Race Reared its Head in Scandal 2.08

kerry-washington-scandal-s2I am all in when it comes to ABC’s Scandal created by the brilliant Shonda Rhimes. How many times have I watched season 1 and the current 8 episodes of season 2? Daily I check twitter, tumbler, and Facebook (to a lesser extent) to read what those die hard “gladiators” are saying about all things Scandal… the characters, theories, etc. I chime in too. I even read some of the stories on fanfiction.net that are inspired by Scandal. I want to write my own story. I am always looking for people to debrief with after watching an episode.

I am addicted to the show and especially the tortured relationship between Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and Fitzgerald Grant (Tony Goldwyn).   It is obvious that these two actors are all in too because they really sell this relationship. My breath always catches when they are in the same frame. I feel like I am intruding on a private moment. They are so authentic! I could devote a post to their chemistry, but I want to delve into the race question.

This is the first time that race has been addressed overtly in Scandal. I am not making a value judgment about its absence because I like the fact that Shonda Rhimes has written a character, Olivia Pope, who is not limited by race. She is not some stock black character, the black best friend. the neck rolling “ghetto girl,” the single mother,  the jezebel, mammy, or whore, and the list goes on. Ms. Pope is not a creation either, but based on a real fixer who happens to be a black woman, Judy Smith. However, in any universe that is set in this world and in a time period of the last 500 years cannot escape race.

So when Olivia said that her relationship with the President was a little too “Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson” and Fitz blasted Olivia not to pull the race card because, “you are not a victim,” my ears perked up. I thought this is really getting real and leaving fantasy land. I love Scandal’s brand of fantasy, but this gives the show and Olivia even more complexity.

I get it. I understand why Olivia had to resign. She wants Fitz to be a better man and lead the country. She doesn’t want to be a “kept” woman. She doesn’t want to hide her love. She is brilliant. She deserves better. Added to all these reasons and relatively unexplored in the show is that  she doesn’t want to be his black mistress. She doesn’t want to be “owned” by him without self-determination and control over her own body like so many countless black women in the stain on our nation’s history: slavery. Olivia is familiar with the context in which she and Fitz live. Being a fixer in Washington, she knows all about identity politics. That is why she decided to resign after FLOTUS Mellie basically called Olivia a whore in only the way she, as the wife, can. Her purpose is to let Olivia know that she  knew of their affair and she was okay with it. Translation: Mellie was serving her country on her feet in the elevated position of power while Olivia was serving her country in secret…in the dark…in a prone position…powerless. Olivia decided to take her power and self-determination back so she resigned.

Olivia lives in a world (our world) where Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas was noted by some in her own community by the appropriateness of her hair  (too nappy, not fixed) and not her talent; and where Susan Rice was called “incompetent” and “not too bright”. I don’t have to rehearse the myriad of ways race permeated the campaigns and presidency of our current POTUS. Where folks can sum you up with a look and decide to to shoot you because you fit a stereotype. Even in Shondaland, race plays a role. It is there because people are there. This is not a call for Ms. Rhimes to name race going forward. She lives in a black body in an industry that doesn’t have a lot of places for faces like hers in front of or behind the camera. Yet, she has broken many barriers. PTL! It was just refreshing to see race rear its head in this episode because it lends another layer of authenticity and complexity.

I love this show and look forward to more, more, more.


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