Is Olivia Pope the New Sally Hemings?

by Stacia L. Brown

 My president is black. Finally. We’ve had to wait a long time for that, and I’m willing to wager that, when he leaves office, we’ll be waiting a long time again. So it’s interesting to note that, though Hollywood was the first to publicly present depictions of black U.S. presidents, the only current network show featuring our commander-in-chief has cast him as white. We know that Scandal’sOlivia Pope is based on a “fixer” from the Bush administration, but the show itself is set in 2012. And here we are back to a white republican holding the highest office in the land.

This would be a little unsettling on its own. (If Hollywood’s hypothetical black presidents were presented as a bit of revisionist history or a concessionary nod to a hope for where the country was headed, is Scandal’s white president indicative of a similar hope?) But it’s all the more distracting, given the show’s focus on Olivia’s ongoing love affair with said president.

As soapy and sensationalistic as this show is, it’s hard for me to entirely lose myself in it. I’m too distracted by this idea that, for all her gutsy unflappable-ness, and for all her intimidating, unflinching command in the face of an employee or opponent, the married president happens to be her weakness. Even if it weren’t too convenient a plot point, revealed far too early on, it’d still stick in my craw. One of the reasons why is that I can’t seem to view this show through an un-racialized lens.

This show is giving me too many shades of Sally Hemings. I can’t.

It was especially difficult for me to turn off my Mammy-Jezebel-Sapphire-detector during last night’s episode, as Olivia’s and Fitz’s back story developed. This intense need the story-line has to convince us that these two are star-crossed and that their coupling is Something Real reminds me of master-slave-relationship apologists who either believe that the slave is in a position to“seduce” the master or that their relationship can be rooted in healthy love.

Of course times have changed, and Olivia’s no slave. But in choosing to pursue a dominant-submissive relationship with someone who is, as the script keeps forcing him to remind us, the Leader of the Free World, it’s hard not to connect her to the earliest, collective history U.S. black women share.

If I’m arguing that these complex and uncomfortable connections are being made simply because the show chose to cast a white man as president, I have to ask if Olivia and Fitz’s relationship would still be as uncomfortable if he were, like our actual sitting leader, black. It would still read as immoral, to be sure; no matter how doggedly this show wants us to believe the First Lady is gross and unconscionable, she’s still the president’s wife and Olivia’s still his side chick. And the idea of a cheating black president would come with its own discomfort, given how much we’d associate him with Obama and how much our community seems to revere the Barack-Michelle love story.

Maybe the show chose the lesser of two color-casting evils, so to speak.

What do you think?

  • Erica

    Un-racialized lens? Really? You know we only get to live once. Its not a dress rehearsal.

  • rosey

    I think the show is interesting because there seems to be no discussion of the fact that the main character is black. Shes a beautiful and powerful woman–end of story. I’m forgiving of the relationship for this reason. What do you guys think? I don’t see her character as any different than if a white woman had an affair

  • Jessi Jess

    I believe you are COMPLETELY off the mark here. The fact that the president is white is not a nod by producers/writers that Americans need to return to a society run by a white man. Also, I believe that it portrays the power of love. (There’s definitely some TV magic at work though.) What I do applaud Scandal for is their ability to show a white man that loves a black woman. It’s a torrid affair with a tragic ending with all too familiar plot points. However, the love triangle has typically been played by all white parties. I appreciate this refreshing change.

  • Kanyade

    *applause* for the above comments by Jessi Jess and rosey. Basically how I feel about the show, too. :-)

  • Hmm

    Also, why cant a black woman be portrayed as sexual without being boxed in as a “jezebel” (or any other go-to boxes that you so-called enlightened use to show that you have been exposed to critical thinking?).

    If this woman was nonblack, you would simply just sit back and enjoy the show.

    And yet I’m sure you complain about the lack black roles on tv.

    Yet if a black character does something, it is quickly criticized and problematized. To copy your words: “I can’t” (with you)!

  • entro

    I also believe you are off in comparing sally hemmings to Olivia Pope. Sally hemmings was a child and most likely raped by jefferson and she was a slave, she had no control or say in the situation. Olivia Pope is an adult, intelligent and can choose who she has a relationship with. The only similarity is that both women are black

  • Bee

    Thank you for this post! I would be uncomfortable with it even if the president was black (oh, looky look, another black woman that the media has implicitly turned in a “whore” because lets be honest, that’s the patriarchal assumption many would make), but the president’s whiteness makes it even more racialized. It emphasizes the submissive-dominant element of their relationship (and I’m just never going to understand why some folks feel that relationships must have that dichotomy), especially as he kept giving her commands throughout the episode: “go into you room,” “take off your clothes,” “don’t ever call yourself a mistress!” etc. (There were a couple of other commands, but I forget.) I just wasn’t feeling this relationship at all, and I’ve dated white guys and probably will continue to, so I have no problem with interracial coupling. But there’s just some things off about this portrayal, as you noted. And, no, I don’t think the president character has genuine love for her. I think he is a narcissist, like many men in such positions, who saw something he wanted that he shouldn’t have and had to have it. He’s in a loveless boring relationship with his white wife, and found excitement with Olivia. That’s all. I don’t buy the “love” here at all, at least not from the president. I think Olivia certainly loves him, however.

    Also, you stated, “the only current network show featuring our commander-in-chief has cast him as white.” To that, I reply, “And that show was created by Shonda Rhimes, a black woman. Let that simmer for a minute.”

  • Jess

    Well then perhaps I’m a bit more evolved, because I don’t see the relationship through a “racialized lens”. I simply see an unhappily married man who finds himself drawn to a beautiful, intelligent, dynamic woman. Though any potential relationship is stymied not by the fact that he is married w/ kids but by the fact that he is in a precarious position of power.

    Oh and he just so happens to be White, huh so I guess she happens to be Black then, yup… But it’s not the first thing that I see nor is it even the third. This show started off slow and boring for me, it was not until they began further exploring the relationship between Olivia and the President that it became interesting. Also, comparing Olivia to Sally Hemings in any regard is in my opinion woefully off-base. Slaves by definition had no voice, no power and no autonomy. No OPTIONS. Ms.Pope has free will, and this is the man that she chooses to love. His skin happens to be White.

  • CurlySue

    This isn’t directly related to the theme of this article, but I was reading about Sally. I didnt know this but she was 3/4 white (her mother was half and her father was white) and her 7/8 white children entered white society when they were freed by Jefferson. I never knew she was bi-racial to that degree. It boggles the mind that her children were slaves until they were of age but likely looked as white as I do. The one-drop rule was and is so destructive.

  • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin’)

    “One of the reasons why is that I can’t seem to view this show through an un-racialized lens.”

    Sounds like a personal problem.

    Almost all U.S. presidents are WHITE. It makes more sense to make the president white than black…despite Obama being in office.

    The author appears to have a problem with black women sleeping with “powerful” white men period.

    Had she made the argument against Kerry’s character being the mistress I would have agreed, but the fact is her comments appear to center around the fictional president’s race….not his status as a married man.

    Why doesn’t the racialized lens only come out when beautiful black women are portrayed with white men?

  • Jess

    I agree. Sounds like a personal problem.

  • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin’)

    ^^^Should read “why does…”

  • CurlySue

    The Wikipedia article about her has a lot of great info if anyone is interested:

  • Natalie B.

    Love the show. I don’t miss it.

  • MIkela123

    Sally Hemmings, hmm no. Maybe Condoleeza Rice. There were some rumors that she was more than a little infatuated with Bush…

  • Stacia L. Brown

    1. What other “powerful” white men are being evoked here, since I “seem to have a problem with all of them?”

    2. It’s an op-ed. All the opinions here, problematic or otherwise, are personal. So…?

    3. The racialized TV viewing lens has never just been limited to black women/white men onscreen couplings.

  • Yb

    I don’t see the comparison. Sally Jennings was a enslaved underage child who was coerced and raped.

    Olivia Pope is a empowered who has enough strength and power to control her situations and the people around her.

  • Stacia L. Brown

    My reference to Hemings here–and I absolutely should’ve been clearer about this–was intended to refer to the pervasive mythos around their “romance.” I intended to compare the mythologized Hemings to the fictional Pope.

  • Alyssa

    Yes and as an op-ed, the people have the right to comment on it with their own opinions right? Your title alone is very provocative. You cannot be surprised that anyone disagrees with and subsequently thinks what you’re saying is farfetched and little bitter?

  • Glow

    Really reaching with this. I agree with a lot of the above comments that the author has a problem with black women having intimate relationships with white men, especially ‘powerful’ white men in general. I will never forget about history, but we’re off the plantation now, some interracial couples *shock!* actually do love and like each other—there isn’t a seedy undertone of slave master/slave woman in this at all to me…jeez. I mean, Olivia isn’t a fool.

    I think that Shonda Rhimes made the president white in this because 1) up till Obama ALL of the presidents have been White and it’s been the norm and 2) I like to think she did it out of respect to Obama. We all know that Black men are often perceived as liars, cheats, and thieves in the media, and this storyline would have just brought it all back and you know how some crazies are, they’ll make allusions to Obama being this way based on this show. Serious, some people have a hard time separating reality from art. Just imagine if the President in ‘Scandal’ WAS Black, y’all would be mad that he’s being shown in a ‘bad light’.

  • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin’)

    @Stacia L. Brown

    “What other “powerful” white men are being evoked here, since I “seem to have a problem with all of them?”

    Ummm, Thomas Jefferson, a dead and gone slaveowner and former president.

    You made comments about a “dominant-submissive” relationship with a man who is supposed to be the leader of the free world….I doubt you would have made such comments had the fictional president been black. I doubt you would have made such comments had the fictional white man been a regular average Joe.

    Your distaste for this union comes in large part from the power dynamics displayed here (i.e., she is powerful but he is MORE powerful and dominant. One top of that he is WHITE, which in your head evokes thoughts of slavery, manipulation, forced rape, etc).

    Get the idea that POWERFUL white men somehow or the other “take” modern day black women out of your head. We are not slaves. Black women today have the right to CHOOSE who we have relationships with. Let Sally Hemmings rest in peace.

