Don’t Rely on Olivia Pope to Represent Black Women

Guest Post by Raven Best

Arguably, there is nothing better than spending a night in with your friends. Gossip, good food and entertainment, all in the comfy confines of your home. For me and my girls, our semi-monthly church service was recounting the many testimonies and personal tragedies we faced, usually accompanied by a generic bottle of wine, chinese food and Olivia Pope. In these settings is where I’ve had some of my deepest conversations and revelations about people, myself and life.

One night as our little group spiritedly debated about the night’s Scandal episode, one of us commented on how the show just wasn’t the same as it used to be. We all had to agree. In the first season, Olivia Pope was Empress of the Gladiators, she ran EVERYTHING (with her five-inch pumps and hair laid for the gawds!) But, by season 3, every five minutes she was in some lip- quivering fit on the verge of tears. All because she couldn’t decide what she wanted to do with her married lover. Rather than an episode centering around Olivia’s command of herself, her team and the messy political underworld of D.C., everything was about Fitz! Olivia wasn’t fixing problems anymore; she was running around the White House, battling Mellie for the eyebrow-less president and drowning herself in wine alone on her couch at night while her life was in shambles.

Needless to say, we were upset, but as loyal viewers we watched every week in the hope that our favorite character would return to her original glory. Our biggest grievance was not that Olivia fell in love; that’s life. It was the fact that the show, which was praised for having two strong, beautiful, intelligent female characters had reduced our heroines to a side chick and wifey battling over who got to keep their man. It’s disheartening at best. Strong characterizations of women in the media are far and few between. Generally, the strong female leads we do see are quickly diminished by the beauty standard (whether or not they’re “pretty” or attractive enough), their emotions, or a man. As women, it seems like we can’t stand on our own two and hold our own, at least to whoever is writing these scripts and screenplays. Instead, us women are nothing more than rock ‘em, sock ‘em robots battling each other for the ultimate prize: a date.

Now, I’m not writing all this to say that there is anything wrong with wanting love and someone to cuddle with at night. There surely is not, I just wish that as women we could have a little more depth than that. In real life, we all know that women are the masters of balance, somehow successfully managing work, family and personal lives. But more often than not we have to choose. Can I chase my dreams of being a business owner and still have time to be a good mother? Can I find a man who won’t be threatened by my salary and independence? Can I be pretty AND smart? Through society’s expectations, woman = sacrifice, we have to give up certain facets of ourselves to maintain our femininity for the security of others.

And depictions of women in the media like Olivia and Mellie do not help. Everyone recognizes Olivia and Mellie for their intelligence and power, so why have neither of these women backhanded Fitz, packed the Louis bags and sashayed off the premises? Fitz killed Olivia’s mama, has lied to her on several occasions and pouts whenever she isn’t at his beck and call. Fitz decided that because Mellie stopped sleeping with him and became distant, he deserved to have an affair. (Wouldn’t you think a husband would ask his wife what was wrong?) Olivia’s job has clearly taken a backseat to doing favors for and making sure Fitz can get another term. And we all know what Mellie sacrificed for her husband. Why are these women choosing to stay with this man at the cost of their careers, peers, families and even personal well-being?

As a woman, and a black woman at that, I had high hopes that the writer, Shonda Rhimes, would maintain the image of a brown girl who can be beautiful, kind, intelligent and powerful. Lord knows we need it. And maybe Shonda will have Olivia do a complete turn around. But as of right now, I have to continue my sad but necessary statement that we cannot take anything in the media to heart. As brown women: TV, radio and print generally do not accurately depict us. We need to rely on ourselves and on real-life, tangible role models to know what black womanhood means. The only way we can change society’s extremely skewed opinion of us is to live unapologetically and follow our aspirations without pause. Eventually, they’ll catch up. When it comes to Olivia Pope, her outerwear is just about the only quality of hers I can aspire to at the moment. Don’t idolize these characters that you see on screen, ladies. When you’re looking for someone to admire and represent you, find a mirror.

Raven of The Free Your Mind Project

Hi readers! My name is Raven and I’m a recent graduate from the University of Maryland-College Park. I’ve been blogging for almost a year, I created my blog in the hopes of inspiring and connecting other brown women; to encourage myself and others to follow our dreams and find our passions. It’s an honor to be featured on Twenty Unscripted! I invite y’all to check out my personal blog: The Free Your Mind Project (http://fymproject.com/) follow the blog’s instagram (@fymproject) my personal instagram (@_inthesky) or email me at raven.best5@gmail.com. Feel free to reach out and get in touch! 

