What I am about to address will most certainly be the uncommon, unpopular opinion, and I am okay with that. I’m going to speak anyway, because, in my heart and soul, I feel this is something my people as a community at large miss when we support things in mainstream that clearly undermines who we are and what we are capable of as a people. So, I challenge you to read carefully and think critically about what I am saying. It is my opinion, and as such, I do not expect nor require anyone who reads this to share or agree with what I present. All I ask is that you respond with respect and think before you respond.
When the show Scandal first hit the airwaves, I was intrigued, just like the rest of the world. A well-educated, well-dressed, articulate woman of color who had the resources and capability to “fix” the various scandals that all too often occur on Capitol Hill. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by such a concept? But it was the underlying story line that soon moved me from interested to insulted and infuriated. I began to take great issue with the character of Olivia Pope as her integrity as a woman deteriorated before my very eyes. Here was a brilliant woman of color, classy and eloquent, to whom people flocked to cover up their indiscretions, and yet had no control over her own personal life. When courted by senators and career military men, she instead chose to be the mistress to the President, his dirty little secret. Now, you might say that this is simply entertainment, but why must this be the best that Olivia Pope can do for herself in her personal life? Where is her sense of self-respect and self-worth? Why is it that Shonda Rhimes, another woman of color, thought it would be appropriate to present Olivia in this light? The woman who can “fix” the lives of others, but has no stability in her own life? While it proves that most people don’t follow the advice or suggestions that they give other people, there is much more at stake than that to me. I take personal issue with it as another woman of color.
Growing up, I grew up watching Claire Huxtable and Vivian Banks and Harriette Winslow, strong, educated, articulate women of color who had a great impact on their world, both inside and outside their homes. Claire Huxtable was a well-established lawyer at a white male dominated law firm where she held her own and demanded respect from her colleagues simply by the way she spoke and the way she carried herself. She had a command of the English language and of the law statutes that made you look and listen when she spoke. Her no-nonsense approach to everything she did was admirable for a woman of her time and stature. But, not only was her professional life in order, her home was in order as well. All five children knew that she was not one to be messed with. She ruled her home with an iron fist, demanding respect and excellence from everyone who stepped foot into her home – children, spouses, grandchildren, etc. – all while honoring her husband as the head of the household. She was well-rounded, taking an interest in art and music. She was a strong woman, but she was still a woman.
Vivian Banks was very much the same way. When she spoke, people listened. When it was time to take in her nephew, she held him to the same high standards to which she held her own children. She challenged them to know their history and embrace all that it could teach them as they went through life and education. She stood up to anyone who tried to tell her she wasn’t good enough to be present or participate in any event. She loved her husband, supported him and empowered him to be successful in his career, all while pursuing her own interests and hobbies. And she taught her daughters to be women who stood for themselves in the face of opposition and adversity.
While Harriette Winslow was far less well-known than Claire and Vivian, she had an impact on me in my formative years as yet another example of a strong black woman who could hold her ground and take care of her family, as well as the neighbor’s kid (LOL). She taught her children about self-respect and the important of an education. She was there when they needed her, to listen, to teach, and to nurture. When they got out of line, she would remind them who was in charge and why. She reminded me a lot of my own mother, tough and tender. She was the quintessential black mother, who ran her house well, so that her husband could go out and make a living. There was nothing to be ashamed about being a housewife, because she kept that house running, even with her sister and nephew in the mix.
These are the kinds of models I would want my daughter to grow up watching, to want to emulate. These are the kind of women that I would prefer to see portrayed in primetime television, women of color who knew who they were and what they were about. These women knew what it meant to balance home and work without one suffering at the hands of the other. These women were married to men of substance and character, and continued to encourage and empower their husbands to reach their potential, all while loving them fiercely. But where are the role models now?? I would never consider emulating Olivia Pope, a woman who presents well, but is really struggling to figure who she is and what she wants. Yes, that is a part of the process of becoming an adult, but I would rather have a woman portrayed who has a clear mind about her, and won’t let anyone disrespect her because she’s available. All the fashion in the world does not make up for a woman who does not know who she is and where she is headed in life. I would much rather see women of color portrayed in roles that inspire me to reach higher and dig deeper, who give me something to aspire to, something for which to reach. Olivia Pope doesn’t do it for me, and, if you are a woman of color and you are honest, you would say the same. I was incredibly disappointed to realize that the person who wrote Scandal is a woman of color. Dear Shonda, is this how you want America to see the modern black woman? How is this better than the days of Mammie and maids? How is this better than how they already see us? It’s not. It’s just a different kind of slavery, only she has been given new clothes, all while still doing the master’s dirty work.
We as women have an incredible capacity to influence the world that we live in. We bear and raise children, the next generation that will go on to impact the world. What are we teaching them about self-worth and self-respect when we support shows in the media that portray us in this light?? What are we teaching our daughters about how they are to navigate a white male-dominated world? That they have to sleep their way to get where they want to be? No matter how hard they work and study and learn? No matter how brilliant their mind or how articulate they may be? This is not the lesson I would teach my future daughter. I will teach her the lessons that I learned from my parents, the lessons that I learned from Claire and Vivian and Harriette. I will teach her that she can do anything she sets her mind to do, when she trusts her way to God. I will teach her that true beauty comes through in the way you treat people and how you carry yourself, not from the labels on your back. I will teach her that it is important to have a masterful command of the English language, because expressing yourself articulately will garner you respect everywhere you go. I will teach her that her self-value and self-worth are to be found in the contents of her mind, not what’s between her legs. I will teach her how to love, honor, and respect herself, so that she will demand the same from those she encounters. I will teach her about how infinite God’s love is for her, and that no man should be allowed to look twice at her unless he has a deep and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. And I will teach her that all of humanity deserves respect, simply because they are human and created in the image of their Creator. She will be empowered to be everything that she was created to be, as much as is in my power with God’s help. And, with prayer and faith, she will never grow up to be an Olivia Pope, but rather a Claire or a Vivian or a Harriette, sure of herself, her purpose, and her Creator. Period.