  • Stacia L. Brown

    I welcome disagreement. It’s the whole reason for writing something that’s intended to provoke discussion. But comments about whether or not how I feel about this particular depiction of this relationship onscreen extends to my overall views on interracial relationships would require more information than I’ve written here.

  • Alyssa

    This is also fiction and a soap opera. Two categories which squarely places this in the fantasy realm. I think the majority of the viewers are watching this for entertainment purposes only, not worrying a thing about race. Something that fantastically hasn’t been brought up in the show, which is refreshing. Black women can have these relationships too you know and not be whores and sluts.

  • lady t

    I love this show. A leading black lady who is making becky look second best is GREAT!

  • Alyssa

    Also, Sally Hemmings’ relationship was one out force and took place in an entirely different time. The character Olivia is not being forced into anything and this occurs in 2012 where there is some margin of choice.

  • CurlySue

    From what I’ve read about the relationship between Jefferson, his children and Hemings and her family, there was a lot of love there. Hemings was the half sister to Jefferson’s deceased wife and by all accounts was regarded as family. Jefferson’s children from his marriage regarded Sally as their aunt, as she was. Her children also. Yes, she was a slave but it seems to have been a very nuanced relationship that was hardly kep secret from the other family members.

  • Joshunda

    I understand where you were going with that, slb. It might be a little too deep for some folks, particularly because Olivia Pope doesn’t seem enslaved by anything but her work. (Although that is its own slavery) & there were similar parallels with Condoleeza Rice. Patricia Hill Collins addresses how the new incarnations of Jezebels/Mammies, etc. have been codified in the all-encompassing title of Bitch. We’ll recognize them from Tyler Perry movies starring Gabrielle Union or Tasha Smith as what we used to call Sapphire. The Black b-word in modern day life is like the Mammy in that she doesn’t have a man of her own, she gives her heart over to unreciprocating forces (like men or corporations) and she looks good doing it even though she is ultimately enslaved by her torment.

    I still love the show. I love that Shonda Rhimes is featuring the life of a black woman we would otherwise not know about and not believe because it’s so uncommon to see black women wield that kind of power. It keeps getting better. And the show is the first I’ve seen in a long while that is truly diverse in terms of gender and race with a female of color starring in a way that seems to transcend race, though as black women writers, we understand that we are not post-racial, therefore, there are all kinds of gazes at work, not just our own.

  • Nikki

    I disagree with you. I like that this show includes race without making it the main issue or including stereotypes. It seems like one your main issues with the show is that the president is both Republican and White. Would you be less troubled if he was a democrat? On that front I think that serves as way (from ABC’s standpoint) to connect with a variety of viewers instead of alienating certain groups. I also think that having a black president in this show (who would also probably have a black first lady) would draw too many comparisons to the Obama’s and invoke criticism on the show. Could they really portray a black first lady as cold and power hungry without it appearing like the “angry, black woman” images of Michelle that the media tries to put out?

  • Stacia L. Brown


    Jefferson’s there to compare president to president to president, supposed mistress to mistress. These are two men I’ve discussed in order to make a comparison. Mentioning both relationships doesn’t mean that I have a problem with all black women dating white men in positions of dominance/power.

    The dom-sub conversation would, in fact, still be in play if the president in this show were black, as would his infidelity. I mentioned both possibilities in the body of the article.

  • B

    Second best? Yet the president still refuses to leave Becky? Hmm…

  • Val

    @Curly Sue

    Thomas Jefferson held Sally Hemmings as a slave. If she had been thought of as family then he would have allowed her to gain her freedom, which he did not. Please do not believe crazy revisionist history. Thomas Jefferson was a rapist. Every time he put his hands on Sally Hemmings he was raping her. She as a non-free woman could not give consent.

    Also, Jefferson’s descendents did not want anything to do with Sally Hemmings descendents when they tried to join the Jefferson family as recognized descendents of Jefferson.

    There is no love between a rapist and his victim!

  • JC

    I think this article is interesting in that we are questioning whether Kerry Washington’s character, Olivia Pope is somehow seduced by the President because he’s a White man, or is it because she’s immensely attracted to power and being with power- despite his current marriage status. I think the plot could take really interesting twists if the President were to divorce his wife (has that ever happened in American history?…not sure!) I don’t know what really went down between Thomas Jefferson and Sally, but I don’t think it was love. After last night’s episode, I left the episode thinking, “Wow, maybe these two actually love each other”. But, on another topic…racially speaking, the show would take a completely dynamic if the President was Black and Olivia Pope was played by someone of color of even White. Or if the tables were turned and we had a woman in the office having an affair.

  • entro

    Wiki pedia cannot be trusted in any form, I urge you to do further research on sally hemmings, she was biracial and she was a child that had been raped by her master any romance between them was revisionary fantasy > I could be mistaken but Ive read that she was 8 yrs old when jefferson started having sex with her, but my memory is clear that she was no older than 14

  • CurlySue

    Yes, I would like to read about her and her children further. I really knew nothing about her background so I was taken by surprise that she was 3/4 white and that her children claimed white when freed. Her daughter married a wealthy man in DC and it was never suspected that she was of slave descent. The whole non-secret secret aspect of the relationship between the Jeffersons and the Hemings at Monticello is something so wholly foreign in our time. At least to me.

  • B.

    People will always find a problem. First it was the lack of interracial couples (adulterous or otherwise) depicted on TV. Oh, and that of the absence of the black female lead. Now the depiction is the problem. Yes, our president is black. No, there are no shows that portray that now. But I can almost guarantee that should he have been cast as black on Scandal there would be another article on here screaming of the demonization of the black man and the fall of the black family. It’s cute that you see the true “scandal” in the substory as the color of skin rather than the actual relationship, as i’m sure was the writer’s intent.

  • binks

    Hmm…interesting correlation I wouldn’t have had that line of thought. But I don’t like this show personally for many reasons, I think Olivia Pope Is a stereotypical character played by a black woman but the producers just jazzed her up to make her come off as powerful, glamorous, and high demand career lady when she could be an extra on basketball wives…shrugs.

  • Malik

    Sorry, the fact that the relationship is CONSENSUAL renders all comparisons moot and any argument comparing this character to an enslaved woman who was perpetually and continuously raped should not be taken seriously.

  • Kacey

    It’s funny you mentioned Condi Rice. I must be one of the few black women to have not yet gotten into this show (I plan to get caught-up via HULU) but when the author was describing the plot – powerful black woman in love with a White Republican president – Condi and George W. are who I immediately thought of! I think there has been some side-eye indirect suggestions about those two, though no one has come right out and said it. It’s believable, though.

  • Mimi

    BRAVO VAL!!! Could not agree more. I’m not throwing shade at Curly Sue, but I certainly hope she isn’t trying to “romanticize” the events of Jefferson and Hemmings. Heck, there are Jefferson decendants to this day that will not even acknlowlege Hemmings. It may be harsh, but the only way I can view the Jefferson/Hemmings situation is as rape. (Notice I never called it a “relationship” because I feel it was FAR from that).

    As for Scandal, I like the show. I love the fact that the president is white because if he were black, we’d keep comparing him to Barack and since the fictional president is kinda shady, I want no comparisons of him and Barack. But I do think that Kerry and the guy who plays the president have some crazy chemistry! I don’t know if I’m frustrated or stressed, but after I saw their scenes together, I was ready to take a cold shower!

  • MIkela123

    God, Why can we just view Olivia Pope as a young woman who made a bad decision, who is smart, but like some women (Black, White, Asian, Martian) is in a situation where is she is thinking with her heart, not with her mind?

  • Kacey

    Please do not take anything you read on Wikipedia at face value. There is good reason why educators discourage students from using it as a source for research papers. Remember, ANYONE can add a Wikipedia entry and the research sources and research methods are never verified unless there is a complaint made by a reader. Do your own research and always consider the source(s).

  • LaNeshe

    This seems like a stretch to me. Either the President or Olivia could be a different race and it wouldn’t make a difference. For once we do have a show that isn’t boxing a female lead character in, and he color isn’t being waved as a banner. I like the way the story has been going.

  • Alyssa

    because he’s president perhaps???

  • Kacey

    “I think that Shonda Rhimes made the president white in this because 1) up till Obama ALL of the presidents have been White and it’s been the norm and 2) I like to think she did it out of respect to Obama.”

    I would add: 3) She didn’t want to alienate white (or “other”) viewers by making it a “black show”

  • Lefty

    This article is totally reaching, and you lost me with the comparison to an enslaved black woman, also I believe the president is white so that the character does not link back to our current president as the media often likes to make up things of that nature such as you have done in this article already. Remember it’s just tv.

  • Yb

    especially as he kept giving her commands throughout the episode: “go into you room,” “take off your clothes,” “don’t ever call yourself a mistress!” etc.

    I didn’t notice this before when watching the show but after reading this the comparison is more plausible now. Thanks for pointing this out to me.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    i really hate this show…….

  • CurlySue

    No, definitely not taking Wikipedia as gospel. I just went there first since I wanted a quick rundown on her. Reading online, the book The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed is supposed to be quite good. I think I might buy that for the Kindle and take a gander. I don’t want anyone thinking I’m romanticizing the relationship. I just think going off what I’ve gleaned from surfing the Web that it was very nuanced and there is a lot of controversy surrounding it. Which is natural, given that the relationship spanned several decades and produced 7 children, 4 of whom survived.

  • CurlySue

    No shade felt :) All sunny here. No, I wasn’t attempting to romanticize their relationship. I’m merely interested in learning the nuances of it seeing as how it spanned several decades and produced quite a few children.

  • Stacia L. Brown

    Thanks so much for adding the commands point. All his “orders” to her also rankled me while I was watching and were, in fact, a large part of why it evoked sub-dom imagery/master-slave comparison for me.

  • Lee in London

    Can you calm down? You complain about not seeing enough black faces on tv, then when there is one, you complain because her lover is a white man. I love the show and Kerry Washington, I hope it gets renewed.

