With the premieres of Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy and How to Get Away with Murder days away, Shonda Rhimes is everywhere. Thursday nights on ABC are completely hers. Outside of the hype building around this Thursday’s trifecta of slayage, there has been a significant amount of backlash to Alessandra Stanley’s off-handed comments that Shonda Rhimes perpetually creates “angry black women” to lead her shows.
If that sounds like racist, trope-filled propaganda it’s because it is. Outside all of the reasons that claim is total and complete foolery, fans and peers of Rhimes and black feminists alike ran to her defense and called Stanley out for her poor assessment of the Scandal creator’s body of work.
Two weeks ago, I acknowledged that the national eye is never as concerned with the welfare of black women as it is with the welfare of black men. In that same article I also shouted out the black feminists who rally to the defense of black women despite what the national discourse says. The defense of Shonda Rhimes is an active display of that very defense.
I acknowledge Rhimes possesses a certain amount of financial capital that separates her from the average black female who endures racist and sexist attacks, but it is still refreshing to see people, from popular black feminists on twitter to black professors and activists to celebrities, pushing back against the ludicrous assertions of this clearly misinformed New York Times writer.
The defense of Rhimes represents a specific kind of unity that occurs when there is conflict between a black citizen and a white citizen. More times than not, blacks will side with the black person, regardless of gender, if the issue is interracial, but I do believe most would have come to Rhimes’ defense had Stanley been black. Stanley’s claims that a black woman writing other black women that are strong, soft, complex and conflicted can be nothing more than “an angry black woman” is not only racist it’s extremely basic.
Olivia Pope, who is the definition of in the middle we stay calm we just drop bombs, is angry? We’ve seen meltdowns from every person on that show from Cyrus and his dramatic late husband to Fitz literally having Liv kidnapped because she wouldn’t talk to him yet Olivia, who we’ve seen cry in sorrow, shrink in fear and throw herself in front of sniper rifles, is the angry one. We have seen nothing more than two minutes of Viola Davis’ Annalise Keating and she’s already been plastered as cross.
The lesson to be learned from all this, black women and lovers of black women alike, is that no matter what we do or say someone will find a way to discredit our efforts and actions as less than or illegitimate. If a black woman handling things and leading a show makes her angry then so be it.
The fear of being deemed the angry black woman has policed and restricted our behavior in the workplace, and even in our own personal circles, for decades and we have to know that those labels do not define us. The frivolous use of the angry black woman trope should constantly remind us that they’re going to dismiss us and tear us down regardless so we might as well say what we feel and do what we want anyway. I’d rather be angry, black, happy and fulfilled than well-behaved, safe and comforting to the masses any day.