 

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

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.

Xoxo,
Tyece

Twenties Unscripted Takeover: Anique Hameed

Twenties Unscripted Takeover is a special week-long feature series highlighting twenty-somethings who are “taking over the world” in music, art, film, social activism and business. Today’s feature chronicles Chaédria LaBouvier’s journey through the world of film. When I reached out to a few Twenties Unscripted Takeover participants to ask if they had recommendations for other potential interviewees, Stacy-Ann pointed me in the direction of Anique. I knew a recommendation from Stacy-Ann would be solid and Anique did not disappoint. She is actively involved in her community and was recently chosen as one of the ambassadors for the “My Black Is Beautiful” campaign. Meet Anique.

You were recently selected as one of the “My Black Is Beautiful” ambassadors. What sparked your involvement in this initiative?
Professionally I do marketing and communications for a nonprofit organization so I’m online most of the day.

I first saw the ad for the competition on my Facebook feed while I was working and I thought to myself “Wow, I could do this… I could really do this.” It was right up my alley.

I’m known amongst my friends and family for being passionate about social issues that impact African Americans, women and youth. I’m also known for bringing light and inspiration to those the lives of those that I love. I felt that this would be a perfect opportunity to share my love for our community and our African American sisters who don’t always have a safe space to express themselves and celebrate their beauty.

Can you tell us more about the #NotforSale social media campaign you launched? What sort of response and feedback did you get from that campaign?

The #NotforSale campaign was launched in response to over 200 girls from the Village of Chibok in Nigeria being taken from their school this past May.

I found out about the girls being taken almost two weeks after the incident via Instagram. After bringing the news of the tragedy up to friends, family, and colleagues I realized that many people were still unaware due to low media coverage.

I was really frustrated that these young women were just taken like objects, and there are societies in this world that foster and support the ideology that women are for sale: spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Women are not your tokens, trophies, or war prizes. I thought to myself, “…we are not for sale!”

I reached out to my networks and asked people to post pictures of themselves, their sisters, daughters, mothers, aunts, sorors and tell the world why they are #NotforSale.

There was a great response. So many people submitted entries, people even produced short videos. BET News eventually got informed of the campaign and featured #NotforSale in a segment about Boko Haram and the young women who were kidnapped.

I have plans to take #NotforSale offline and into the community as a way to inform people about human trafficking and to continue the conversation about the value of women in our society.

anique hameedHow important is it for black women to define beauty for themselves?
It is imperative that Black women define beauty for themselves because there are people being paid to tell you that everything, except for what your blackness represents, is beautiful. Those same people profit from black women internalizing the idea that everything except for who they are is beautiful and that they need to purchase, or nip and tuck things to help them align with an unreal and non-diverse standard of beauty.

Feelings of aesthetic inferiority are often inherited generationally so we have to start loving ourselves now, no matter what shade or size, to ensure that the next generation of black women have that love.

How you define the terms “community” and “sisterhood”?
Community is family that is created through common language, values, shared history or location, and shared experiences in life. One thing that I love about community is that it has the potential to be birthed and fostered anywhere.

Sisterhood means so much! I have five sisters and the most amazing sorors. Sisterhood is a special gift of love, support, friendship, counsel and reality checks. It’s an experience of mutual respect, love and honor. It’s a bond that can be put through any test and come out unscathed. I maintain in tough seasons and evolve in seasons of growth because of power of sisterhood.

In your ambassador finalist video for “My Black is Beautiful” you said that you are on a journey of self-discovery. What are some of the most significant revelations you’ve had throughout that journey?
In your twenties learning about the world and yourself away from your family and hometown is a crazy experience. On my journey of self-discovery I’ve learned two major lessons:

  1. I can do everything I envision doing, but not all at once. Also, even if I have the ability to do something it’s important to check and see if it’s aligned with my purpose.
  2. God made me special, and I am the only one that can execute my unique purpose. Therefore I should love everything that makes me fit to be Anique. My skin, my hair, my curves, my laugh are all things that make me who I am. All aspects were crafted purposefully and are essential to my being.