  • S.


  • Malik

    Because Black women only exist as stereotypes to demonize or cyphers for Black empowerment. They’re never allowed to just be interesting and flawed characters.

  • Stacia L. Brown

    The sense of ambiguity about just how “consensual” Jefferson/Hemings relationship became over the course of the time they spent together and the persistent idea/myth that one or both of them were “in love” is part of the comparison I was seeking to make.

    In watching the origin story of Olivia/Fitz last night, there was also a sense of gray–not over whether or not the sexual relationship was consensual but about whether or not the president abused his power in pursuing her, whether or not he was treating her like a conquest, whether or not their “love” is a legitimate, healthy thing. He dictates the conditions. He sets the parameters. He dominates her. But the story is being presented as a romantic one about “forbidden love” and “star-crossed lovers” who, under different conditions, would have a healthier relationship, one to root for.

  • Stacia L. Brown

    @Malik: Historically, yeah. That’s how black female characters have been used in mainstream media; that’s the purpose they’ve fulfilled. It’s difficult to counteract that when race is still driving so much of American interaction today. For some viewers, the race of these characters is always going to be a significant thing, a factor of note. They can’t be unilaterally nonracial or post-racial because the country isn’t.

  • I got sense!


  • Cheya

    I love the show!

    Not sure about this article but clearly no matter how we are dipicted on television/movies someone will always find some sort of wrong. I enjoy the show & think it’s creator thought it would be a good way to shed light on a different dynamic that is not being showcased on TV right now. We can always find fault and if we keep this mindset going we will never be entertained. It’s one thing to be thought provoking & it’s another to just go too far & this article has gone left.

  • Shawn Williams

    Olivia Pope is a very smart character and at no point have I seen the character as submissive. Shonda Rhimes has created a vehicle that has black people working, Two in the main ensemble plus a Latino with other supporting characters like the guard and lady in the morgue.

    To say it is in some way odd to have a White President now would be to say the Black Presidents portrayed in the past were somehow odd or wrong. Now if the President in Scandal were Black, then there wouldn’t be as many eyeballs viewing. That’s O.K. though, viewership is the key.

    I’m hoping we’re in a place where a black woman can be portrayed having an affair with a white man just as she can with a black man. I don’t see it any differently than when Ms. Washington starred opposite Cris Rock in “I Think I Love My Wife.”

    Let’s chill…..Sally Hemmings comparison is a stretch for sure. But if this smart, (this far) interesting and well interesting show is not your cup of tea, then don’t watch.

  • Miss J

    totally agree with Lee in london, seriously black women are always complaining about anything seriously. You guys killed me with your stupid comparaison. can we just enjoy the show

  • entro

    @stacia, come on by comparing the pope characters situation to sally hemmings your diminishing the horrific treatment hemmings endured.She was a child held captive and raped repeatedly where is the romance ? Its a bad analogy stacia, your normally a very good writer and always on point but this is almost offensive

  • A Diva State of Mind

    People are upset if reality shows depict us in a stereotypical way. We complain that thete aren’t enough shows with us on the, esNow we’re comparing Olivia Pope to Sally Hemmings??? It’s not that deep. If the President was black, it would still be just as scandalous. She would be sleeping with the married Leader of the Free World. Let’s just allow the show be great and be glad we have a show that has black characters in leading roles on a major network.

  • A Diva State of Mind

    People are upset if reality shows depict us in a stereotypical way. We complain that thete aren’t enough shows with us on the, especially in leading roles. Now we’re comparing Olivia Pope to Sally Hemmings??? It’s not that deep. If the President was black, it would still be just as scandalous. She would be sleeping with the married Leader of the Free World. Let’s just allow the show be great and be glad we have a show that has black characters in leading roles on a major network.

  • Yb

    You do realise your a black woman too right? Funny how you use “you guys” to attempt to distance yourself from other black women. And only one women wrote this article not the general black woman population.

    You can still enjoy the show but keep your dumbass comments to your self and stop accusing black women of doing exactly what you are doing, COMPLAINING.

  • chic1

    Malik, I wholeheartedly agree with you!

  • Miss J

    YB go F*&^ yourself and i mean it .

  • Yb

    Keep it classy.

  • edub

    Sound likes someone needs to get a PhD in Black Studies! You’d fit RIGHT in!

  • alyson

    “…about whether or not the president abused his power in pursuing her, whether or not he was treating her like a conquest, whether or not their “love” is a legitimate, healthy thing. He dictates the conditions. He sets the parameters. He dominates her.”

    ummm….how exactly did he dictate the conditions or dominate her??

    i think if he was really abusing his power, he would have pulled all kinds of strings to make sure that he had her where he wanted her, literally or figuratively. also too, he FIRED her the 1st day they met, not only because of his intense attraction to her, but because she was blunt and bold about what he needed to hear.
    and she walked away! she was ready to go back home after he fired her.

    the one that is clear to me is the effort the POTUS puts forth in trying to control himself around Olivia after she repeatedly shuts him down. if anything, SHE’S been the one dictating things from the start. in previous episodes, she’s straight out told him stuff like, “don’t look at me. look away” ; “face-to-face time is over” ; “you look like you don’t screw your wife…”, etc. she’s set the parameters so much that he finally had to jump over them and seek her out at her house.

    as far as comparisons with jefferson, i highly doubt that sally hemming would have been in any kind of position to rebuff the president in any way, shape or form.

  • Kacey

    @Yb: I wouldn’t assume S/he is black. There are a lot of non-blacks and males who frequently read and comment on this site.

  • alyson

    another point: if not for olivia making the conscious choice to march to the president’s room, it doesn’t seem like these two characters would have consummated their relationship any time soon. therefore, i fail to see how she can be portrayed as “submissive”.
    i understand the author’s points overall, but respectfully, i think you’re reaching with this one.

  • Chic Noir

    Miss J don’t be some mean. That’s why they are changing the comment format where every comment will have to be approved before posting.

  • Chic Noir


    Barbara Chase-Riboud wrote a pretty good book on Sally Hemmings. IIRC, part of the book is fiction but she tried to write as close to fact as possible.

  • Stacia L. Brown

    I’ll acknowledge (for everyone here) that the comparison is a stretch. But it’s precisely the horrific conditions Hemings endured that makes it difficult to view any situation where a white president dominates a black lover without an eye to race/racism.

    The comparison I wanted to make her was to the idea that the president’s love affair with Olivia is romantic and evenhanded, when he’s in a position to fire her/destroy her reputation and career/dictate to her where/when they’ll meet.

    I wanted to make the point that the dominance is what they have in common, as well as a deliberate intention on the part of the storytellers to make this a legitimately romantic relationship.

    I’m not arguing that Olivia is being raped or physically abused, but I do believe, in light of last night’s ep, that she’s been/is being manipulated–and that the manipulation is a direct result of the president’s position of power/privilege.

  • shadow

    OMG!!!!! I am over here rolling and crying you said “Martian”. I am actuallly crying and typing friend, my stomach hurts oh LAWD…that was so funny!!!! Oh yeah, +1 on your comment ;)

  • Stacia L. Brown

    It could be argued that firing her because he was attracted to her was a power play, meant to establish dominance. His “say my name”/”go to your room” stuff could be categorized as the same.

    Though she attempts to set boundaries, he challenges them until either he or she reneges on them.

    He’s giving her options, but they aren’t much of an option. If after you’ve rebuffed someone, he continually presses you (and he does this), and if you’re led to believe that your job is somehow linked to how he feels about you, it’s not a relationship of equals. And her autonomy can be called into question.

  • LN

    I have to say, I’m really disappointed with this piece.

    The show, Scandal, is based on Judy Smith, a black woman who was working for President Bush at the time. Like Bush, President Fitzgerald is a white Republican. So I just assumed they were keeping the story true to its origin.

    As far as Olivia Pope, there is nothing at all to indicate that she is in a “slave” situation, and that someone would jump to that conclusion is very confusing and even a bit distressing. She is a smart, capable, beautiful woman who caught the eye of an unhappily married President. And honestly, she is a SUPERB portrayal of black women! I mean, she singlehandedly turned a losing campaign around. She got a president elected. She has the ear and the heart of the most powerful man in the world. Where is the slave/master relationship in that?!

    When I saw the title of this piece I actually excitedly looked up “Sally Hemings” on Wikipedia. I wasn’t familiar with who she was, so I assumed she was some kind of woman pioneer. To see that she was Jefferson’s slave was disheartening.

    I think that black women, on the whole, are still too uncomfortable with the idea of interracial relationships — and I think this piece reflects that. We’re too quick to cry “self hate” or “master/slave complex”.

  • Stacia L. Brown

    @LN: I accept your reading of the white casting being reflective of the origin; that would be, after all, one of very few ways the events of the show remain faithful to the person on whom it’s based. I actually didn’t think of that very logical, simple explanation and I would’ve been good with that, if they weren’t a couple or if it weren’t the president per se that she was seeing but instead an unmarried white staffer. It isn’t his whiteness alone that makes this story line uncomfortable. It’s his presidency, his capricious infidelity, his firing of her because he’s attractive to her, his Jedi mind trick “say my name”/”you’re not a mistress”/”go to your room” stuff that contributed to my reading of their relationship as one where it’s difficult to divorce his white privilege from their coupling.

    And it’s in the fact that their coupling is being presented as purely romantic, if scandalous/forbidden, that it draws comparison to another historical white president whose relationship with his slave has been historically misrepresented as a “forbidden love” story, rather than one where the power dynamic will never approach true equality because he will always be in a position to control her.

  • CmonNow

    NO!! Olivia Pope is NOT the new Sally Hemings.

    White President + black woman does not equal a rehashing of the Jefferson-Hemings story! Please let’s try to emancipate ourselves from the mental slavery of being provocative just for the sake of it.

    Pope is dominant and strong-willed all day.
    So what that she has a lover who creates the space for her to be fragile by night?!

