Scandal’s Series Finale Cements Olivia Pope As A Television Icon We Will Never Forget 

Scandal’s Series Finale Cements Olivia Pope As A Television Icon We Will Never Forget 

KERRY WASHINGTONSo I admit it. I am a fanatic of the show Scandal.  Over the course of seven seasons, the show filled a hole in my soul that I did not know I had.

As a woman of color, it has been difficult to see myself in those who are portrayed on television.  I grew up in the era of the Cosby Show; Mrs. Claire Huxtable, as nice as she was, didn’t cut it.  I wanted to see women who looked like me grappling with real life issues.  I didn’t want to see “perfection” – I wanted to see reality.

Then came Scandal.  Scandal provided a double whammy in a good way – it gave me two strong women of color.  One in Shonda Rhimes, who wrote/produced the show; the other was the strong female lead Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington).

Read the rest on Blavity!

 

Not Drinking the Lemonade: Is Beyonce Empowering Women?

Not Drinking the Lemonade: Is Beyonce Empowering Women?

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Is it me? Am I the only one disturbed by some of the tracks on Beyoncé’s new album Lemonade?

There is no question that Jay Z and Beyoncé are the “it” couple of music.  At the same time, questions regarding Jay Z’s fidelity to Beyoncé have been swirling for several years.  In light of this, the explosive lyrics found on Beyoncé new album raised more than just eyebrows. In several songs along with the accompanying videos, she lashes out, cursing at “a man” for cheating with violence at some points, and referred to the other woman as “Becky with the good hair“.  The internet nearly broke with folks trying to figure out who “Becky” was — one theory was that it was Rachel Roy, who intimated as such on her Instagram page.

There are two possible scenarios here: one, she is going through a terrible time with Jay Z, and is airing their dirty laundry. The second scenario, which has been floated by some media outlets, is that Beyoncé, Jay Z, and Rachel Roy are all in this together as one big publicity stunt to promote album sales and Jay Z’s Tidal music distributing service.

But who is being empowered by the berating of Beyoncé’s marriage?

Either scenario is disturbing, but I will look at them in turn. The first option is that the cheating rumors were true, explaining the beating he received from Beyoncé ‘s sister Solange in an elevator in 2014. It does smack of an angry protective sister, and the only reason a sister would behave in that manner is if her brother-in-law was cheating. See a bit of the history here.

Beyoncé ‘s lyrics in the song “Hold Up” as well as several other tracks are a little questionable.

She says at one point “What’s worse, lookin’ jealous or crazy?
Jealous or crazy?
Or like being walked all over lately, walked all over lately
I’d rather be crazy”
Read more: Beyonce – Hold Up Lyrics | MetroLyrics

The profanity laced “Don’t Hurt Yourself” reflected raw anger and emotion.  Many women are looking at these lyrics as so empowering, thrilled that she is dragging her cheating husband through the mud. May be they see it as “she has the strength to do something I can’t”.

But I ask, is marriage no longer sacred? Since when do we revel in the fact that a woman is dragging her man for cheating? Obviously, writing and music can be very therapeutic and that is healthy. But at the same token, she is choosing to stay with someone who has humiliated her in an incredibly public way. We know she’s not staying for the money, because there’s no question she is one of the most successful female artist in the world today. She’s not necessarily staying for power, because she is an artist, powerful in her own right. She may of course still be in love with Jay Z, but is that how you treat somebody you love? Wouldn’t your marriage and your image be better served if you went to couples therapy and work through your issues in private? The questions could have been avoided as to whether or not he was cheating, and their public relations camp could have continued to blow off the rumors. But, this very public album detailing their perceived problems makes it very clear there is some trouble in paradise. This also cannot be healthy for Blue Ivy, watching her mother drag her father through the dirt for cheating. This of course, is in addition to whatever else she is witnessing at home.

