The 60’s and the 70’s were a pivotal time for the identity of the black descendants of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, (also known as African-Americans). It was quite possibly the strongest era in which African-Americans, particularly African-American women truly embodied what it meant to be an African-American. Although there was obviously a level of assimilation involved, and integration was in its beginning phases, black folks were “set apart.” There was a level of black pride reached which had overcome decades of Jim Crowism, and centuries of slavery and Willie Lynch tactics, which were designed to break the strong spirit of black people.
During this period blacks, particularly black women did not strive to fit into the white, European standard of beauty and status. The black family had arguably its highest rate of traditional, double parent homes, despite the oppression which still existed. Songs such as James Brown’s classic, “I’m Black and I’m Proud” became the cultural and political anthem to a race of people who had everything imaginable done to them in hopes that it would keep them in a perpetual state of servitude, yet this cultural and political movement said that it was okay to be who you were and that you did not have to assimilate into white America in order to co-exist and even integrate with white America. An identity had taken shape that embodied a centuries long struggle and an upward battle for economic, political, social and cultural equality.
At this point I am certain the reader is wondering what this has to do with the popular show “Scandal,” and its leading lady Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington. Well if you follow the show as closely as I do, which I am certain most of the readers of this post do, then you will notice how proudly the black community has embraced the “boss” factor of Olivia Pope, particularly in the context of her blackness. It’s as if the black community has reached some sort of milestone because the show exists in the way in which it does; Olivia Pope is black and she is calling the shots, and we have a black president, that we are living in a post racial America. This post challenges that theory as well as the seemingly obvious notion that the character Olivia Pope is black, despite the undeniable fact that she is being played by a black actress.
During the high point of the era of “black power” when the black identity was beginning to take shape and becoming a universally recognized and positive, perception of black people, a decision was made to neutralize the black power structure with the hopes of destroying any sign of black unity, black pride and black advancement independent of white influence. This massive destruction came in the form of drug infiltration within only black communities, which overnight virtually destroyed the black family, the black pride and identity that although still in its infancy, had gained much traction. Once this deplorable plot had taken root and begun its work, the black man was no longer the rock of his family and the black woman was no longer standing proudly by his side. Children became the products of broken homes on a larger level than ever before seen, while their parents became victims of society’s war on black achievement.
Olivia Pope represents the complete assimilation of black people into the role that the white power structure deems necessary in order to obtain any sort of meaningful career/social status in this country.
What was so powerful about the black power movement was not just the music, or the afro, or the black fist. It was the unity. Black power never meant that black was better, or dominant, but only that black was valid; that it mattered and that it could achieve anything it set its mind to, even without the help of the oppressor. Olivia Pope is a product of the sort of assimilation that rejects any sort of self identity, but rather a lost identity that has been replaced, only to mimic what was taught and shown. This was birthed directly out of the crack era as a means of achieving the American dream and rising out of the ghetto nightmare drugs created for black people. Blacks are and were so desperate to rise out of that hell that they were willing to take on a completely new identity to do so, leaving behind everything that made them who they were.
Beyond the straightened hair, and European designed clothing, this new aged black person in many cases is more concerned with pursuing their thirst for power and conquest than family, they are more inclined to seek status rather than love and possesses much more of a self interest than a desire to help their fellow brethren. This fact is represented vividly within hip-hop culture, which has become mainstream American culture with its “me first,” consumption driven message, essentially an exaggerated example of the American capitalist mentality. These traits are not innate of black people, who have historically been first to assist a brother in need, almost to a fault.
The Olivia Pope mentality even thinks it is too good to be with a mate of his/her own race. Network television would dare not show a woman as powerful as Olivia Pope with a strong black man on her arm, even though she is being played by a black actress and most times in television/film black characters are usually married to other blacks. Rather, she is in love with not one, but two white men, one of whom happens to be the leader of the free world and married. Olivia Pope is a white woman, being played by a black actress, who is posing as a black woman.
Olivia Pope was bred out of disparity and the struggle of blacks to rise above it’s circumstances and make something meaningful of themselves. It is a war for survival and acceptance, a competition for a few select spots, reserved for those blacks who are willing to give up their “blackness” in order to achieve that “American dream,” a dream that was once an “African-American dream.”