Scandal, a show revolving around the relationship between Olivia Pope and her relationship with the married president of the United States, has been the center of much controversy since it first aired in 2012. If you’ve seen it, it’s not very hard to figure out why. If not, take a peek at the picture below.
I originally left out the fact that this show revolved around a white married president (Fitz) and his black mistress (Olivia). This concept seems so familiar for many black women in America. Why? Dating back to the slavery era, black women have been seen as objects that were only valuable when white men grew tired of the regular sex routine with their white wives. Thus, not only were black women seen as objects, they were also viewed as inferior to white women. Relationships (or were they relationships seeing as how most of them lacked consent from the black women?) between black female slaves and white male plantation owners revolved around the notion of secrecy because no white man wanted his peers to know that he desired black bodies in a sexual manner.
In addition to being a black mistress to a white man in power, Olivia Pope is also a “fixer.” She fixes problems. When the president (Fitz) is in the middle of a crisis, she is the person he looks for to “handle” his problem. This reminds many black women of the slavery era in which (black) women were considered subservient. This concept is parallel to the way in which black women were in charge of “handling” the master’s children, dinner, and chores. Though Olivia may not be using brooms and towels to clean up his messes, she does use her abilities to restore normality in his life- whether it be through her abilities as a “fixer” or simply through her sexuality.
So, what does Scandal say about black women’s sexuality? Many people feel as if this show is promoting a negative portrayal of black women through the ways in which the writer, Shonda Rhimes (who is also black), portrays the main character. Should we view black women sexuality simply as a means of moving up the social ladder? Should we, as black women, sit back and allow ourselves to not only be viewed but also portrayed as second best? Should we embrace the term “jezebel”?
While some women view Olivia and Fitz’s relationship as degrading to black women, some black women argue that, like many sociologists, women should be able to make their own decisions in regards to their desires. Black women should fight against what society considers “acceptable” and embrace their inner sexual beings and desires. Black women should liberate themselves from the burden of having to carry the weight of past wrongs on their shoulders and by doing so, liberate their inner sexual beings, desires, and fantasies.
Could it be that Shonda Rhimes purposefully wrote Olivia’s character in the way that she did to open up a conversation as to what is considered socially acceptable in the black community? Could it be that Shonda Rhimes wants us to fight against society’s stipulations and conditions under which a relationship can form? Does she want us to fight against society’s attempts to control our sexuality by telling us who we can date, when we can date them, and how we can date them?
Though many people may disagree, I feel that Rhimes knew exactly what she was doing when she created this show. Olivia Pope is a very successful woman who is in a position to provide (the best) for herself. Society dictates that Olivia Pope, being a successful black woman, should either find an equally if not more successful black man to marry or either embrace the notion of the “strong, black woman who don’t need a man”. By doing neither, Shonda Rhimes is showing that black women shouldn’t wait to be given an ” all access card” by society; instead, black women should take advantage of those inalienable rights granted at birth and embrace their freedom by ignoring societal standards and doing as they please.