I don’t see the empowerment in this. If you choose to stay with the man that cheats with you on you, where’s the power especially if you’ve done nothing to make a relationship healthier? You’re the “baddest chick in the game” but yet you are tolerating your man cheating on you? You’re acting, to use the colloquial term, “ratchet” by smashing things and cursing; I’m failing to see how this empowers you or other women. In the real world, if you smash someone’s windows out of their car, depending on the amount of damage, you will be charged with a felony. Is it really worth it to prove a point to someone who is cheating on you and clearly has no respect for you? Acting in a destructive manner does not beget respect from anyone, and only degrades the actor.

The other possible scenario is that this is a giant publicity stunt to promote album sales and Jay Z’s music streaming service. I find this equally as disturbing. To destroy the sanctity of your marriage for money and for profits is incredibly shallow. Again, if you look at the effect it can have on their child, all the money in the world is not worth it. I think that is a very disturbing sign of their mental state if they are willing to destroy the sanctity of their marriage in that way.

Don’t get me wrong, she looked great, the lyrics were quite witty, and the videos were visually beautiful.  I just believe some things should be left in private. I question our hunger as a society to watch the destruction of a marriage in such a public fashion, or such a blatant grab for money and profits.

My mind also turns to Hillary Clinton — we all saw how Bill cheated on her, yet she remained in the marriage. We saw how he supported her Senatorial career as well as Secretary of State, and is now vigorously campaigning for her to become the first female president of the United States. But in some minds, one question still remains: did she stay with him after he cheated for her own personal gain? Are we comfortable with a woman doing that– selling out on happiness, and living in an arrangement of a marriage in order to attain personal goals? Men surely do not adopt this model for success. What pain comes with that decision? (To be clear this is not a statement on Secretary Clinton’s qualifications to be President.)

I almost prefer the scenario in the show Scandal, where Mellie and Fitz got divorced, and he supported her in other ways rather than live together in a strange, possibly a farce, of a marriage.

Yes, relationships are tough and complicated. But one constant, in my mind, needs to remain.  Respect, love and loyalty are the cornerstones for success in a relationship. My motto has always been “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.” As my mom would say “cut ’em loose!!”.  It was a tough lesson I had to learn, but in the end, it’s better than the alternative of an ongoing, destructive saga.

But hey, that’s the joy of a free country — everyone has choices, and has the ability to choose happiness!

Sound off on your comments and thoughts on this issue!

M.

New Year, New Level: The Year of “Yes”

New Year, New Level: The Year of “Yes”

Happy New Year! So here we are in 2016, on the cusp of a brand new adventure. We have high hopes, resolutions, and plans that we hope will unfold.

But, we still have our fears.

What would happen if we stared fear in the face, and went for it (whatever it is)? One thing is for sure. If you don’t try, you are guaranteed that you will not move forward.

This interesting piece from theRoot.com talks about lessons learned from powerhouse writer Shonda Rhimes’ (of Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away With Murder fame) new book. She challenges us to say “yes” for 1 year to everything that scares you.

I have to vouch for that tactic. There were many opportunities presented to me in 2015; as my husband can attest, some of these chances scared the beJesus out of me. But I said yes, and was so glad I did. From moderating a panel on wrongful convictions, giving a speech on C-Span introducing the US Attorney General, improving my snowboarding, to standing up for what I believe in during not so friendly situations — there were times I was literally shaking. But on the other side came triumph.

So join me in making this the year of yes….or yaaaaaasssssss (for when the inevitable amazing things occur)!

Take a read and share your thoughts!

Last month, power TV showrunner Shonda Rhimes released her first book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person, in which she reveals how a stray observation said to her by her older sister during the Thanksgiving of 2013—“You never say yes to anything”—challenged her to say yes to everything that scared her for one life-changing year.

Read more here.

No, They Weren’t Overreacting: Ferguson & The Future

No, They Weren’t Overreacting: Ferguson & The Future

Outrage In Missouri Town After Police Shooting Of 18-Yr-Old ManThe grand jury and the Department of Justice have both come to the conclusion that now former Officer Darren Wilson should not face charges in the shooting death of Michael Brown. This was not a surprise, based on the legal standard in police shooting cases, as well as the forensics in this case.

What is also not surprising to me is the rest of the Department of Justice report, which points out a plethora of civil rights violations in Ferguson and surrounding communities in St. Louis.

