‘Scandal’ Exploits Black Women’s Images?? Huh?

I watch Scandal — over and over and over — because I see a positive image of a professional Black woman.
Publish date:
October 17, 2012

Over time, I’ve noticed that We the Blacks, collectively, have an annoying habit of criticizing so many things to death. We — some, not all — can look at something that is widely perceived as fair and decent (or at least way better than he standard reality TV fare we’re mostly offered) and then stare it down, scour, and overanalyze it until we can’t see any good in it, only the problems galore. It’s not constructive criticism; it’s just complaining.

Last night, I checked into The Root for my digest of what’s new in politico world and found more complaining. This time is was from Tom Burrell, a 45-year vet of the advertising industry, moaning about — out of all the things actually worthy of complaint on TV — Scandal. Burrell told The Root:

I’ve got major problems with Scandal. It comes dressed up and masqueraded as something new, but Scandal is basically a continuing perpetuation of the stereotype of a black woman whose libido and sexual urges are so pronounced that even with an education and a great job, and all these other things, she can’t control herself.

He adds:

But the message that is really being delivered is that no matter how much education you get and how much power you get, you’ve still got that “around the way girl” in you. It’s basically saying that black women are innately, inherently, hot to trot. He doesn’t seduce her. She seduces him.

Are we watching the same show?

I watch Scandal — over and over and over — because I see a positive image of a professional Black woman. Pope is a smart, respected, relied upon, fully (and wonderfully)–clad, quick-witted, shrewd, compassionate, well-connected businesswoman … who is also flawed. That makes for good TV. She’s got mystery, back story — though I can’t find any evidence of “around the way girl” so far — and in some instances, has questionable ethics. She’s multi-layered, multi-dimensional and yes, she’s even an adult woman who has a sex drive, God help her, and she’s not afraid to indulge it (even if admittedly, it wasn’t the best choice of man).

I’ve heard the complaints from Black women about their representations in media, and I’ve penned my fair share of stories on this topic to add to the heap. I recognize the importance of positive images and the destructive nature of negative ones, but it’s unnecessary and just not so entertaining to trade in one caricature of what Black women are — always loud, aggressive, sex-obsessed — for another equally unrealistic one — always demure, passive, virginal.

It’s a little weird to me that Burrell picked up Pope’s sexcapades when it’s not even a present part of the life of her character, who is trying to do better. That steamy affair is backstory (notably with current repercussions in the series). Pope quit her job and started a new hustle, her own crisis management firm, to move on out of that trap. And despite several advances by he ex-lover, she has so far steered clear of following her heart back into tumultuous trenches, even if it’s very apparent that’s where she wants to be, just like that Donell Jones song. She’s had past indiscretions, but clearly a whole lot of present control.

Scandal isn’t a perfectly pious show, which the series title should give away. And it’s not perfect either (but close). But for those of us who are prone to complain about everything, it’s important to gain some perspective. Scandal is the first network TV drama with a black female lead character in most of our lifetimes. (The last of this kind was “Get Christie Love!” in 1974, which ran for one season.) This show and its feat were a long time coming, and while it’s always cool to have an opinion, understand that harping on the little things doesn’t open the door any wider for other shows featuring black woman as leading talent to get through.

Demetria L. Lucas the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. ABIB is available to download and now in paperback. Follow her on Twitter at @abelleinbk

Reprinted with permission from Clutch