Commentary: RIP, Felicia

Bye, Felicia show

Commentary: RIP, Felicia

A new show trots out an old stereotype: the magical mammy

Published November 19, 2014

Guess who’s coming to your television? If you guessed the magical mammy, you are correct!

But wait, you may be thinking, she is already on TV. I see her nearly every time there is a hand-on-hip-holding Black lady selling me cleanser, telling me that she sho’ can make my house sparkle nice and clean with what’s in the bottle. And there she is on the movie-of-the-week, playing the sidekick, the helpful, soothing-voiced wonderbrain to the hapless White people.

Yes, you are right, but VH1 wanted to make sure you can get your fix weekly. So they are airing the new reality show Bye, Felicia. Beginning December 9, every Tuesday you can spend an hour watching two Black life coaches go around Los Angeles helping down-and-out white women get their groove back. Think of it as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy meets What Not to Wear meets a Mrs. Butterworth commercial. 

This is not calling the women — two legitimate, professional life coaches — mammies. It is, however, calling out the fixation that this culture has on having Black women swoop in and save the day, with a sassy aside and a neck roll if possible. If the show really wanted to highlight the skills of the life coaches, it would let them help everyone. Bringing in a racial element says a lot about the fetishization of the mammy. How else to explain the press release, which promises, "White women of LA are getting a serious confidence boost and a little dose of reality...Hoping to impart their unique experience and wisdom through motherly tough love, Deb and Missy teach these women to say hello to their better selves and goodbye to Felicia."

This is not the first time Black ladies have been charged with helping white women on TV where a racially-filtered special blend of “motherly tough love” has been used. Earlier this year, there was Girlfriend Intervention on Lifetime. But what that show was lacking was the super cool name, which someone clearly pulled from the Twitter updates of all the teens in their timeline. Armed with a hip title, Bye, Felicia promises to change your primetime viewing.

So much is wrong with this premise, including how dated it is. Why in a television season where a Black woman gets to play the president, a successful trial attorney, the head of a hospital and an Olivia Pope is this image even still around? Hasn't television, helped along considerably by Mara Brock Akil and Shonda Rhimes, proven that there are plenty of ratings to be found in non-stereotypical depictions of Black women? Isn’t it time to say "Bye, Felicia" to this sorry idea?  

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.



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(Photo: VH1)

Written by Ayana Byrd

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