    I have to be the boss all day too.
    Lucky is the “strong black woman” who gets to go home to a (black or white or asian or whatever) man who can take control in the bedroom.
    Yeah, I’ll say your name.
    Yeah, I’ll do as I’m told.
    Heck yeah!!!
    And mentally free is the person who doesn’t automatically think such a relationship should be likened to a master-slave one.

    In other words, thank God I’s free!

  • CC

    I think the thing that makes you think of the similarities between the slave-master dynamics and Fitz and Olivia’s relationship is the power Fitz holds in both there relationship and career. Honestly, I just think she is in love and in all tv shows love is depicted in a similar way. She can’t resist him, he can’t resist her. I don’t think there is much more to it. I also think it is smart on the part of Rhimes to make the president both Republican and white. If she were to make the president black, people would automatically develop the mistakes Fitz makes into a stereotype.

  • Stacia L. Brown

    Thank you for your response. I value its civility and respect your opinion. I think I agree with you about the white president being a practical, tactical move on Rhimes’ part.

  • alyson

    @ CmonNow & CC: you both said exactly everything that i wanted to express. LOL at CmonNow last remark.

  • befree

    No longer need to read any further.
    …………….curtain Closes
    ……………………………………and scene

  • binks

    Bingo Bee!

  • Chic Noir

    Stacia what do you do lady? Thank God you didn’t find a way to include Beyonce into this post or the ladies would’ve been coming for your blood honey.

  • Chic Noir

    *Stacia, what did you do lady?*

  • Carrie

    I am in agreement with Malik and Jessie Jess. I like the show. I like the chemistry between the actors and the writing seems to be improving each week. From the start it been driven home that Olivia Pope is a respected, dynamic and accomplished woman. There is no power imbalance here. This is a consensual relationship with two adults and life can be complex.

    It’s funny I was just watching another show recently… Nurse Jackie. She is not necessarily a sympathetic character. There are things I admire about her and a lot things I dislike but the writing gives the actress a lot to work with and makes for a good story. I want the same opportunity for our talented black actresses as well. Let’s not box them in.

  • Carrie

    Agreed, good points..

  • j

    This is a stretch. Olivia Pope and Sally Hemmings have two things in common, one, the fact that they are black and the second that they boned the President.

    Fitz seems to really be in love with Olivia, so I fail to see these comparisons. I get it, you’re a writer (I write too), and you need to write something provocative that will spark discussion, and that brings both page views and money to the site. I get that. I’m an expert at it. But I don’t think the slave-master thing needs to be brought up every time a black woman is with a white guy. It’s clear that Fitz respects and admires Olivia, and sees her as the sort of woman he would be well matched with.

    You cannot say the same thing about the dynamics between Hemmings and Jefferson.

  • Afia

    My discomfort with Oliva and Fitz relationship wasn’t that he is a white male president and that she was a Black woman working for him. He was married. He didn’t respect his marriage and neither did she. It didn’t matter that the marriage was dead. They were both wrong.

    What made me uncomfortable was Fitz’s slightly domineering way of talking to Olivia and Olivia’s subsequent voicelessness. Not his whiteness, not her blackness. Why? Because that type of dynamic can and does happen inter and intra- racially.

    When she was with him she was a shell of herself. It was not healthy vulnerability. The Oliva that we saw in those flashbacks was not the same Olivia we met in the first episode. He made her weak. Not just because he was married but it also had to do with the position of power that he is in – first governor and then president.

    Olivia always had a choice and so did Fitz. I personally don’t like the way he talks to her sometimes – “say my name” or “go to your room”. She hesitantly said his name but she chose to go into his room and get it on with him. The affair lasted for 2 years. Did we ever stop to think that the a good portion of the pressure Olivia felt was her own attraction to him?

    In the present she can fight back against Fitz and actively try to resist him. She had the sense and the courage to break away from him. Her character has a long way to go but that’s why I want to tune in. The point of the show is to watch each character’s journey from their respective dark places.

    I am never one to discount race but to compare a consensual relationship between two adults to Sally Hemmings and Jefferson is disgraceful and a pathetic attempt to get people riled up and commenting.

    Everything we do as black people and in this case black women is scrutinized. No matter what there’s some stereotype lurking. Sometimes it is blatant and other times it’s not. Olivia is far from perfect. Shonda Rhimes knowingly writes female characters who have stellar careers but incredibly messy personal lives – Meredith Grey, Christina Yang, Bailey, Addison from Grey’s Anatomy and Priviate Practice. She writes DRAMA.

    Can we let a fictional character live? Can she be flawed? Can we let her grow?

  • Jalen

    Interesting perspectives on the show. I have read interviews and viewed media ads about this show and have absolutely no interest in seeing Kerry Washington or any other black actress degrade herself by engaging in an extramarital affair with the President, be he black, white or any other race/ethnicity.

    In my opinion, that is nothing to be applauded or (hopefully) emulated by impressionable young girls and women!! Are we that hungry for an African American lead in a major network drama that we overlook the negative and salacious ramifications of Ms. Kerry’s actions on this show? What is so great or honorable about sleeping with someone else’s husband? For those who are married or in a committed relationship, how would you feel if you were cheated on? Does the perception by some that there is “real love” between Ms. Washington’s character and the president justify or mitigate the fact that others may be hurt by their actions? Does love now trump duplicity?

    How would black women generally feel if the the President on the show was black and married to a black woman and then cheated on her with a white “powerful woman?” Would the dynamics be different? Would we be lamenting about how the black president disrespected his first lady with this white skank, “B” or take your pick of descriptives?

    I know that we want to see ourselves in mainstream television shows but is this the best we can do? There are so many uplifting and compelling stories and characters that could be delivered to a public in desperate need of hope and inspiration. Yes, we want to be entertained, too. But, does entertainment always have to be wrapped in lust, power and greed?

    Just my thoughts. Great thought provoking article.

    Take care.

  • Afia

    Are you serious? So black women don’t engage in affairs? Only non-black women can play FICTIONAL CHARACTERS that engage in affairs. You do realize that Kerry Washington is not engaging in an affair. Olivia Pope is having the affair. Olivia Pope the FICTIONAL CHARACTER.

    This is art and art imitates life and vice versa. Like it or not people cheat.

    And who is saying that Kerry Washington is promoting cheating? Clearly the show is demonstrating the CONSEQUENCES of cheating. We see how difficult it is for both Fitz and Olivia. We see how it takes a toll on them emotionally and professionally.

    And how is this even brought into the discussion: How would black women generally feel if the the President on the show was black and married to a black woman and then cheated on her with a white “powerful woman?” Would the dynamics be different? Would we be lamenting about how the black president disrespected his first lady with this white skank, “B” or take your pick of descriptives?

    Who has said that Olivia and Fitz are doing the right thing by helping wreck a marriage?

    I am sick of people trying to police black artistry and force black people to be this damned monolith that can never exist because perfection doesn’t exist.

    No one is perfect and that is the point of the show. Olivia (not Kerry since we can’t tell the difference between an a person and a fictional character) had an affair, got messed up, and had the sense to leave. This is something that happens every day.

    Shonda Rhimes writes drama. If your few of art and what black artists should do is so myopic I’m glad you’re not watching the show. Put please don’t come and take this holier than though standpoint.

  • Jess

    “How would black women generally feel if the the President on the show was black and married to a black woman and then cheated on her with a white “powerful woman?” ”

    This already happened on the V Series “24″, where the president was Black, married to a Black First Lady, but in a relationship with a white woman on the side.

  • Jess

    100% cosign, Malik!

  • Afia

    And recognize that no matter what black people do on and off screen we will still nitpicked by white people, black people and other non-black people. You know why? Because we are considered bad by DEFAULT.

    This idea that if we present “good” images of ourselves everything will just be better. No. Our real life president gets insulted. His wife gets insulted. They’ve got degrees, the POTUS has written books, they are good parents but it doesn’t matter. The man is the leader of the free world and he still can’t catch a break.

    Can we live? Can we show that we are human and make mistakes? Can we let go of this idea that we have to be perfect? Can our art reflect real life?

  • Jess

    Sure are a lot of Jess’s on Clutch all of a sudden!

    Anyway…I’m a different Jess here, but I didn’t see the show and have no plans to as soon as I heard that Kerry Washington would be in it, and that Shondha Rhimes would be producing it.

    I’m not shocked at all that Washington is playing a highly sexualized role – my understanding is that the most recent episode was one of the most risque sex scenes for network TV ever – not shocked because I think her portrayal is the perfect way to start to desensitize the American public to Kerry’s next major sexually exploitive role as an enslaved Black woman who is highly sexualized and gravely sexually abused by white slave owners at the same time, in “Django Unchained”.

    Hollywood is very see-through in my opinion. Not interested in this show in any way.

  • edrina

    Goodness-damn if you do damn if you don’t. Some black folks will never be satisfied. Always harsh nitpicking to death any situation involving a minority woman. When will we stop this mess? It is tired and it is old.

    This is a good show with a fine acting cast showing a woman of color as intelligent, desirable and beautiful and yet folks still want to complain about it. The relationship is based on mutual attraction with a man of power and a woman of intelligence.

    Some black folks really get me sick and tired. Why can’t we just enjoy this show without analyzing it to death. Some of us continue to be our own worse enemy-

    Please let there be some peace once in our lifetime. I hope this show gets renewed for another season. I love it!!!!!!

  • Afia

    This is to the second Jess:

    You haven’t seen the show but you’re commenting on the sex scene. It was steamy. Rhimes writes steamy. Hollywood sells sexiness but black women can’t do that. Oh no!
    Because we’re Jezebels if we do that and upholding whitey’s stereotypes. Oh my!

    You do realize that people have sex right? Throughout the whole damned show Olivia Pope is in business attire dominating her field. You have people ACHING to be her client. Yet the minute she takes off her clothes and does what billions of people do she’s hypersexual. Oh ok. Women of all colors play a role in wrecking homes.

    Olivia Pope isn’t a 1 dimensional character. She is far from perfect. That’s what a fictional character is supposed to be like. Not some flat, stock character out there to appease our insecurities about our blackness.

