Alessandra Stanley’s NYT Piece: Pressure to Respond In the Social Media Age

September 22, 2014

I was supposed to be upset last Friday when The New York Times published Alessandra Stanley’s “Wrought in Their Creator’s Image: Viola Davis Plays Shonda Rhimes’ Latest Tough Heroine“. The article chronicles television screenwriter, director and producer Shonda Rhimes’ creation of strong, black, female characters, her latest being Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) in the upcoming series, “How to Get Away with Murder.” But, more notably, the article set off a shit storm across the Internet after Stanley began the piece with this race-baiting sentence: “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called ‘How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.'”

In the article, Stanley argues that Shonda Rhimes has taken the stereotype of the “Angry Black Woman” and redefined it with characters such as Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) on Grey’s Anatomy, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) on Scandal and, of course, Annalise Keating on How to Get Away With Murder.

Ms. Rhimes has embraced the trite but persistent caricature of the Angry Black Woman, recast it in her own image and made it enviable. She has almost single-handedly trampled a taboo even Michelle Obama couldn’t break.

shonda rhimes

Don’t fuck with Shonda.

Without doubt or question, Stanley’s piece is problematic for many reasons. (I will not even get into the “less classically beautiful” phrase used in the commentary, because that is a different blog post for another day.) Unfortunately, its publication also doesn’t surprise me considering how much Tier 1 media uses race, or blatant ignorance of it, to leads its ledes (insert Patricia Garcia Vogue article.) But, when I read the New York Times’ television critics’ latest, I did not have the abrupt, visceral response that I thought I should have according to the Twitter powers that be. According to the Twitter tribe, I probably should have been incensed by the time I reached the last paragraph. I was not. Instead, my hairdresser called me from the waiting area to the booth as I was finishing the last few sentences. I shot off a tweet that I had “Just finished Alessandra Stanley’s piece…” and received a few replies soliciting my thoughts. I felt pressured to drop some intellectual and derisive quip, but I came up empty-handed.

There are more than a few times when I agree with the majority on matters such as Stanley’s article. And, I probably don’t even disagree this time around–I’m just not as enraged by it as it seems I should be. Yes, Alessandra Stanley’s piece is mortifying in its racial recklessness. Yes, I wondered what editors vetted that thing and decided it was ready to go to print. And, no, I did not understand or receive her argument in the way she allegedly intended. All of those things stand. Now, was I incredibly upset? No, not really.

Sometimes I miss the good ol’ days when you could read something and formulate an opinion sans an audience watching. Of course, I’m not denouncing Twitter–after all, most of us, self included, would not have known about the article if it weren’t for Twitter. If it weren’t for Twitter, news outlets would not have been able to get screen grabs of Shonda Rhimes’ reaction to the piece via her own Twitter account. However, I felt these tinges of guilt for not reacting in a way that mirrored the masses’ response. In her article, “Tragedy. Call. Compassion. Response.”, Roxane Gay writes, “The tools of the modern age afford us many privileges, but they also cost us the privilege of time and space to distance ourselves to properly think through tragedy, to take a deep breath, to feel, to care.” I want my time and space back. I want the room to think on my own and for myself.

I’ve been changing my relationship with social media this year and in that shift, I’ve realized that social media rarely gives us time to react in a way that honestly represents our emotions. It’s such an immediate, knee-jerk kind of a medium. That sort of dynamic energy makes it difficult to form an original response to anything without being under the social influence. So, we become responsible for creating our own space. We become responsible for temporarily severing our ties to social media at times in favor of reacting to things in a way indicative of how we truly feel, no matter how mild or outraged those feelings may be.

Yes, I take issue with a white New York Times critic reducing one of television’s most powerful screenwriters and producers to an Angry Black Woman. But, I also take issue with the fact that nearly ten years ago a black man by the name of Tyler Perry used that same stereotype and it sky rocketed him to fame. As an impassioned and opinionated black woman, I’m not selective in my disdain for the use of this stereotype. If there’s anyone trying to “take the image of the Angry Black Woman and recast it in [his or her] own image,” it is Tyler Perry. Shonda Rhimes does not have time for that stupidity and Alessandra Stanley is a flaming imbecile to think any differently. For me, it’s just that simple. No hashtag required.


One thought on “Alessandra Stanley’s NYT Piece: Pressure to Respond In the Social Media Age

  1. Kate @

    I really love this post, both for your take on that absolutely insanely offensive NYT piece (some real doozies from The Grey Lady these days…) & for the wise words about knee-jerk social media reactions & groupthink. I, like everyone else, use social media to FIND a lot of my news – but most often, that news is inherently bent, “thought” pieces that have no commitment to being unbiased & essentially exist to tell me what to think of the news as they’re breaking it to me. It means that we’re all biased to begin with, right off the bat, weaving other people’s views & reactions into everything we read before we can form views & reactions of our own.

    I read the Jezebel piece before I read the NYT piece. I read the NYT piece already pissed. I wonder how I would’ve felt if I’d started there – if I would’ve recognized all of the problems in it right away, if I would’ve been thoughtful about them on my own, if they would’ve inspired opinions that got watered down or pushed beneath the reactions Jezebel told me I was supposed to have. And it’s not just this piece! It’s basically… everything, ever. And It’s something I’d like to take a closer look at & be more intentional about, too. I’d love to hear more about your changing social media habits & any tips you’ve got!

    Also? “Shonda Rhimes does not have time for that stupidity and Alessandra Stanley is a flaming imbecile to think any differently.” This. Amen.


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