So one of my favorite shows on TV currently is called Scandal. It’s about this incredibly powerful and intelligent black lawyer named Olivia Pope. She’s a “fixer” so it’s her job to fix problems specifically as it relates to high ranking government officials or other people of power. She only takes high profile cases and usually if not always kills it with grace and beauty. In addition, she’s having an affair with the white President of the United States and is constantly surrounded by white people on the Hill asking for her services and grabbing classy drinks with her. Race has come up a few times in the show for the obvious (unfortunate) reason that she is one of the only black women on the show who has a pretty predominant role in the white house. But nothing like one of the most recent episodes.
This episode which you can watch here ( Season 4, Episode 14 The Lawn Chair(43 min) ) centers around the story that seems to have taken over American news stations in real life: that of the white cop killing the young black man. A young black man in shot and his father then comes forward and refuses to let the cops take his son’s body until the cop who shot him comes forward. He also has a gun. Thus, because Olivia Pope is the “fixer” she is called upon to come and handle this situation. In addition to it being a heart breaking episode filled with racism and unbelievably sad moments, the question of Olivia’s race comes up. The father asks Olivia at one point which side she’s on. She’s black and thus shouldn’t she be fighting for black rights, so why is she at the beck and call of her white president?
First of all I was fascinated that the network chose to not only make an episode about this touchy subject but so blatantly point out that Olivia Pope is black and fully functioning in white space. I think that says something about the network at least in terms of opening up discussions about what it means to have a powerful black woman on television and what these “race riots” or white cop vs. black men means.
On a deeper level, for me this idea brought up a lot of thoughts and questions about self identifying that we had mentioned a while ago in class but still feels important to me. Not only this self identifying but also how that affects how certain people inhabit certain spaces. Olivia is doing her job but what happens when suddenly that job is construed as a white job and she is betraying her own race. How does she balance that? I also translated this idea in the reverse to our own class and my role in the discussion of race. As a privileged, white woman, how can I enter into a predominantly black space, such as scholarly discussions of race? Would it take a complete self-destruction of what it means to me to be white as Lopez calls for in White By Law?