    We can have all the “perfect” black characters but that will not change the stereotypes. All we can do is live our lives as best as we possibly can and not restrict black acting and black artistry.

  • Afia

    To Stacia L. Brown:

    There is no post racial society. Race can never be ignored. But comparing this fictional relationship to Sally Hemmings is a stretch. I see how domineering Fitz can be but this happens in all sorts of relationships. I’ve met many a man who tries to tell me what I can and cannot do.

    To start drawing these comparisons because it is an interracial relationship is too much. No matter what black people do it’s never good enough. Olivia Pope could be in healthy relationship living her live and we’d say that the show is boring. She could be perfect and she would be an exception to the rule that says that black women are everything but human.

    Stereotypes have been forced upon us and we internalize them. As someone who hopes to write fictional characters one day, I will never ignore race but I refuse to police my creativity so someone doesn’t cry about a stereotype. Rhimes is trying to create a person. A flawed person. Olivia Pope made a horrendous escape and she’s paying for it.

    Besides being stellar at her job she is a good person and we are forgetting that. Look at her team. Every single person that works for her is there because she was able to look past their pain and see that they were human and capable. Huck is the prime example of this. She found him begging on the street. Huck is someone that many of us who live in metropolitan areas walk past every day without a care in the world but she brought him into the real world. She helped him regain his dignity. She helped get Abby out of an abusive marriage.

    But we don’t see that Olivia Pope, we can only focus on her flaws and that is a damned shame.

  • Jessi Jess

    Afia… Church, preach, tabernacle!

    What I want from television is for black actors and actresses to have the opportunity to play ALL roles. Every show, role, or movie doesn’t need to be something that is deemed “positive.”. I want things that are (semi) real. The non-black actresses on other shows that people love (i.e. Sex in the city, Grey’s, etc) reflect a humanness about them. Just normal people making normal mistakes.

  • Afia

    Exactly. Activism isn’t being perfect. Activism is daring to exist.

    It seems like black people are afraid to just exist because we will be judged and stereotyped. Everything we do is seen through a racialized lens. When can we ever just be? Not even in fiction can we just be?

    I don’t need black people to perfect, I need them to live, fall, get up and keep it moving.

  • TAE

    Awwww come on, Sally Hemmings though? Sally Hemmings? Come on dude, Sally Hemmings for real?

  • LN

    @Stacia… There have been black romantic films where black men were FAR more domineering and persistent in their pursuit of a black female, and we coo at it and call it romantic and manly. Yet when the pursuer is a white man, suddenly it’s predatory and slave/master.

    As far as his position of power, I didn’t see it as a race thing, I saw it as a commentary on the nature of politics. As I was watching it, I didn’t see the race factor, what I saw was a campaign fixer who was, yes, feeling sexual pressure from a man poised to become the most powerful in the world. The SAME would be true if Olivia Pope was white, Asian, Hispanic, whatever. To me, it was more a commentary on gender relations than race, and it still confuses me why someone would immediately jump to a racial interpretation.

    As far as her being forced or instructed into a relationship, I admit that there was some slight pressure there, but it was VERY clear that there would have been no negative repercussions had Olivia turned him down. There was no threat to her job or her career. And when she decided to sleep with him, I saw it as two lonely people who knew that there would be negative repercussions to their actions why thought, ‘what the heck, let’s go for it.’

    Governor Grant’s loneliness — in his marriage and as a result of his political life — was made very obvious throughout the episode. And, thought it was implied, we see Olivia as a woman who lived for her worked and didn’t seem to have much of a social life. I think they found some common ground there, and that’s what their sexual relationship was based on. NOT some master/slave complex.

  • Tammy

    For me I don’t think that Olivia Pope can be compared to Sally Hemmings in the slightest fashion…Sally Hemmings was a SLAVE she was OWNED by Thomas Jefferson…he had full control over her entire being and life…Olivia can up and leave the president any daggone time she wanted to, and in fact DID leave him…He had no control over her, no more than the control of her attraction for him which ALL of us have when a person is attracted to and in love with us…Its not even close to being the same thing…Now don’t get me wrong, I totally respect your opinion and in fact welcome this thought provoking discussion…but I have to say, with all do respect the comparison is a bit ridiculous…and I know people that even try and say the whole Sally Hemmings thing was a love story…but to me you can’t have a true love story when one person is owned by the other person…I mean its not like Sally could just up and leave Thomas Jefferson of her own free will…And as far as the other commenter that thinks its bad to show a black woman being a mistress…Well for me I think it shows how far we have come in the portrayal of black characters in the media…We have gone from watching asexual black women bow and scrape to white people being Mammys to a gorgeous, very well put together black women being desired by the leader of the free world…Honestly I think its great and a step forward, for years we have watched only white women be the desired mistresses…I think its about time that blacks can play this role to…and as an avid veiwer of soap opera’s I tend not to watch shows for morality..if I wanted that mess, I would watch a Christian broadcasting channel…This show is purely meant for drama and escapism and not to represent real life in any way shape or form although we know from Bill Clinton this stuff DOES happen…

  • Danielle

    I totally agree

  • Danielle

    Hmmmm, well this goes on in reality. Ppl degrade themselves on a daily basis. So if it was a white women, I guess she wouldn’t be degrading herself huh? How many movies have this type of s/l? ALOT! I’m sure u watch those movies.

  • Danielle

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Edrina. My goodness, we as black ppl always gotta complain about something, and something on a tv show. I LOVE YOU COMMENT

  • Danielle

    You are so on point Tammy

  • Danielle

    U can’t be serious. Sally Heming? Why must we black ppl complain about EVERYTHING. U don’t know this goes on in the real world right? And by that person’s choice right? Sally was forced by her MASA right?

  • Danielle

    I totally agree Rosey. Nobody is talking about that a black women has the lead, which is very HARD for a black woman to get.

  • Danielle

    Amen Jessi

  • Elegance

    Why would they make his Black when every other President was White??? It is actually more realistic to show the President as a White man because most of them have been White. If they used a Black man everyone would think about Obama and also the story would be about race most of the time (it isn’t now and I’m glad) and it would become a “Black show” that won’t appeal to the masses. All of Shonda Rhimes shows have interracial couples with few discussions ever of race. She seems to not care about the race thing and instead focuses on the characters and plots.

  • Afia

    Come on MIkela123 we cant do that! Olivia Pope has to eradicate every stereotype of black women. She can’t just be a flawed person oh no she has to represent her people and if she falters we must compare her to slave who was raped by her master. We have to ignore her humanity. We have to forget that she is highly regarded in her field. We have to forget that she found Huck begging on the street, saw that he had potential, and helped him find his way back to himself.

    No my dear, we have to complain and whine. She’s mammy because she works too hard. It doesn’t matter that if any person want to achieve the success that Olivia Pope has they would have to drink loads of coffee and not get enough sleep. She’s Jezebel girl! Because other people don’t have sex. Because when a white woman sleeps with a sitting president she gets book deals and gets to be born again.

    Nope, black women are supposed to be saints in real life and in fiction.

  • Elegance

    I totally agree too! Any time a Black woman is paired with a White man people (Black people) have to bring up slavery! Why can’t they just be attracted to each other. Olivia Pope was is not a slave, she just fell for her boss like millions of other women. They both consented. Yes adultery is wrong but that is why the show is called Scandal…because it is scandalous!!! It is scandalous because he is the president, he is married, and no doubt because Olivia is Black. Plus throw in the murders and other scandals the team deals with and the title is more than appropriate.

    Remove your slave goggles people! You are not slaves anymore, not any more than any one else who is a part of the system. Stop feeling traumatized every time you see White people with Black people or else you will just wear yourself out with depression, anger, and paranoia.

  • Elegance

    “When she was with him she was a shell of herself. It was not healthy vulnerability. The Oliva that we saw in those flashbacks was not the same Olivia we met in the first episode. He made her weak. ”

    This is where I disagree with most Black women. This again is the “strong Black woman” stereotype that many Black women embrace. They try to be hard, independent, and strong ALL THE TIME and never let themselves be soft and feminine even when they are in love! Who says the old Oliva was a “shell of herself”? Maybe that is how she always is in romantic relationships. Love makes people weak! Fitz is even weaker because he has so much to lose from the relationship but he was willing to risk it! Yet a Black woman in love is not allowed to lose herself to her feelings if the feeling is love, but it’s fine if she wants to express anger and attitude right? She is strong at work because she has to be to do the job, but she doesn’t have to be strong outside of work.

    The people you see being independent and domineering in the workplace may be totally different at home because their work persona is not their true self! They are pretending to be confident and competent when often times they are unsure and worried they will be found out as frauds and replaced with someone more competent.

    Women (including Black women) can have a soft side but other women have no problem letting that side show. Ask yourself why you can’t tolerate seeing a Black woman being “weak”? The way he talks to her is no different from the way dominant men talk to women, or bosses talk to their employees and many women encounter this in their relationships. Maybe we have become too accustomed to seeing Black women as the dominant one or there is some other issue that’s bothersome here.

  • Danielle

    I feel you, I feel you

  • Danielle


  • Elegance

    This is what I want to see too. Black people in every role instead of just the few stereotypical ones. I like Shonda Rhimes shows because she seems to just throw people into roles and relationships without focusing on race. The race issue barely comes up on her shows and she has many characters in interracial relationships.

    I don’t care if Black people are cast as the best friend because if every major show has a Black best friend then that is progress and will get people to accept Black characters being normal people, friendly, and worth knowing. Then that will make it easier to bast Black characters in lead roles because the masses will be used to seeing them as normal people.

    I think it is very positive that they cast Kerry Washington as a dynamic and nuanced character who isn’t all one way (i.e., all strong and independent, all weak, all ghetto, all sassy etc.) because real people have dimensions. Shonda could have totally cast a White woman or Asian woman (e.g., Lucy Liu, can’t think of a young White actress who is similar at the moment) in her role and you know what…it would not have made a difference because Olivia Pope is was never a Black stereotype and any good actress could play the role and the same scandal would exist. Except the race scandal would not be there.

