all groups in college enrollment and are an ever-blazing force in the entertainment world.
Here’s to you my beautiful black sisters!
*The over-coverage of sensationalized news and under-coverage of the stories that matter, a.k.a Sensationalism-itis.