The reason why I am not surprised is the fact that the people of Ferguson had such a visceral response to the shooting of Michael Brown, and that they were so quick to believe that Officer Wilson shot the young man out of malice. Many like to believe that the residents of Ferguson were either racist, victims of “race baiters” (whatever that means), or just devoid of any independent thought.

I however felt differently. I believe that where there is smoke, there’s fire. I always questioned that there had to be something deeper under the surface. The shooting of Michael Brown was just the tip of the iceberg and now the Department of Justice has provided empirical evidence that support the residents’ claims of systemic racism and wrongdoing.

The reality is for many years, the Ferguson Police Department has been violating its people. They have been arresting African-Americans in that community at a higher rate; African-Americans in the community have been levied fines at a higher rate than their white counterparts; and they struggled to pay those fines, doing what they had to do to be responsible citizens. Yet, they found no relief. When the tragic shooting of Michael Brown occurred, this was the tipping point. That is why the people reacted in such a violent angry way. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once stated that “a riot is the language of the unheard”.  While I do not in any way shape or form condone the violence or the rioting that occurred, it originated as the means and the method of people that feel they had no voice. The courts provided them no remedy — they were excessively fining them.  The police were abusing them (as proven by the DOJ report). Voting was ineffective, because the candidates they elected were not bringing their concerns to the forefront. When the people that are in power are exchanging racist emails,  joking about the ability of an African American man to hold a job for a prolonged period of time, or that aborting an African American baby would positively affect the crime rate, where is one to go to get justice?

So what now? What needs to happen is that law enforcement around the country must take a long hard look in the mirror at their practices, their recruiting methods, and how they are interacting with the community. Because like President Obama said in a recent speech, this is not an isolated incident. There are Fergusons throughout this nation. And if we do not take proactive steps to fix this, we are doomed to have a repeat of the horrible events we saw around the country in 2014. And no one wants that. It is critical to have diversity at all levels of the criminal justice system. I can assure you that the abuses would not have been as rampant in Ferguson if there were more African-Americans on the police department. The same goes for in the court system, as well as in the prosecutors and defense offices of Ferguson. The racist emails are a clear indicator that these actors in the criminal justice system do not care about the well-being of the people that they are tasked with protecting and serving. This is an issue that needs to be addressed going forward.

scandal-lawn-chairIn last week’s episode of Scandal, writer Shonda Rhimes took on the issue of race and policing with a storyline of a police officer shooting an unarmed teen. In one of the closing scenes, the police officer goes off on a very anger filled rant, where he states some key points which I have heard before. He says “you people have not taught your children to respect me“, and secondly “I kiss my wife and kids goodbye, and drive 40 miles to protect these people, for what?
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The reality is, African Americans (like most people), raise their children to respect law and authority. The “rub” is when you have a situation like Ferguson, where the trust and belief of the system has been eroded by abuse of authority. Then that respect that was taught,  turns to resentment, then anger. Once that trust is broken, it takes a very long time to rebuild, requiring a conscious effort from both sides.

The second point is the heart of the balance in policing. When officers do not live in the communities they police, an air of detachment forms. It’s going home to your palace, as others go home to their hell. There needs to be a more concerted effort for police to reside in or close to the communities they police; and when they start to get burnt out or resentful of the people they are charged with serving, then be rotated to a different area.

It is clear from the evidence that the DOJ has uncovered that the people of Ferguson had no voice for a very long time. Now, this study has given them a voice. Hopefully changes will come from this.

There are no quick fixes or easy answers — but we have to try. Lives depend on this. ALL lives.  Because all lives matter — civilian and police. No matter the color of the skin or the badge you are wearing, a mother’s tears are the same.

Why Be Angry Over “Angry Black Woman?”

Why Be Angry Over “Angry Black Woman?”

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Shonda Rhimes

Which would you rather be called?

A b&$%!, or an angry black woman?

If you said neither, you’d be on the right track.

If you asked “aren’t they the same thing”?, then you would have hit the heart of the matter.