    I think this is the way to go that Black actors are cast in “non-race” roles and show they can do the job well. That would show everyone that they don’t just have to be stereotypes. White women play characters like Olivia Pope all the time…did anyone watch Damages??? Yet when a Black woman takes on the role it’s actually Black people who have the problem They entrusted a Black woman with a primetime show and believed that she was talented enough to pull off the role when most of Hollywood does not think they are capable or doesn’t want to risk money on it. White characters are never perfect saints (except on comedies maybe) but in dramas they are flawed. Why do you expect Black characters to be different? Stop standing in your own way!

  • Afia

    Notice how I said that it was not “healthy vulnerability”. Let me say it again. HEALTHY VULNERABILITY.

    When I say that he made her weak I mean he made her weak in bad way. Notice how she said in previous episodes that because of him she did not trust her gut.

    I’m all for black women being vulnerable with their partners. I believe in balance.

    But Fitz was not the right person for her to be vulnerable with. He is married. And loving him cost her way too much. Olivia needs to be vulnerable in healthy relationship. She needs to have a voice in her relationships. If her loving someone else means that she cannot have her voice, she cannot assert herself, than that type of vulnerability is damaging.

    Let’s ignore the fact that Fitz is the president and that he is married. Let’s look at the interactions that they do have as man and woman, do they seem equal? He has a tendency to be domineering, to invade her space when she expressly asks him not to do so. That is not a vulnerability that I am a fan of. He showed up at her home with no warning uninvited. If he didn’t have the tape for her to listen to I would have been very disturbed by that. It would have been an abuse of his power.

    I have no desire to see a black woman be strong all the time. It bothered me to see Olivia in her office overwhelmed but Huck was there for her. He didn’t hold her or say much. He just stood there so she wouldn’t have to suffer alone. That is healthy vulnerability in any kind of relationship.

  • Danielle

    Black women always complaining over nothing and a tv show at that. SMFH. Seems like black ppl keep the racism and racial things in the present. And yes Im black and I said it.

  • Danielle

    Amen Afia!

  • Elegance

    Seriously? You do realize though that many woman are naturally submissive and many men are naturally dominant so when they are together this is the way things are? Plus, just because Olivia Pope is dominant at work doesn’t mean she’s like that in her social life. Some career women actually like to let go of the control outside of work, just like some powerful men like to let go of the control sometimes too. There is nothing wrong with that as long as both partners like it. You don’t have to be strong and independent all the time!

    Of course some relationships both are equally dominant or submissive but why does this show have to be that way? It doesn’t have to have a sick or twisted connotation. So what if he gave her orders…people tell each other what to do all the time! You might just be ignoring the times when Olivia told the President not to touch her, you have to go, don’t talk to me etc. Should he have asked “please take off your clothes” or taken them off for her?

    Ladies please, something is going wrong here if you are so uncomfortable with the idea of being told what to do and you instantly get defensive. Olivia could have said no. He didn’t force her to do anything. The excitement about the show is about what the President’s intentions are and if he really is in love with her. For all we know he could be lying and that’s what I want to find out. They can’t reveal everything right away lol!

  • Elegance

    Why not compare it to Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky? That was the relationship that came to mind for me watching the show because there was actually an affair with an intern and the scandal could end up with the president being impeached. Why not refer to something in the last 100 years lol? It also reminds me of JFK and rumors about him and Marylin Monroe because she supposedly was brought into the White House or he supposedly sneaked out to see her. You are referencing Sally Hemmings because she was the only mistress who was Black but most people would think about the two instances I mentioned.

    You also have some issues with control and dominance and those are your personal issues not a flaw or bias in the show.

  • African Mami

    Activism isn’t being perfect. Activism is daring to exist.

    -Listen Afia, based off that commen, my sista consider us married! YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYO!!!

    I’ve been looking for a new motto, and I just found it. PREACH SISTA PREACH OO!

  • Afia

    I personally had no problem with him telling her to take off her clothes. Well I inherently didn’t have a problem with that. Men and women tell each other to do that all the time in a sexual context.

    Him telling her to say his name on the bus bugged me a little bit. It made her uncomfortable for a plethora of reasons i.e. he is her boss which makes it inappropriate and of course they have feelings for each other. Is he domineering? A little. But I believe that he is voicing something that they both want. He is less hesitant than she is. And that’s fine. Sometimes, one has to be open in order for the other feel comfortable expressing feelings.

    Of course this all sucks since he’s married and the POTUS. Sigh.

  • Danielle

    I sooooooooooo agree with you.

  • Afia

    To African Mami:

    I’d like to revamp my initial statement:

    Activism isn’t being perfect. It is daring to exist and thrive.

    There are so many ways to resist oppression and in this case oppressive stereotypes. Olivia Pope is fictional but she like many people is imperfect. I will not police black artistry and expression. No matter what we do we will be stereotyped on and off the screen. For our own consciouses, individually and collectively all we can do is try to live and live well.

    I’ve found that the best way to defeat any kind of enemy is to live and do it as beautifully as you can. Being human is inherently imperfect. Why are white characters and white people afford the right to be imperfect? Imperfection is not a privilege. It is innately human. And damn it if Olivia Pope can have an affair, learn from it and break away I’m good. Because she’s still doing well for herself and others. We forget all the people that she helps. And there’s nothing wrong with that. If a black woman is devoted to helping even if it means overextending herself a little she’s a mammy. If another non-black woman does it she’s Mother Teresa. It’s ridiculous.

  • Alexandra

    Right! I think some Black people are just as guilty of creating impossible expectations for Black actors/actresses. I’ve noticed this for a while now; something would always be wrong. Not entirely at fault, because there’s not enough balance. However, I’m not associating Olivia Pope with negativity just yet.

    Olivia’s character is flawed, as is everyone in reality. Her weakness is a married man, and it’s been made clear that he feels the same way (probably even more), I think that’s why there’s been less discussion about the whole interracial pairing. The latest episode gave an even clearer eye opener that he is just as ‘weak’ for her. At least there’s a balance, but I’d argue he’s making one side of the balance scale heavier. Affairs are happening everyday and Black women participate in it, just as non-Black women do.

  • Elegance

    To Afia,

    “But Fitz was not the right person for her to be vulnerable with. He is married. And loving him cost her way too much. Olivia needs to be vulnerable in healthy relationship. She needs to have a voice in her relationships. If her loving someone else means that she cannot have her voice, she cannot assert herself, than that type of vulnerability is damaging.

    Let’s ignore the fact that Fitz is the president and that he is married. Let’s look at the interactions that they do have as man and woman, do they seem equal? He has a tendency to be domineering, to invade her space when she expressly asks him not to do so. That is not a vulnerability that I am a fan of. He showed up at her home with no warning uninvited. If he didn’t have the tape for her to listen to I would have been very disturbed by that. It would have been an abuse of his power.”

    I think that everyone with any moral decency is in agreement there that the relationship is WRONG because he is married. No one is arguing for that. Everyone thinks it was a mistake and that it was never going to end up well. It was horrible timing, as President he would never get divorced, this secret could ruin his presidency, it could ruin her career or even get her killed etc. The relationship was a horrible mistake! That’s why it’s good drama and I can’t think of a drama that doesn’t revolve around making mistakes, scandals, cover ups, lies, and deception. I think Shonda came up with the biggest scandal possible for the President (i.e., having an affair, getting someone pregnant, having someone murdered) and that’s what makes it great because everyone suspects such things and there have been tons of movies about these fictional scandals.

    If we ignore the fact that he is the president I have no issues with his dominating nature. I have seen TONS of romantic comedies and music videos where the man or woman shows up at the love interest’s house, flies across the country, shows up at work, rushes onto their plane, stops traffic and other things to get their partner and that is thought to be romantic. They are risking everything just to see that person and possible win them back. So maybe you are not watching enough chick flicks lol!

    Sometimes men are dominant and sometimes women are too (e.g., ripping off the man’s shirt, pushing him on the bed etc.) it just depends on the character. No they are not equal in terms of dominance but so what? Why do they have to be? I actually don’t think it’s that normal to see that in real life that both people are equally dominant/submissive, extroverted, sexual etc. Someone is always pursuing more or more interested in the relationship and Fitz wants the relationship more than she does. How do we know that his dominance towards her isn’t his own defense mechanism because he feels insecure that he will never have her? He tells her go to her room because he is unable to move himself (maybe out of fear he will lunge and try to kiss her as he did in a previous episode) and actually ask her to his room out of fear of rejection! He tells her “say my name” because he is weak in love and was probably daydreaming about hearing his name on her lips because that is all he thinks he will ever get. He was DESPERATE for her! Sometimes people who are the loudest and appear the most dominant are the MOST insecure, weak, and desperate. Because I realize all of this I don’t interpret their outward behaviours as being true representations of their inner thoughts or character.

    Another reason why it doesn’t bother me is because look at how insecure Fitz is in his conversations with his advisor and so unsure about what to do. Even the advisor thought he was being weak and pressured him to be more dominant. The dominant stuff is just his way of hiding his vulnerability. Olivia maybe does the same thing, many of us do it.

  • Alexandra

    Stacia, I love your articles and I do see where the race conversation could happen as it pertains to this show. But the comparison to Sally is too much of a stretch. I think many people have explained the difference pretty well. Freedom and respected privilege is the most obvious difference. It was made it clear on the show, that it was Olivia who left and had no plans to return. She’s not bound at all.

    The race issue did strike up with me, when Cyrus, called her a whore and made references to a gossip book. I immediately though of Karrine Steffans and Carmen Bryan. I felt uneasy about that scene and questioned if it was racial…..hmmm. I just think the race topic should be approached differently.

    I also have a question to you & other folks who watch Scandal.
    Think of Abby. Notice her personality, complaints, etc; Imagine if she was Black.
    Would she be the stereotype of the attitudinal, man complaining/blaming, bitchy, self-entitled Black woman? I would say yes. But being that she was cast White, those characteristics are bypassed. And without thinking of race, think of all the traits Olivia has? It’s so interesting to see how race could easily change the dynamic of characters…..

