This Thursday’s Scandal intertwined all the elements of a typical episode, politics, abduction and gore to portray perhaps the most potent scandal of today’s world: police brutality against black males.
The episode opens with the slain body of teen Brandon Parker cast upon the cold concrete in a predominately black area in Washington,DC. In an act to maintain the integrity of the crime scene, Parker’s father Clarence, stands over his son’s body with a (registered) shot gun.
Enter DC fixer and Scandal protagonist Olivia Pope. Pope arrives on the crime scene to “advise the police,” which basically means she is the black face of neutrality in a racially tense scenario. The episode bravely depicts the choice white-collar blacks face with regard to culture. Fortunately, Pope emerges as our true heroine, choosing her personal politics over the politics that made her a household name.
Olivia Pope, Black, White and Celebrity Advocacy
Interestingly, Pope’s allegiance is often depicted in her wardrobe. Usually adorned in white clothing, Pope was noticeably draped in black clothing throughout this episode of Scandal, seemingly reflective of her state of mind.
I personally always wondered why Pope is draped in white clothing. As the often singular black presence on most episodes, her race is unavoidably obvious. So her white clothing is seemingly implemented as a means to align Pope with her “associates” and political colleagues. Pope’s clothing color shift represents the black elite’s interchangeability between white and black worlds, often enabled through wardrobe. However, this shift subtly represents blackness as an unavoidable reversion of the black elite. Specifically, that their presence in white worlds, like snake skin will inevitably be shed once it’s purpose is served. Black activist Marcus Walker, the man who incidentally hands Clarence Parker the Lawn Chair of which he places over his murdered son, figuratively pulls the white clothing off Pope’s back. Walker refreshingly emerges in Scandal’s young black male void, bridging the gap between Pope’s privilege and the burdens of her people living under the same sun but under vastly different circumstances.
Walker’s role challenges black females to look twice at the character that so many see themselves in. For this was Olivia Pope’s opportunity to prove her loyalty to both her community and viewership.
Olivia’s predicament speaks to the failed advocacy of many popular black faces. Despite being a fictional character, Olivia Pope is an icon to so many black women who admire her power, poise and professionalism. As popular faces of blackness, the black and female presence is often solicited for commentary on issues affecting her diaspora. However, despite the silent demand for her advocacy, how many times have we seen opportunities to upflift the black community refused by those who we admire most? How many times have we as black people watched those that we support tirelessly fail to support anyone other than themselves? Perhaps tonight’s episode of Scandal will challenge its black viewership to demand of others, the allegiance silently asked of Pope tonight.
Ferguson the Fairytale
Tonight’s episode was an obvious parallel to the recent events on Ferguson where a teenaged Mike Brown was brutally slain by officer Darren Wilson. Brown’s negative portrayal and Wilson’s protection sparked rightful outrage in the Ferguson community. From the fabricated story, to the physical resemblance between Wilson and the Scandal officer, Scandal depicts contemporary society’s biggest controversy.
What works in this portrayal is the depiction of heartbroken father Clarence Parker. Well dressed, well spoken and of good intention, Clarence Parker depicts the underrepresented image of the dedicated black father. Parker’s work to get his son to eighteen with a diploma in hand thwarted by his son’s murder, mirrors the unfortunate reality of many black parents. Parker, like so many black parents work tirelessly for their children to enjoy the liberties promised to them. While America promises liberty and justice for all, the black parent must endure an individualized battle to ensure these values for their children.
Perhaps the most resounding portrayal was that of the offending officer. Initially portrayed as remorseful, with his back against the wall of his conspiring actions, the offending officer reveals “respect” as his motive for murdering Brandon Parker. He references Parker as “failed” by his community, who collaboratively have no respect for police officers. The officer’s speech reeks of white entitlement to black submission. He states “ who was he to question my authority” ignoring the audacity in his act of stopping Parker on his street in his community to question Parker about his cell phone. The offending officer, like Darren Wilson and countless other white men feel entitled to black compliance in facilitating the biggest criminal act of the human race: racism.
Approachability over Argumentation
After watching the portrayal of the offending officer unfold, I began to wonder how Shonda Rhimes was able to air this episode. However, when the ending surfaced, it all made sense. Rhimes credits the ending with depicting how things SHOULD be. But while I am able to respect the element of fairytale, I can not help but credit the ideal ending showcased by Scandal as an approachable or safe route used to avoid fully rocking the racial boat.
Approchability diffuses issues of racism in America, depicting the justice system as committed to justice over individualism-which is not in effect in white on black crime. We all know that even if Darren Wilson made a similar rant to the one seen on Scandal he would still be protected by the police. We also know that a black face like Don Lemon would be appointed as a diffuser, or anyone whose cultural integrity has been compromised for a voice muffled in the dissonance of conflicted identity. We all know that the victim’s father would not have been able to tamper with the crime scene. We also know that countless black men go down in ways similar to the intended plot by the offending officer, performing in the pattern of deflecting from the true kings if criminality.
Leverage in Loss?
In addition to the fairy tale ending to the horror of police brutality, the parallel between the president’s loss to Parker’s slain son seemed another attempt to qualify the issue at hand. For those who do not watch Scandal, last season ended with the murder of President Fitzgerald Grant’s sixteen year old son.
I admit that I am childless, and thus unable to relate to having a child, much less losing one. However, at the risk of sounding unsympathetic, I will say that these deaths are not created equal.
Jerry’s untimely death occurred as a sick act of retribution that caused the Grant household irreversible pain, but afforded them a second presidential term. Brandon Parker’s death, on the other hand, was a hate crime rendered by a coward with a gun. His death mirrors countless black men who are disposably murdered, defamed by the media then tossed in the ground- their names forgotten with the release of the next victim.
So while I may not be a parent, as a sister, cousin, and hopefully a future wife, I bear close ties to black masculinity. I see the faces of my brothers and cousins in Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, John Crawford III along with the many faceless young black men that span the United States. Their murder is yet another act of deferring the dream that Dr. King spoke of, but one that is kin to all who know what it’s like to daily have our dreams deferred because of our darkness.
So while I want to commend Rhimes and her associates for their work on “The Lawn Chair” I feel more obliged to ask them to have a seat in this very chair. Perhaps sitting in a chair above the rotting body of a teen gone too soon they’d smell the scent of injustice. Perhaps then they would see that men like Brandon Parker are not only failed by the justice system, but in portrayals of their tragedy…
May the spirits of the slain black youth, gone too soon rest in the peace not brought to them by tonight’s programming.