Folks are wondering why Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times Article about Shonda Rhimes is causing such an uproar. Stanley wrote an article about television writer Rhimes (of “Scandal”, “Gray’s Anatomy” and “How to Get Away With Murder” fame), and while complimenting her success, focused largely on Rhimes’ ability to get away with being an “angry black woman”.

For the record, Rhimes has not been known for any publicized rants or bad behavior; her characters are the furthest you can find from angry black women; yet somehow, the article focused on this aspect.

For African American women, the stereotype of the angry black woman is parallel to the struggle that White women have had with the word “bitch”. Some women embrace the word “bitch” to mean a tough, aggressive, no-nonsense woman that threatens men on their own turf in the corporate world. The majority of women view it by its actual definition – a female dog, and a derogatory term that has no connotation of respect. Women of all races have fought for the right not to be called that word (including the ongoing battle in the music industry).

The image of an “angry black woman” conjures up that of an angry ghetto chick, snapping her gum, screaming at someone for no apparent reason, and making a scene “just because”. It embodies that of a bitter nasty woman who you certainly would not want to be friends with, much less date.

It even justifies (in some people’s minds) domestic violence (well of course he had to hit her…you know how those angry black women are). This becomes even more relevant in the current discussions of the recent arrests of NFL players Ray Rice and Jonathan Dwyer.

The last image that comes to mind when one says the term “angry black woman” is an educated, polished professional woman, who is the top of her career, has great credit, is a pillar in her community, and is a loving family member/friend (which all of Shonda Rhimes’ characters are in some way or form). But from a quick reading of Stanley’s article, Rhimes, as well as her body of work, is reduced to a simple stereotype.

That’s the dangerous thing about stereotypes – it paints all with a very wide brush. This is not to say an African American woman can’t be angry. But there is no “angry White woman” syndrome, or “angry White man”….so why make such a big deal about how Shonda Rhimes defied the odds and is NOT an angry black woman? If we were not sure before, reality television certainly has shown us that EVERY race, gender and sexual orientation can be good, bad and downright ugly. Why not characterize the individual by how they behave, instead of by some perceived stereotype that you believe is the standard?

Stanley has since stood by her article, saying that she “complimented” Rhimes for defying the stereotype. To draw another analogy, it’s like calling the female CEO of a major corporation  “a smart bitch with a heart of gold”, and as folks recoil in horror, saying “but I said she was smart!”
As we explore Stanley’s description of Viola Davis’ character in “How to Get Away with Murder”, she discusses how she is not classically beautiful due to her dark skin (!!) but has a sexy but menacing quality. Menacing, angry…common theme? Certainly not the way any woman would want to be described.

In truth, Stanley does chronicle the television evolution from the “uh uh-ing” maid, to the beloved Claire Huxtable from the Cosby Show, to the characters we see today. But she gave, and took away at the same time.

In summary: happiness comes from within, no matter what race you are.

So here’s a hashtag for you: #happyblackwoman.

Or better yet: #happy.

Weigh in with your thoughts!

M.

At What Cost?

At What Cost?

KERRY WASHINGTON

Everything has a price. It may not be monetary; it may be physical, it may be emotional. But everything has a price. Success has a price. Happiness has a price. Freedom has a price. The question is, how much is something worth, and more importantly…are you willing to pay?

So for the last time (for this season at least), I’m plucking another example from the show Scandal. The fictional president in the show, Fitz Grant, won a second term in office. It was a great accomplishment; but in the process, his son was killed, his marriage collapsed, and he was estranged from the woman he loved. Of course, the woman he loved was not his wife…the show IS called Scandal. But regardless, in this moment of victory, he had an emotional collapse. He fell to his knees in the Oval Office, and was overwhelmed by the extreme sacrifice it took to get there. And he was not happy.

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So switching gears to the real world. As Americans, we enjoy certain freedoms. As we know from history, it came at a price. We have the freedom of expression. But that freedom sometimes results in a lack of civility. We are free to express agreement, disagreement, and even hate. I am reminded of the awful shooting in Overland, Kansas this past week. The perpetrator is a white supremacist. He will likely face the death penalty for the three murders he committed.

