Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Being Mary Jane addresses colorism

By Briana Whiteside
“She wasn’t a mistake…I didn’t try not to get pregnant. Her dad being Filipino means something. She’s gonna be half Filipino, half black, that means she’s gonna be pretty. She’s gonna have light skin, beautiful hair and an easier life…”
On part 1 of the 2-part season finale of Being Mary Jane, Mary Jane Palm has an important conversation with her niece about colorism. The above quote exposes her niece’s—Neicy—views on her second pregnancy as a teen mother. Neicy purposely got pregnant by her sometimes Filipino boyfriend, so that her daughter would have an “easier” life.

It is clear that the dark-skinned Neicy has problems embracing her hue of black and possibly her weight. But, what is more notable is the way that she measures beauty. Viewers see that Neicy has flawless dark skin, beautiful oval eyes and a bright smile. But none of that translates to her, as she later remarks, “you don’t think I know what it means when people say I have nice eyes and a pretty smile?” (She internalizes that as not being pretty or desirable).

Colorism affects black women in several ways. It is not just a skin tone conversation, but it leads to dialogues about self-esteem as well as self-importance. Although I find the show problematic in several ways, I can’t help but to appreciate their treatment of this long discussion.

Neicy’s outlook on skin color is in conversation with the Oprah Life class show that aired in January as well as the ongoing internal conversations that we, women of color, have with ourselves.

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.   

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