Often times, millennials are accused of “slacktivism” or passive activism thanks to social media. What are your thoughts on this? Do you believe activism must extend beyond social media?
Online activism is important because you can inform a mass amount of people about social issues and garner attention quickly. This form of activism becomes challenging and even somewhat ineffective when your iPhone battery dies. There are real live people in our communities that need people to love on them and to coalition build to problem solve. Many of the people that need activists’ support don’t have ideal access to the internet and computers and we are telling their stories without them. You must translate online action into real life action.

What advice would you give to young women looking to get more involved in their communities?
The community needs us! We are innovative, compassionate, and perfect to get our hands dirty making the world a bit better than how we inherited it. We are all super busy but it’s so easy to start serving. Become a mentor or big sister to a young woman. Make it fun and plan service outings with your friends. Remember all the people who have sewn into you over your lifetime? Pay it forward!

Final thoughts

The power of change and progress always rests in the hands of the youth. It’s our time!

At an early age social entrepreneur Anique Hameed was exposed to the important role of everyday people in uplifting and maintaining society. She touches the community in several ways including serving as the Founding Director of Eternal Life Project, Co-Founder of Essence of Progress, a P&G My Black is Beautiful Ambassador, and a Volunteer Ambassador for the Be The Match bone marrow donor registry. Anique is an alumna of Howard University in Washington, D.C. where she studied Legal Communication and African American studies. She is currently studying to receive a Master of Public Administration in Nonprofit Management at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.

Instagram/Twitter: @ayaminah

Website: www.eternallifeproject.org

To The Beautiful Black Women Who Read And Support My Blog

Author’s note: Today is my last post until Monday, July 21. Next week there are 11 phenomenal writers whose work will be represented during Twenties Unscripted Guest Writers Week. Please show them love.

I never write about race. It’s sort of this unofficial rule I conjured up a long time in hopes that my writing would reveal itself as universal for women, not just black women. I struggled with the title of today’s post, aware that I could lose readers or polarize my audience. But, I had to write this, especially in light of celebrating two years of Twenties Unscripted and knowing the bulk of women who have made my blog what it is.

I’m not writing this to say that there are not women and men of all races and ethnicities who have supported my work and boosted Twenties Unscripted. I completely get that. I do not take it for granted one bit. And, I will continue to write in the interest of all women, independent of what they look like. I appreciate anyone who has ever read my work, even one word of it. But, I had to pause today. Because there is something incredibly special about the black women who support my work.

There are certain moments in life that only prove to be pivotal in retrospect. One of those moments was last summer when Evette Dionne listed Twenties Unscripted on a Clutch Magazine list of 5 Underrated Blogs You Should Read. After that list, a lot changed for me. A lot of doors opened. And, black women I would have never known read the list and embraced my blog with the kind of love I thought could only come from close friends and family.

Later that year, I won a Black Weblog Award for Best Personal Blog. Another one of those pivotal moments that I didn’t even realize would change my trajectory until after the fact.

Since then, women like Candice Shaw of Brown Girl Bloggers have reached out to me and given me opportunities and exposure. Women like Morgan and Lindsay of #BlackGirlsWhoBlog have constantly promoted my work. Women like Kimberly have given me opportunities to write for From A Wildflower and present my writing to a larger audience. And, there is no way I could write this without saying that women like Erica and Yetti have let me lean on them and vent to them about every tiny writer woe I have. They have uplifted me and pushed me beyond my own incessant self-doubt to do things I thought I would never be able to do.

These are all beautiful and supportive black women who have taken chances on me and given me opportunities to run like the fucking wind. There is not one doubt in my mind that black women have primarily made my blog what it is now. When I scroll through my Twitter mentions, I see a hell of a lot of beautiful and different brown faces. So, instead of resisting the need to write anything about black women, I have decided tonight that I must embrace it. I must embrace the same group that has so graciously and zealously embraced me.

Listen, black women are awesome. We are motherfucking awesome. I don’t need to tell you why. We just are. And when we get together and support each other, we are only that much more motherfucking awesome.

So, thank you. Thank you for making me feel validated and valued as a black woman in the blogosphere. Thank you for taking in my work and wry wit. Thank you for telling the rest of the world that black women do not only have to blog about hair to kick ass and gain readers. Thank you for being beautiful and supportive and responsive and encouraging and intelligent and so accepting of what I am trying to do and give to the universe. Thank you for holding me down in a world that too often tries to hold me back. I mean this. All of this. From the bottom of my heart and the tips of my fingers and the pit of my belly. You all are some kind of wonderful.

Xoxo,

Tyece