Just My Two Cents: Scandal As A Racial Project

by on March 20, 2013


I am a HUGE Scandal fan for many reasons. It shows a black woman in power, who is open with her sexuality, and not inclined to “play by the rules”. The one problem I do have with Scandal is that it seems to espouse a color-blind ideology that only serves to further the notion that racism is dead. Other than an off-hand mention to the president that he could not indeed divorce his wife and start dating his black mistress because of what his constituents would think, the issue of race rarely comes up. The show deals with themes that I believe are highly racialized, and yet race is not at the forefront. While I understand the reasons behind this, I still take issue with it.

Michael Omi and Howard Winant explores the meaning of racial projects in Racial Formation Theory. Basically, a racial project are policies started at the macro-level that influence our interactions at the micro-level. One example of a racial project is the discourse surrounding Affirmative Action and the opposition to it as being “reverse racism”. Another racial project has been identified as color-blind ideology, which influences the discourse we hear today of a “post-racial” America. This ideology deems that everyone is the same and thusly ignores the lasting impacts and continuation of racism in the United States.

Viewing Scandal as a racial project may seem far fetched at first, but there are several occurences in Scandal that I believe reify the prevalence of the way we think about race, specifically the way we view Black women. Black women have a long history in society of being labeled. From being insatiable jezebels to “mammies” with no sexuality. Every week I see an article about how black women are just.not.getting.married. Scandal fits right in with this rhetoric. Kerry Washington has fallen for a white man who will not leave his wife, with whom she has sex with in the most peculiar of places. She is strong and independent, you know, your typical successful black woman. Not only does she not have a family life, she doesn’t want one. She wont get married and will be okay with a long running affair because as a succeful black woman, she must choose. She is rarely vulnerable, just like an independent black woman should be. Her character is one dimensional, much like the way society views the everyday black woman.

Like I said…a little far fetched, but I hope ya’ll are understanding what Im saying. And really, Im just picking on Scandal because there are several shows out that hide behind the same myth of a post-racial America. Like I stated before, I am an avid Scandal watcher and believe it has done a lot for the way we view Black female leads on the small screen. With that being said, I also think its important to always keep a critical eye on the world we live in and how stereotypes are perpetuated through the media. Because if we don’t watch out for ourselves, who will?

Just my two cents.

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  • MsDee

    I thought it was just me. My sentiments exactly.

  • Scandal love

    I agree with this. I’m also a die-hard scandal fan and I think it serves a much greater purpose on the positive end, then the negative. Just a few things that I want to clear up, the race issue has been brought up more then once, especially with the Sally Hemmings comment. There was also the episode with the “cheating” CEO when the team walked in her house and she automatically assumed that Olivia Pope was Abby (The White Woman) and was actually surprised that Olivia Pope was black. I think they address race in a more creative way, then making it obvious. This way, the viewers who are black women, professional, goal oriented, and respected but also at times, misjudged off appearance can immediately pick up on it and relate. It’s also done creatively in a way, that they are not shying away from the issue but making it more of a staple in the storyline. If we look at the 3 examples we’ve mentioned alone, we have Cyrus convincing Fitz not to be with Liv and hinting it’s because she’s black (which can resonate and for some, make it uncomfortable for white males/Republicans to watch), We then have the CEO who thought Abby was Olivia Pope which can easily pull at the cords of professional white women who have often judged black women in power as being inferior or unnoticeable. Finally, the Sally Hemmings Conversation, which definitely targets what Black Males, some black women, and the audience as a whole is thinking. It’s important that as racism has not been eliminated but evolved, that our thinking towards race and social issues must evolve as well. We are no longer tackling this beast from a blunt, in your face manner but racism is now very under the covers, only talked about behind closed doors or not talked about it at all. I think Shonda Rhimes takes that into consideration, while making the race issue known but allowing her way of addressing it evolve as the times have. That’s my 2 cents :)

    • brittanyr

      Hi, thanks for your response!

      I definitely think Shonda Rhimes handles race on the show in a very nuanced way. I know exactly the episode you’re referring to when the woman they were helping thought that Abby was Olivia Pope. That was so amazing to me because that IS something that would happen in this day and age. Racism is no longer overt, and its that type of small micro-agression that women of color need to watch out for. I applaud Scandal for addressing race in this way; I was just offering another opinion :).

  • JMOaka Just My Opinion

    I disagree with s couple of views in this article , first one “The one problem I do have with Scandal is that it seems to espouse a color-blind ideology that only serves to further the notion that racism is dead.” I see it differently. I believe race is addressed throughout different scene, the “Sally Hemming/Thomas Jefferson” line said by Liv to Fitz in the hallway and later addressed in the garden by Fitz; when the client assumed Abby was Liv; Edison and Liv in the “A criminal, a whore, an idiot and a liar” episode. But one scene that seems to be overlooked is Cy addressing Fitz to him leaving Mellie for Liv. Click on link below, “She is not exactly a hue that most of your republican constituents would be happy about.” What I get from the subtle hints of race issues S. R. address is just like in real life, current time, racism is not the blatantly in your face as years gone by, but it still exist. If Liv was white, the statement by Cy would not exist. S. R. brilliantly addressed race issue without it overpowering Scandal. The race issue is strategically throughout episode as if to say, don’t forget or think racism don’t exist however, it doesn’t have to control your life/the show. If you do allow it to overpower you, you will become a victim to racism or/and you will not enjoy or see the bigger picture of this show…..jmo.

    Secondly, “She wont get married and will be okay with a long running affair because as a succeful black woman, she must choose. She is rarely vulnerable, just like an independent black woman should be. Her character is one dimensional; much like the way society views the everyday black woman.” So should Liv marry a man she doesn’t love, Edison, and I’m sure she would be miserable and you know what they say about misery, it loves company, so Edison is to be miserable too. Being she still love Fitz, the chances of her cheating with Fitz on Edison would be great, don’t you think Edison deserve more than that? Fitz has on numerous occasions asked Liv to marry him; Liv is the one that said no. Not all females desire to be married especially with kids. Motherhood is not in everyone’s future. And for the women who chose not to have kids, more power to you! One dimension? Far from that, she is caring, forgiving, smart, business savvy and not to mention beautiful….jmo (just my opinion)

    • brittanyr

      Hi, Thank you for responding! Im new to this whole blogging thing, so i welcome any comments :).

      As far as my post goes, I saw too many similarities in Olivia, that reflected the stereotypes we typically see of Black characters, not to point them out. With that being said, I do think that the way race is treated on the show is an accurate reflection of the way race relations are in society.

      To your point about marriage. I was definitely not implying that she needed to be married in order to become a full character. I’d just like to see another dimension other than the “strong independent black woman” we see from many characters. But I sincerely would like to see a Black woman in a role where she does “have it all”. And for marriage minded people, especially Black women, I think its important for that to be shown as well.Kerry Washington herself said that she took her role in Django Unchained because it is a rare occurrence that black women are the ones who get to be “rescued”.

      I do think that Olivia Pope is amazing, and I would be lying if I said she wasn’t my hero, lol.