Why I'm Tired of Seeing the Tragically Single Black Woman on TV

Black women don't have a lot of options when it comes to prime time TV offerings. Or perhaps I...

 photo BeingMaryJane.jpg

Black women don't have a lot of options when it comes to prime time TV offerings. Or perhaps I should rephrase. We have choices, but there are painfully few representations of Black womanhood on television that are remotely satisfactory. That is why when a show comes along that displays even the faintest hint of potential, we flock to it. On Scandal nights, you'll find us tweeting and Facebooking our hearts out. And we're the reason why the debuts of Being Mary Jane on BET and Blood, Sweat and Heels on Bravo posted record-breaking numbers for both networks. We tune in, with the hope that our experiences will be reflected and affirmed.

And sometimes that's what we get.  Remember when Senator Davis tried to woo Olivia Pope with, "I've seen you press your hair!" ? Bless Shonda Rhimes for those fleeting but integral moments of Black Girl Realness.  Those are the times when something we see on screen prompts a collective "yasssss!!!" But lately it seems that in order to get to those moments, we must endure the trope of the tragically single Black woman.

Tragic singledom is apparently widespread among professional Black women. It causes fictional characters like Mary Jane Paul and Olivia Pope to set aside completely their sense of self-worth in search of the affections of unattainable men. The men seem tortured at times, but ultimately they are able to lead fulfilling lives while offering the women who want them just enough to keep them coming back. While the women have a series of mini emotional break downs but manage to make sure their hair is laid.

Black women, Shonda Rhimes and Mara Brock Akil, guide both "Scandal" and "Being Mary Jane," so I expect more nuanced portraits of our lives. And while their pictures come closer to the truth, the women fall short in depicting Black women in love. They too have been poisoned by the propaganda that has made huge successes of Steve Harvey and Tyler Perry. They say that the work Black women put into the many facets of who we are is for naught because we can't keep a man. And isn't that the point of it all?

30-something Black women may struggle to juggle the demands of work, family, life and love, but being unpartnered should not be cast as the central hurdle of a Black woman's life. The repetition of this singular image feels like media manipulation perpetuates the image of the unloved and unlovable Black woman.

What a delight it would be to see a Black woman right now in prime time in a loving, romantic relationship. (and not necessarily with a man). Or even a black woman who is content to be single because believe it or not that does happen.

The trouble is not simply that these women are unmarried, but the tragically single Black woman is content to come second indefinitely. Most irritating is the desperation with which these women approach dating. Black women who can take control of all other aspects of their lives but become whimpering and insecure when they cannot have the man they desire.  Both Olivia and Mary Jane pine after men who profess their love but go home to their wives each night.

Love and marriage are complicated and often messy, but I'd love to see Black women who love themselves enough to refuse to  become victims of the whims of a man whose feelings aren't sincere enough to put her first.

Show us some different struggles.

Reality TV takes its well deserved whippings, but if you'd like to see Black women in anything that resembles a caring partnership, you'll have to tune into Real Housewives of Atlanta where almost all of the cast members are married or engaged.  Those relationships are certainly not perfect, but their spouses are not clawing at their families and professional lives either. From what we can see, they make it work.

As a career-minded 20 something Black woman, I've had more conversations with my girlfriends  about men than I care to admit. But I often feel like these discussions are less about what we want than what we feel we should have. The media we consume plays a role in teaching us, strike that, scaring us into setting aside goals and entering entanglements that are less than ideal .

No one has it all together all of the time, but when mutually satisfying romance is the piece that always fall apart, we're telling women to settle for a destructive, middling love.

What prime time needs is a Black woman who does not fall in love but rises in it. And while we single, Black women search for it in our own lives, we'll yet wait for it on our TV screens.

Related:

Why White Ain't Right for Me
The Big Three-Oh!: On Getting Older and Waiting Patiently
Finding Mr. Right: How the Single Black Woman Narrative is Ruining My Dating Life




Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or

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