Just when we thought the world exhausted itself of identities to create for Black women, television brings us the Home Wrecker. Many are familiar with Jezebel, Mammy, Educated Bitch and Welfare Queen. Of three major actresses currently starring in television shows (Kerry Washington, Gabrielle Union and Kimberley Elise), two-thirds of their characters are sleeping with married men (Washington and Union play Olivia Pope and Mary Jane Paul, respectively). Their Home Wrecker status is reinforced by frequent mentions of the children involved and occasional pleas from the wives of said men. Mary Jane Paul and Olivia Pope have it all. They are beautiful, educated, and financially empowered— they have daddies (some of you will get that in the parking lot). Paul and Pope exhibit strength in almost every area of their lives with the exception of romance. When it comes to love, these powerful women are reduced to desperate shells of their public personas. Does love necessarily require Black women adopt alternate personalities in public and private?
Each identity created for Black women serves a purpose. Jezebel was created to justify the systemic sexual abuse of Black women, Mammy was created to justify the domestic slavery of Black women (in the form of childrearing and maids), the Educated Bitch served to put Black women academics in their places within the ivory tower and the Welfare Queen was created by Ronald Reagan to facilitate the “war on welfare fraud.” In the same way, the Home Wrecker reinforces the idea of Black women as perpetually broken. Ivy league schools? Pinnacle of your career? Luxury cars and coats that make a nation of women collectively swoon? The ability to support your friends and family emotionally and financially? Overcome structural racism and sexism? Cool. But as we are reminded through the characters of Pope and Paul— don’t get it twisted sista, you ain’t all that. At least not enough to deserve, or have, your own man.
These shows tell us that Black women cannot be viewed as powerful without simultaneously being portrayed as incapable of making sound decisions when it comes to sleeping with married men. That each of them repeatedly chooses to take the role of mistress is reinforced by the presence of single men pursuing them. Olivia Pope can turn a mediocre, albeit privileged, man into leader of the free world but she can’t make the decision to stop sleeping with him? Mary Jane Paul can take care of everyone around her but she can’t value herself enough to demand more than a married man?
That said, there is much truth to be found in Washington and Union’s characters as exhibited in the number of Black women who testify to such via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook on any given Tuesday and Thursday evening. But whose construction is the Home Wrecker? Although at least of one Mary Jane’s Black female friends casually admitted to sleeping with married men, for obvious reasons there might not be many social media confessions of the same. Are the romantic lives (or lack thereof) of Mary Jane Paul and Olivia Pope accurate depictions of otherwise powerful Black women?
*Full Disclosure- I watch both shows and have been known to threaten to disown anyone who interrupts me while watching*