Black female sexuality remains at the core of caricatured black female identity. Scandal’s Olivia Pope, the DC fixer by day and white male concubine at night, is easily the prototype for the black female roles that followed. Her hyper-sexuality quenched the western drought of the black female whore veiled in attributes like education, conventional success, and a costly wardrobe which appear overtly progressive. Pope’s hyper-sexuality mirrors the hyper-sexuality of the jezebel controlling image seen in Hallelujah (1929) and Carmen (1954), which both imply that African blood breeds an untamable sexuality.
Black female hyper-sexuality remains a means to “spice up” dull storylines at the expense of objectifying the black female body. An interesting twist of this portrayal is that this hyper-sexuality has evolved to anchor it’s portrayal at the root. Specifically, a recent evolution of this hyper sexuality depicts the mothers of the sexually sullied protagonists as sexual deviants.
ABC’s Scandal originated this image, in depicting lead protagonist Olivia Pope’s mother Maya as not only a global assassin, but a philanderer. This not only added layers to Olivia’s parental foundation, but an additional dimension to the hyper- sexualized black female body.
Popular series Being Mary Jane and Greenleaf, birthed from the success of Scandal, also depict black female hyper-sexuality in mother-daughter relationships that anchor the series.
On season one of Greenleaf, Pastor Grace Greenleaf (Merle Dandridge) sleeps with an engaged Noah. Although chastised by her mother, viewers learn that Mae Greenleaf (Lynn Whitfield) also had an affair with a married man, as a married woman. Greenleaf is of course written and produced by Craig Wright—a white man, who orchestrates a predominately black cast to perform in caricatured images validated by sitcoms written and produced by black people.
Side bar. I often find myself wondering if Greenleaf creator joined a black church and created this series from the gossip—or is just a student of Tyler Perry. Probably the latter. Many will argue that the black collective is more interesting in its hidden truths and drama, but it’s not that the black collective has more secrets than its oppressive counterpart, but that the interworking of the white collective is far too wicked for prime-time television. The curators of the white media want blacks to catch the cold of white induced inferiority, not the spirit of self-determination.
Being Mary Jane, intensifies its depiction of the hyper sexual black woman in revealing that Mary Jane’s mother (Margaret Avery) Helen Patterson’s hyper sexuality resulted in the creation of her eldest son Patrick, who she stealthily raised as her husband Paul Patterson’s son. This depiction portrays the black woman as destructive to her own conjugal sanctity in presenting questionable paternity to offspring that provide a visual to her indiscretions. Thus, the implication becomes the message conveyed in a Soho billboard painted around fie years ago which read:
“the most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb.”
The billboard insultingly suggests that black females cause more harm to their children prior to birth than the world that awaits black children. A world that hands them cyclical disenfranchisement, who torches four little girls in a church, or who murders black children who went to the store for a snack.
Yes, the soho billboard referenced black female abortions, but this media portrayal suggests that abortions are favorable in eschewing the identity crisis that awaits the product of black female sexuality. This portrayal of course displaces the idea of a severed black identity, onto the black female, and not the rightful assailant.
The billboard should read, that the most dangerous place for a black child is in the womb of white supremacy, as it is this womb that predetermines the oppressed state of black bodies. The sexualized black female body is a prevalent facet of this oppressed state.
Thus, depicting the black female matriarch as possessing a sexuality too bestial for marriage illustrates hyper- sexuality as a genetic mutation. The mother’s infidelity is visibly placed outside the scope of the black female protagonist—eliminating “learned behavior” as an explanation for this shared mother/daughter trait.
The result is that the black female viewer becomes incited to question herself and not the power structure that foments this hyper-sexual caricature. Namely, these portrayals induce the black female body to see herself and her collective as hyper-sexual, rather than hyper-sexualized— a mistake that allows white supremacy to prevail on networks black in name and affiliation only.
While I do critique the analysis offered on the series, I do commend Being Mary Jane for offering an analysis of the black experience written by black people. This reality makes the series far more appreciated and redeemable than series like Greenleaf who appropriate said narrative. With this said, the series still functions to layer black female behavior without acknowledging the very prevalent outside influences.
It is this carelessness and sheer oblivion that douses our collective identity for the sole benefit of our oppressors. Furthermore, while it may be tempting to clutch one’s pearls and bask in the drama of prim- time television, it is imperative that we as a collective realize that our fictive portrayals yield factual iniquity.
Black Power ❤