  • Job

    Pathetic. Unbelievable how so many women here are applauding adultery and envious that more black actress are not cast as mistresses. What sane woman views being a mistress as glamorous? Y’all on here talking about how strong Olivia Pope is, yet she is a side piece. Strong women get men to marry them. Weak women go around pretending to be strong, yet constantly failing to show the strength and discipline needed to get what they really deserve. Sad! Men don’t love mistresses. They sleep with them because they can. Powerful men have affairs because it strokes their ego further. Not because they love said woman. See Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Bill Clinton, Arnold the Terminator, Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods.

  • apple

    Sidebar ,isn’t this tv show based on a true life person. So wait that woman boned Clinton/Bush??? Spill the tea someone

  • WhatISayIs

    Interesting you feel that way. Why is Olivia comparable to a BBW?! She’s powerful, articulate, witty, forward, and more. Is it not okay for a Black woman to be these things without channeling stereotypes that aren’t ours to begin with? She should go about her business more timidly simply so she won’t seemingly conform to stereotypes she shouldn’t have to be shamed into warding off anyway- It seems that’s what you’re saying. If Olivia Pope acoomplished the same feats we see weekly a bit more tacitly, would that be okay? And, why does she have to be so tacit? If Olivia Pope were a White woman, would she still remind you of a BBW? She’s based on an actual Black woman, Judy Smith who acts as a producer for the show as well. You can see her leading Monica Lewinsky away from a grueling papparazzi in pictures on the net with a bold and definitive stance as she walks toward the crowd. If she’s happy with the way Olivia’s being portrayed, I’m completely fancied.

  • WhatISayIs

    Afia…you hit the nail on the head. Dead on! +1

  • Afia

    I’m not fond of chick flicks because they romanticize behavior that I think is problematic.

    I don’t believe in the “grand gesture” when I have set my boundaries especially when I’m in an emotionally vulnerable position. If I say that I want to be alone allow me to be alone. Don’t show up at my door when a part of me is still pining for you. Just because I feel for you, doesn’t mean that I should be with you.

    That is what I don’t like about Fitz. Olivia knew that getting close was wrong. She tried to let her mind overpower her feelings but in the end she became complicit and that was wrong.

  • Truth Hurts

    I agree. Let’s examine the quotes
    “Say my name.” This was said because he wanted to eliminate the power dynamic in their relationship. She was referring to him as Govenor. He wanted her to see him as Fitzgerald to hear the person that he seems desperately attracted to say his name. This was hardly demanding to me in a controlling sense.

    “Take off your clothes.” Come on folks. How many times have we heard this line ourselves or how many time have we instructeted someone to remove our clothes. This was not a power play. And think about the backdrop…the President had to speak in a way that confirmed a sexual encounter, and she could not speak…less there would be no need for an Amanda Tanner. What better to be said then take off your clothes, take your clothes off, whatever he said. If he had said “you feel so good” or anything else amongst her moans, would this be as racy, as damaging as hearing the leader of the free world, pun intended, say Take off your clothes. No, it simply wouldn’t.

    I don’t even want to address the others, but this article seems like it’s overly-racialized, and that lens is blurring your vision of a great show.

    Olivia command “one minute.” She dictates how long she will entertain his advances. When he tries to fire her she tells him she’d be lucky to have her, and says she’ll leave. He concedes and begs her to stay. In the episode where she wore the White dress, she’s instructing him “Don’t look at me.” There are numerous times where she commands and vice versa.

    This article was disappointing to say the least. It’s article’s like this that to me fuels the “race card” debates, and we should be more careful to examine whether we may be being a bit biased in or viewing or whether or not we can truly make an intelligble argument, all things consider. I don’t feel this article is the latter, and not simply because I’m a Scandal fan, but because this is such a one-dimensional view that doesn’t take into considerations factors other commenters have mentioned, the effects of the Pres. being Black, the show actually being based on Judy Smith, the sheer thought that goes into developing the plots of fictional works and calls for sentences like “Take your clothes off.”

  • Alexandra

    It was inspired by Judy Smith, not entirely based on her. It’s not autobiographical and it’s just for TV, she said it herself.

  • Afia

    Who is applauding adultery? We can applaud her ability to do her job well while stating that she is wrong for engaging in adultery at the the same time.

    She is imperfect. She is great in some areas and clearly foolish in others. Rhimes writes characters who have strong careers and messy personal lives. And their messy personal lives sometimes interfere with their work lives. If you are unfamiliar with her work look up characters like Meredith Grey, Christina Yang, and Miranda Bailey.

    Olivia Pope is not a complete saint. She is a woman who made a mistake and she is paying the cost for that. But she is also a woman who helps others through the work that she does as well as the people who work for her. She helped get Abby out of a physically abusive marriage. She helped get Huck off the streets.

    I dislike this tendency to resolve the cognitive dissonace we feel about a character by branding her as one thing and one thing only. No one is perfect. No one is all good or all bad.

  • MsSmith

    I agree, why aren’t we commenting on his sentiment that the one honest thing he can say about himself is that he’s in love with an incredible woman. What do we make of him saying what a coward he was not to wait for Olivia, making so desirable this Black woman yet speaking negatively about his wife, who’s typically society’s standard of beauty and righteousness. What do we make of Shonda Rhimes showing a character so desperate for power and not even her own, but that that is attached to a man’s that she would lie about losing a child.

    You zeroed in on their relationship which is a large backdrop for the sitcom, but ignored many other discussion of privilege that were tackled throughout the sitcom…the episode where the CEO’s/Board Member’s whomever’s rapist son almost gets off but for a speech from Olivia that was really her revelation about herself and the President’s relationship.

    There are so many conversations that can result from this show. Why is this one?

  • Job

    I know that you personally do not condone her actions, but I’ve read many comments that do. No one is perfect, but I think that adultery gets treated too lightly. I also feel that television tends to glamourize it. The reality is that affairs are wrong. Another reality is that affairs with powerful men are usually very one sided with the man having all the control. That’s why boss/employee relationships are unethical. The comparison to Sally Hemmings was a bit extreme, but there’s no denying that the President is the one in control. It is not a relationship of equals. He stays married and powerful as president, and she is left to suffer and figure things out. Affairs are not based on love but on selfishness. That is something I’m sure we can both agree on.

  • Tammy

    Well see heres the thing…If you have a problem with adultery you should probably not engage in watching a show like this..but I am sure you probably know that…Its called different strokes for different folks, I personally don’t agree with adultery but I also watch TV for entertainment value and as an avid viewer of soap opera’s someone having adulterous affairs on a tv show is nothing new. And as far as the black woman as mistress thing…I DO NOT have a problem with it at all…as I am sure their are loads of white women don’t have problems with white female characters being portrayed as mistresses or maybe some do…and like everyone else we are all entitled to our opinions which also goes without saying. I love the show..I love the character…I think it is high time that black women are shown as complex characters just as white women have been shown to be complex characters for years on television and as Afia pointed out this seems to be how Shonda likes to write her characters, BTW this is the first Shonda Rhimes show I have ever watched. I applaud that there can be a range of characters for black actresses instead of just having either Clair Huxtable or the crackwhore…there are shades of grey in tv characters as their are in life and this is how it should be.

  • Jamila


    “He’s giving her options, but they aren’t much of an option.”

    She always had the only real option she needed: the option to say “no” without reprisal. Olivia chose not to exercise that option. She could have even left the campaign if she had chosen to do so instead she chose to stay, feeling the tension between then.

  • Danielle

    I don’t see how he has power over her. I did not see him give her orders and there is still no comparison to Sally. I swear we black ppl sometimes are our own worse enemies, and we are one of the only race that puts our ppl down, especially women. It’s just pathetic. We tear down before we even think about lifting up. I have yet to see anyone PRAISE a black woman is the lead which is o so rare.

  • Danielle

    These types of of storylines have been around for ages. Why is it that since it’s a black women, it’s a problem? It isn’t about condoning adultry. I don’t even look at that aspect of it because it’s a tv show and entertainment. 95% of most tv shows/dramas adultry happens. So what! It goes on in the REEL/REAL world. It’s drama. Why, Why, Why do women always put down other women and never lift up. SMH!

  • Danielle

    I agree yall

  • Danielle

    I agree with you and @Malik

  • Danielle

    Stacia you are off the mark. When did he demand or command her? And seriously, you really think “take your clothes off” a command? For goodness sake they are about to get busy. No offense but your man or woman hasn’t said that to you in the heat of the moment when u are about to get busy. For real though.

  • Danielle

    I so agree with you @Truth

  • binks

    First, you can miss me with the “well if she was a white woman….” argument that doesn’t work on me. I don’t have respect for this character plain and simple like most of Shonda Rhimes’ female leads, the way I think of Olivia Pope’s digressions is the same way I thought about Meredith Grey’s character on Grey’s Anatomy, Addison on Private Practice (who I really wanted to like) and Carrie from Sex and the City when she was sloring it up with Mr. Big. I looked pass the glitz and glam when it comes to characters and if I don’t fundamentally agree with a character’s development than I don’t like them. Sure she can be witty, smart, powerful, etc. but don’t pawn her off as this fantastic example of a lead character who happens to be inspired/played by a black woman when (to me) she isn’t. It isn’t about fending off or claiming stereotypes that are not ours to begin with but PERCEPTION! I get a character very much like people are multi-dimensional, flawed and have weakness but again Rhimes repeated development of her female leads always leaves them weak in the same area and to me that is lazy and typical writing. Finally, if I was in Judy Smith’s shoes I wouldn’t be taking this show as a compliment or a nod to me but that is you and her opinion NOT mines…shrugs But you are right maybe BBW wasn’t a good example but if they were ever a Real Housewives “political wives” edition this character would be a shoe in. But whatever I don’t watch this show anymore so I don’t care.

  • Brooklynista

    MsSmith said: “You zeroed in on their relationship which is a large backdrop for the sitcom, but ignored many other discussion of privilege that were tackled throughout the sitcom…the episode where the CEO’s/Board Member’s whomever’s rapist son almost gets off but for a speech from Olivia that was really her revelation about herself and the President’s relationship.”

