Kerry Washington, as Olivia Pope on Scandal,Gabrielle Union, as Mary Jane of Being Mary Jane, and now Halle Berry as Molly on Extant are the new faces of the black woman as a prime time protagonist. The presence of these women on the small screen have created an undeniable buzz and an increased presence of the educated, modern sophisticated woman of color in popular culture. This forty year dry spell was watered by Kerry Washington’s role on Scandal and has maintained its hydration by the other black female protagonists by which Scandal has paved the way. The appearance of these black women appeals to a demographic largely excluded by popular culture, the black female professional.
With an increased presence of black females on television has come an increase of opinion. While the ability of these black females to generate conversation is confirmation of their influence, this conversation has produced a degree of conflict.It seems that general conversation is often deemed beneath those who would rather engage in criticism that is often highly inappropiate.
This post takes a stance against the aggressive opinions cast by those outside the black female experience, claiming the premise of black female relevance has flown over the heads of many, who rather cast a critical gaze onto the black female protagonists. Here are some reasons why I find this gaze highly inappropriate.
It is Largely Patronizing
For many, there is an unwritten list that divides interest, food and appearance on the color of an individual’s skin, or racial or ethnic faction. So, if you encounter one of these individuals, they will consult said list as a means of generating conversation. These individuals will refrain from from discussing colloquialisms such as the weather on what foods you like to eat. Instead, they will talk to you about any and everything that features a black person, or something believed to be associated with black people. So bearing a black face and a female body, those who conceptualize interest by race will feel confident bringing up Beyonce’s Super Bowl performance, Scandal or Extant because it will be impossible for them to fathom a black woman not being interested or fascinating in these things that feature black women. An individual who conceptualizes interest by race isn’t interested in your response, but will take any engagement in their conversation as an affirmations that their assumptions are correct.
The Reaction May Not be Genuine
Those outside the black female experience may not be as genuinely outraged by the portrayal of Olivia Pope on Scandal as they appear to be. Just as the music in movies is selected to evoke a particular emotion, those detached from a certain line of experience will often solicit external mediums to know how to feel. Those outside the black female dynamic experience may know that something is wrong with the adulterous relations between a black protagonist and a man or the majority, but not be privy to the historical context. Even if knowledge of the troubled historical dynamic between black women and white men, given that the knowledge is still within a source outside the experience of black femininity their is still a detachment. To be cognizant of the sexual abuse suffered by black women during slavery is one thing, for the one who endured such abuse to be your great grandmother places you at an entirely different perspective.
It May be an Attempt at Liberalism
Due to America having a black President amidst the influx of black female protagonists many feel inclined to at least appear to have adopted a stance of liberalism. While I would argue that many have yet to truthfully embrace black presence in white collar positioning, I would acknowledge that contemporary society places pressure to appear to be accepting of the slow revolutionizing of black politics. Thus, appearing to be interested in seeing Scandal, Being Mary Jane orExtant is sometimes an act of liberalism, by appearing to be willing to let these black women into their homes and families via prime time television.
Stance of Self-Righteousness
Others will cast a critical gaze on the black female portrayal, and use this gaze as a means to substantiate a stance of self-righteousness. I made the acquaintance of a woman outside the bounds of black womanhood that took a faulty stance of indignation against the role played by Kerry Washington on Scandal. I use the term “faulty” because in less self-righteous moments this same individual has revealed liking more problematic depictions of black womanhood. The rehashing of this self-righteous behavior brings up the idea of selectivity for those outside the bounds of black womanhood. Those outside the bounds of black womanhood are permitted to choose to be offended by some portrayals and be patronizing to others.
The opinions of those outside black female experience is of little significance to those who must endure the reality of an existence. Reading Edwidge Danticat, Toni Morrison or even watching shows like Scandal, Being Mary Jane or Extant who feature a black protagonist do not act as supplements to the black female experience. Even if these references did capture the essence of the black female experience, I would argue that you would still have to be a black woman to truly appreciate the reality of portrayal. Thus, I am indifferent to the commentary and criticisms of those outside of an identity in which Ive had my entire life. Only when you walk a mile in my shoes can you comment or critique how they fit, or how I walk.