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However, people are free to express their hate, as guaranteed by the First Amendment. As long as they are peaceful, this is a freedom that is guaranteed by our constitution. Although the majority of Americans are horrified by the fact such hateful people even exist, there is nothing that can directly be done unless a law is broken. We can ostracize extremists; law enforcement can keep a close eye on the activities of such groups just in case illegal activity is going on…but we can’t do anything more.

All we can do is educate our children that such beliefs are wrong.

This is a price we pay to have freedom of expression.

On another level, I look at those that work in the criminal justice system. The prosecutors, the public defenders and the police officers. They make the sacrifice on the daily basis so that the system keeps moving. They sacrifice high pay, sleep, and in some ways, a normal life. These are the people that spend time in the jails; these are the people who get out of bed at 3am to see death and its aftermath. For them, it is worth it so that justice can be achieved.

For me, as a prosecutor, I become reflective when posing this question.  Public servants are not always respected; I have been vilified by folks who just don’t get what I do. It is also not the most financially lucrative path in life.

But, I have the freedom to try über interesting cases. I have the privilege of holding the hand of a grieving mother, and bringing her a measure of comfort by putting the perpetrator in prison for a long time. I am able to volunteer in my community, and follow my passion of helping the youth. I also get to write. So I (and others) sacrifice for the ability to be free, do justice, and hopefully make a difference.

Is it worth it?

I can tell you this. The day the answer is no, is the day you will see a drastic change in my life.

So I ask you…what is worth it to you?

What price are you willing to pay…and is the price you are currently paying too high?

Comments welcome!

Even the Monsters Are Worth Saving…

Even the Monsters Are Worth Saving…

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So, like many of you, I am an addict of the show “Scandal”. Not that I want to be Olivia Pope (although I do love her clothes, but hate her romantic decisions), it does give an interesting look of the behind the scenes of the dirty world of politics and national security. Whether it’s art imitating life accurately remains to be seen. But in last week’s episode, Olivia’s dad gave an impassioned speech about “even the monsters need saving”. This was in response to Olivia’s frustration about the fact that everyone around her seemed to be amoral at best, and used murder as a tool. “No one wears the white hat anymore” was her complaint. Olivia’s dad basically said, “YOU are the savior, and the one that drags every last one of us into the light.”

The monologue really hit home for me. Many times, people ask me, “why do you bother?” In my line of work as a prosecutor, I have challenges left, right and center. At times, I have victims who have no interest in participating in the prosecution. Even though they were the ones that were hurt, they are reluctant due to fear, apathy, or a deep distrust of the system. The community, especially the African American community, distrust the motives of a prosecutor. They assume your role is to lock up young men of color at any cost. On the other side, the hard core conservatives (some of whom are in my profession), look at the work I do in the community and say “why bother? You can’t save them”.

So why do I bother? Why do I take time away from myself, from my husband, skip lunch hours, to give lectures to young students in rough areas? Why do I get hands on in the nastiest housing projects? Why do I get frustrated when the media takes a narrow, sensationalized view of the legal system instead of the truth? Why do I sit down next to defendants, shackled, and who are facing a life sentence based on my recommendation but are about to take less as a plea and say to them “get it right this time…F$&! it up and I personally will lock the door and throw away the key?” Why do I persist in a job where no one thanks you by word or by paycheck?

Not out of weakness. Not out of my liberal leanings. Not out of perceived government employee laziness.

But because I want to touch one. Just one person a day. I know I can’t save them all. That would be ludicrous to believe.

But if one kid can say “you know, I remember when this chick who was a lawyer came to speak. She said xyz, and it stuck with me”. If one defendant says “someone offered me a chance, and I took it and turned my life around”. If one person in the community says “I was wrong about what prosecutors do, they are not all bad.” Then, I have succeeded.

Not everyone is born a monster. Some are, and yes, they need to be put down. HARD. I have no problem doing so. Others are monsters by lifestyle, and nothing in this world will change them. And again, I am there, ready with the proverbial smack down.

But it is those minds who are still open. Those minds, that need a nudge in the right direction, to get right. To get it right. Those in the crowd are who I want.

And now, I can quote Olivia Pope’s dad and say “even the monsters need saving”.