So 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).
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.
The 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.
In 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?”
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.
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.