John Crawford III, Shonda Rhimes, Viola Davis and Black People Not Catching A Break

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to put into words just how surreal the last week has been on the racial front, from the truly consequential to the culturally interesting.

The truly consequential…yesterday the grand jury looking into the shooting death of John Crawford III came in with a “no true bill”, which means that the police officer who shot him will not go on trial (at least in Ohio state court) for his death. When the Special Prosecutor made the announcement, and released the store video tape, he made a point of saying that John Crawford did nothing wrong. Afterwards, John Crawford Jr. said, “How can he not do a crime, and not pose a threat, and do nothing wrong, but end up dead, shot and killed, and for that to be regarded as justified?”

So let’s examine this…a man carries a toy gun in the store that sells that toy gun and ends up dead as a result. Never mind the fact that Ohio is an “open carry” state. Or that Walmart is the largest seller of guns in the country.

Now there is news that a young black man in South Carolina was shot by a State Trooper after he was pulled over for a seat belt issue.

It seems that the crime all black men need to commit in order to receive deadly force (even though in the SC case the young man was shot in the hip and survived) is to be a black man in public space. I’ll write more on that later.

To the culturally significant…it’s Thursday. And many members of black female America are counting the hours until the return of Scandal. I certainly am.

For those of you not familiar with Scandal, it is created, produced, and written by Shonda Rhimes, who also created the shows Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice. However, if you are a regular reader of the Sunday New York Times, you might know of Ms. Rhimes for a different reason.

Ms. Rhimes has a new show debuting tonight, How To Get Away With Murder, starring Viola Davis (known for her roles in Doubt and The Help). Because of this, Alessandra Stanley of the Times wrote a criticism piece of the new show that started with the following:

When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called “How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.”

On Thursday, Ms. Rhimes will introduce “How to Get Away With Murder,” yet another network series from her production company to showcase a powerful, intimidating black woman…

Later, in the same article, Ms. Stanley writes of Viola Davis:

As Annalise, Ms. Davis, 49, is sexual and even sexy, in a slightly menacing way, but the actress doesn’t look at all like the typical star of a network drama. Ignoring the narrow beauty standards some African-American women are held to, Ms. Rhimes chose a performer who is older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than Ms. Washington…

I have held fast to the statement “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” And while I think I know where Ms. Stanley was trying to go with her review of HTGAWM, the words she used to get there completely got in the way.

For a minute I’m going to skip over the very first line, but an attitude that seemed to pervade the article was that black women who are confident in their abilities and powerful in some way are intimidating or menacing. And on top of that, these same black women are playing the Jezebel or Sapphire because they happen to be sexual beings. This, I have figured out, is where my research is going (but with a theological dimension), so I’ll leave it here for now and return to it as my research continues.

Now to the first line…why did the editors who read this before it was printed not catch the “angry black woman” trope and cut it? Why is a powerful black woman always considered an angry black woman? And why aren’t producers/creators/writers like Dick Wolf or Aaron Sorkin labeled “angry white men” based on their male characters showing a natural emotion?

Why say that Viola Davis is “less classically beautiful” than Kerry Washington or Halle Berry? As part of the line talks about, most African American women do not fit into the very narrow beauty standards of the U.S.; so why not just say that Shonda Rhimes chooses actors/actresses that represent a broad range of physical appeal?

Like I said, this has been a surreal week. Maybe next week will be less so. I can only hope.


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