It used to be a kind of utopia. A weekly meeting of all my favorite Blackgirls, indulging and over-indulging on wine and takeout, listening to records, talking about life and love, and hollering at the TV as Kerry Washington stunted in a flawless white coat and stomped delicately on the heads of every white man in the White House.
Of course, she didn’t look like us, with her airbrushed skin and bone-straight perm. Of course, she was in love with one white man, or two, depending on the season. Of course she wasn’t an artist, or an activist, or a progressive. But she was a Black woman on prime time television, she was sexy as hell, and she was smarter than you. We were so damn hungry we forgave her. We forgave the overdone love scenes and the corny banter. We forgave the patriotism, the predictability, the strange treatment of Black men. We are so damn hungry.
You call it a Scandal watching party, we called it Blackgirl Summit. Sure, our original purpose was to drool over Olivia Pope, suspend disbelief and ignore real-world pain for an hour, courtesy of fellow Blackgirl Shonda Rhimes. But something happened in my apartment on Thursday nights: we found a sort of healing. The wine flowed and we exhaled. We expressed our appreciation for one another. Conversations dipped in and out of irreverence and deep thoughtfulness around race, art, and gender. We were safe together. We were building community, keeping tabs on each other and ourselves.
Even when we don’t meet every week, watching and discussing Scandal, and most recently, How To Get Away With Murder, with my friends of color has been special. It felt good for us to own something. For a Black woman to be in charge of ABC’s Thursday night lineup. And even when plot lines lagged or made me roll my eyes, I watched in solidarity and support, aware that low ratings could result in a white-washed lineup.
Then came last week’s non-indictment, not as a surprise but as a reminder. Since Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Mike Brown multiple times in August, I’d been bracing myself. Brown’s character (did he steal?! Did he smoke weed?!) was swiftly reported on before any facts about Wilson, the Ferguson PD’s penchant for racial profiling, or why Brown was murdered. The media reminded us that police use force when they feel unsafe—it’s what they do, and it isn’t necessarily punishable. After Trayvon Martin’s killer (who, let’s remember, had no badge of any kind) walked free at the end of a “fair” trial in 2013, this was a reminder that no one has our back. That we aren’t in charge. That permission is given to murder us.
A few days later, rumors surfaced that ABC had paid Wilson $500,000 for an exclusive interview. Let’s assume it’s true: ABC gave Darren Wilson $500,000 and a platform. The value of Darren Wilson’s story, his voice, his thoughts, his opinions, his rosy cheeks. Darren Wilson was paid $500,000, which, coupled with donations he received after the murder, effectively made him a newly-happily-married millionaire fresh from paid vacation.
Darren Wilson’s worth. My worth. Michael Brown’s worth. My body’s worth. Money. Money. Darren Wilson’s side of the story. Blood’s worth.
So, whether the rumors are true or not, I’m boycotting ABC. Hell, maybe television altogether.
If the movements around #BlackoutBlackFriday are any indication, we know that capitalism, racial inequality, oppression, and white supremacy, are all intrinsically connected. The 11% drop in corporate revenue on the heels of Darren Wilson’s dismissal with a pat on the back are a reminder that our voices can certainly be heard through our wallets. To the establishment, I, as a Black woman, am only good for sex, blood and money.
I’ll admit this isn’t an easy choice for a TV junkie like me. For a Black woman like me, who flocks to Twitter on Thursday nights to “Yaaaaassss” over Olivia Pope’s outfits, who takes pride in watching Viola Davis outshine her co-stars. ABC never saw it coming. Maybe that’s why they chose to so blatantly support Wilson, with confidence their viewership wouldn’t suffer. Friends asked, what are we supposed to watch, Friends? And hell no, that’s never the answer. Will we watch whiteness? How will we see ourselves? I’m happy to turn to outdated syndications of Living Single. Or we’ll make our own damn shows.
The truth is, Shonda hasn’t been healthy for us for a while. Centuries-old trauma bubbles up every time Olivia shrinks away from her white boyfriends’ touches. Interracial relationships are never discussed on racial terms. We see white men remain in power despite displays of strength and capability from Black women. Healthy, non-secretive sexual relationships between Black adults are rarely shown. Though we’ve been forgiving, supporting Scandal and HTGAWM for their Black woman leadership, the images we consume are often more of the same: Black woman used and abandoned, Black woman remaining strong through trauma as if devoid of emotion, Black woman as body, Black woman for White Man. I tried, but I never really saw myself in Olivia Pope, never wanted to be her friend, never wanted her to represent me. I told myself I was excited for Black women to fill my screen each Thursday night, but they weren’t real Black women so much as tired tropes, oppressive stereotypes, junk food.
Shondaland is about as safe a space for us as America.
“I knew it from the minute I saw you,” says Annalise Keating’s white husband (who we now know to be both a cheater and a murderer) on How To Get Away With Murder. “All you’re good for is rough sex, you disgusting slut.” And as I listened, as I watched his hands around her neck, I felt familiar shame. I internalized the dirty language, its history. I wished I never had to hear such words again. I knew I would hear such words again. How did he know it the minute he saw her, I wondered. What was it about her Ann Taylor dress, her law degree, her wood-paneled office? I wondered but didn’t wonder: I knew. I internalized. I suddenly felt aware of my body. Of the white supremacist gaze. Of white male eyes. Of my perceived worth. It wasn’t a surprise but a reminder.
There is no good left for me in these images. There is pain and and darkness in these images. These Black women weeping. These white men holding our bodies down. The taking. The giving. The never prevailing. There are triggers and reminders. There is not healing. I hope to continue to share Thursday nights with my friends and sisters of color, both on my couch and on Twitter. But let’s talk about real life. Let’s talk about our successes and dreams. Let’s talk about the partners who love us right. Let’s talk about how we are queens and kings. I do not want to fall asleep drunk on wine, achingly aware of my scandalized body. I don’t want to drink to Black women’s submission. I want to toast to the power I know we have. I want to embrace and laugh and be fed hope. The cost of living is too damn high in Shondaland. I ain’t looking back.