Chattel (noun): 1. A movable article of personal property, 2. Any article of tangible property other than land, buildings, and other things annexed to land, 3. A slave.
As SCANDAL’s audience has grown so has the critical commentary. I was hesitant to write this post, not because I think the subject matter is unimportant, but because I don’t feel the need to defend the show or its writers and producers. However, something about the tone of this debate bothers me.
I respect and welcome the constructive analysis and opinions of others. I’ve certainly had my own critiques about shows such as Sex and the City, which enjoyed a legion of devoted African-American female fans while virtually ignoring our existence. Maybe it’s because this comes behind years of magazine articles, TV exposés, and pejorative books written by men about the romantic plight of Black women, particularly those who have more education and money than their Black male counterparts.
The narrative goes some like this: Men feel emasculated by a woman’s success, so don’t remind him of yours. Men want to feel needed, so stop telling him you’re independent. Men need good sex on the regular, so don’t use your career as an excuse to avoid it.
Not surprisingly, this debate has shifted to the first network TV drama in almost 40 years to star an African-American woman in a leading role. There have been several articles comparing the main character, Olivia Pope, to Jezebel, Mammy, TV reality stars, and most offensively Thomas Jefferson’s enslaved concubine Sally Hemings. Critics argue that when a powerful White man has sex with an arguably less powerful Black woman, it creates the same dynamic found between a master and his slave. By that flawed logic, every Black person who works for a White person remains chattel property.
Black women are being derided on social media, mostly at the hands of Black men, as hypocrites and adultery enablers for wanting to see Olivia ride off into the sunset with the very married President Fitzgerald Grant. Do White women receive the same public dressing down from White men? If so, would somebody please send me 10 articles on the subject?
Herein lies the problem.
How many of these critics have attached similar labels to themselves for praising well-known philanderers Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Lil’ Wayne? Those are very real people whose actions have resulted in very real consequences. Yet, I don’t recall seeing multiple articles about their being insatiable sexual predators who play into the “black buck” stereotype.
In Olivia Pope’s case, we’re instructed to ignore her educational and professional accomplishments because her adulterous relationship with Fitz renders those things moot. Wow. No matter what a Black woman achieves in life, some people always find a way to undermine her success.
Currently, there is an analysis written by Dean Steed making the rounds that explores his perceived deception by SCANDAL’s writers regarding the Republican Party’s policies. He claims this is an example of black faces being used to perpetuate inaccuracies about the real ideology of the GOP. If anybody watching SCANDAL doesn’t know the Republican agenda independent of a Hollywood script, there are much bigger issues at play. Don’t blame a TV show for their ignorance.
Research the politics of head writer Shonda Rhimes. She’s pro-gay rights, pro-women’s rights, and pro-minority rights. She’s smartly used her three shows to drive home those facts. Perhaps the fictitious Republican Party on SCANDAL represents her vision of what they could and should be. Steed must have missed the character Sally Langston, who fills the role of a current-day Tea Partier. She’s anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-immigration, much like those who infect today’s Republican Party.
In the same critique, Steed takes issue with the fact that the show is based on real life “fixer” Judy Smith, who worked under the first Bush administration and has defended some questionable characters, including Clarence Thomas. Really? The show is called SCANDAL. Who would he expect her to defend? Saints don’t need crisis managers.
I doubt my post will end this generations-old debate, but I didn’t sleep well yesterday with it on my mind. I likely won’t mention it again…unless I have another sleepless night.
Written by Shara D. Taylor of www.myscandalobsession.com