    Oh my goodness, I would love to focus an entire post on the episode about the CEO’s rapist son! That was BRILLIANT storytelling, and it showed that Olivia does not allow the son’s privilege to exempt him from justice…just as she no longer allows her feelings for the president to exempt him from committing to his marriage vows and ending the affair (even if his marriage IS dead, and even if he actually DOES love Livi).

  • Jloveyourself

    I am shocked by the number of readers who disagree with the context of this enlightening article. It shows we have a long way to go.

    Olivia is nothing more then an oversexualized charecter who seems smart and put together but because she has little self worth she is willing to continue an affair with a married man who obviously does not love her because if he did he would get a divorce and properly engage with her.

    Yes this comparison is highly relevant given the mass media and ongoing oversexualization of black women. Seen as nothing more then a f*****. How can we really build families and strong communities if we are only viewed and portrayed as easy, desperate for love, and willing to do anything to “make it” in america.

    If we want real progress the show could have feautured the same idea of an interracial relationship budding with a collegue or other character etc. Unfortunately, because these shows are made to attract folks looking for high drama and ratings the producer decided to take the easy way out without recognizing the true implications of perpetuating black women as prostitutes (yes I said it!)

    Olivia is nothing more then a call girl, she can probably attribute the majority of her business leads to her relationship to the president. And yes it is still trickin if you got it!!!

    As black women we need to remain militant in making sure our society has a diverse view of who black women are. Not all of us sleep are way to the top, we are committed to our families, respect others relationships, and love ourselves enough to wait for the right guy to treat us with the love, care, and devotion we truly deserve!

  • Bee

    Word. It blows my mind as well, many of the comments on this post. I agree with you completely. We have a long way to go.

  • Brooklynista

    I don’t think it’s that black and white (pun intended). Olivia’s clearly conflicted about the affair. If she was portrayed as a shameless floozy who is blatantly chasing power via presidential pen!s (which IS the case with the president’s white wife, hello!), then I could see your point. But that’s not the case. Livi and Fitz actually ARE in love, which is what gives their drama more gravity than a mere fling. I totally get what you’re saying about media representations of Black women, but I don’t think Scandal fits your hypothesis at all. Actually, I find Scandal deliciously subversive in so many ways. Example: oversexualized is one thing, desirable quite another. There are plenty of BW on tv who are presented as hypersexual, but very few who are presented as desirable i.e. someone a man would jump through hoops, risk his life, career, etc. to be with. The tragedy in Olivia and Fitz’s case is that Fitz can never be with Olivia – despite how much he desires her. This line says it all: “What kind of a coward was I to marry her and not wait for you to show up?” Olivia’s desirability is never called into question, and neither is her job competency. She would have had the caliber of clientele she has whether or not she slept with the president, because she’s great at her job and everyone within a six block radius of her knows it. I think you give too little credit in how this character has been written. She’s nurturing without being Mammified, sensual and tastefully sexy rather than Jezebelish, and tough talking on the job without Sapphiric overtones.

  • ItsJustTV

    This is the problem with the world. Far to often, people see color. God made us all! We are all brown. Just different shades. No one is white and no one is black. Just all different shades of brown. It is this thinking that got Trayvon killed. It is this thinking that prevents us as a people from moving on. It’s sad. Lastly, who is to say Sally Hemings and Jefferson weren’t really in love? Nobody knows the dynamics there. All we know is they were in the same time and space and shared something. Pope and Fitzgerald are characters on a television show. They are human. What makes good TV is the human aspect. Married people cheating happens all the time. Nobody is perfect. I definitely prefer the human aspect the writer is giving us as opposed to the reality TV shows that have taken over under the guise of being authentic! Its just good old fashioned writing. It’s not real. Lighten up folks!

  • ItsJustTV

    Thank you. I’m tired of hearing/seeing black people complain about anything they can. We got to do better. It’s Just very proud of my people and how far we’ve come but the constant complaining is depressing. It’s just TV and I am happy for Kerry Washington and th cast!

  • ItsJustTV

    If you guys want o complain about how we are portrayed…please go over to VH1. They are oing a bang up job over there…Basketball Wives, Housewives of Atlanta etc….now that’s done thing to complain about and get this…it’s not “made up” it’s all reality” ha!

  • Afia

    To Stacia L. Brown:

    Domineering can be good add bad. “Take of your clothes” geez that happens all the time. I think that he caught Olivia off guard not because he told her to take off her clothes but because they stopped. But clearly the got back into the groove of things.

    Him telling her to say his name or go into her room was a little eh. But I’m not going to lose sleep over that. They both wanted this. Fitz was forceful and Olivia was not. This happens in a lot relationships. Fitz could have been apprehensive but if Olivia pushed it then we’d be screaming Jezebel more than we already are.

    Relationships are complicated. Nothing about this relationship is clear cut in the least. It certainly doesn’t harken to Hemmings and Jefferson not even the romanticized vile that people expect us to believe.

  • Afia

    Of course the author of this articles wants us to have this conversation. It’s the elephant in the room I just believe that it was approached haphazardly and rudely.

    There are so many things that we can tackle with this show but instead we’re choosing to focus on the negative and make it something that it is not. Never mind that we’re seeing a black woman lead a series on primetime. Never mind that character is dynamic, and complicated, and flawed.

    Nope. Let’s compare her to a former slave.

    I’m all for discussing white privilege. I do it all the time. But this was not a discussion of what privilege. This was a way to get people talking. And the author did just that. She came with something like Sally Hemings and this topic is one of the most popular on Clutch.


  • Job


    This is exactly what I’m talking about. Women and men see affairs through different lenses. It’s so easy to take advantage of women if you say the right things. Feed an insecure woman some cheesy line like the one you quoted and she will believe you love her. Being President gives Fitz a convenient excuse and justification to stay married while cheating with Olivia. Even if Fitz were not President, he wouldn’t leave his wife for her. He would probably find another excuse to not leave his wife like most cheaters do. Mistresses are not desirable. Men jump through hoops, give up all other women and make a lifetime commitment to a desirable woman, not use her as a sex buddy. The reality is that mistresses like Olivia are living breathing toys for men who want the thrill of exciting sex and a tremendous ego stroke. Olivia is a side piece, jump-off whatever you want to call it. Only women with low self-esteem fantasize that they are something more and that the cheater loves them.

  • Mr Jay

    Actually Sally Hemmings had the excuse of her fate not being in her hands.

  • Tammy

    Sounds like you are putting way to much into a tv show that is meant for entertainment purposes….This show no more makes me want to go out and sleep with a married man (BTW I am already married myself and have been for almost 11 years) than playing Grand Theft Auto video games makes me want to go out and shoot and kill prostitutes and steal their money. Really please just GMAB!

  • Amber

    I think this article a SUPER stretch on the Sally Hemmings front. Name a major network television show with two black leads that has drawn viewers to sustain it……right.

  • Lynette

    Someone on the television without pity forum for Scandal keeps beating the Sally Hemming horse. Wonder if it’s the author of this article. Either way, she/they need to let it go.

  • RP

    This article is reaching. I mean, REALLY reaching! :/

  • Bee

    @Job, who said: “Women and men see affairs through different lenses. It’s so easy to take advantage of women if you say the right things. Feed an insecure woman some cheesy line like the one you quoted and she will believe you love her.” THANK YOU! That was the weakest most played out line in my opinion, and I wondered how many women viewers fell for it. I agree with you!

    @Tammy: It’s just entertainment? And your point is……..? I mean, minstrel shows were just supposed to be entertainment for white folks in the 19th and 20th centuries, but we all know that sh*t was way bigger than “just entertainment.” When are people going to understand that nothing in our media culture is just entertainment? There is a rhetoric, a sales pitch, behind everything in the media. And to sell things in this country we usually depend on insidious biases (racial biases, sexist biases, anti-gay biases, etc.). It is not just entertainment. People only use that “it’s just entertainment” excuse when they don’t want to discuss the real implications of something they enjoy – so let’s just admit that instead of using intellectually dishonest and dismissive arguments like “it’s just entertainment.” I’m just saying…

  • Tammy

    @Stacia…well I suppose she coulda told him to “kiss her black ass” when he told her to go to her room…But she obviously enjoyed the sex play and reciprocated by going to his room…Seriously I just don’t see how in any way shape or form he has any more privilege than her….His privileged is only a privilege that SHE allows, the moment she is tires of it and him …His ass will be gone…LOL

  • T

    The fact that you are willing to attack the first show that’s cast a Black women as it’s lead in almost 30 years based on everything that makes the show what it is says more about you than it does about the show. This is a drama and it’s not meant to reflect the real world. Since when is art supposed to imitate life? Barack Obama is not just your President he’s is the President of all Americans of all races. And you claiming him for yourself doesn’t help anyone of any race. Then you go on to call Kerry Washington’s character Sally Hemmings just because the President isn’t Black, that only shows how absurd your argument is. I can’t tell if your more offended by the inter-racial relationship or the fact that it’s an adulterous affair. Maybe if you spent a little less attacking show you might see some of the good in it. Olivia Pope is a powerful women in the political capital of the world, she is the most important woman in to the President of the United Stated and she happens to be Black. Before Barack Obama became President I don’t think we could have seen a character like that on American television, there are plenty of people who don’t want this show succeed it’s a shame we have people of color trying to take successes away from us just because they don’t fit your perfect model. FYI Barack Obama isn’t perfect either, that doesn’t mean he should lose his job.

  • Angela

    None of the characterations in Scandal are depedent on the person’s race. You can put
    any actor in these roles. Rachael McAdams can play Olivia Pope. Lucy Liu can play
    Olivia Pope. Eva Mendes can play Olivia Pope. But the moment its Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope, here comes in the influx of ‘blah blah jezebel blah blah mammy blah blah slavery blah blah’ articles.

  • Angela

    Have you even watched the show? She is not a “side piece”. Bringing up real life celebrities bares no meaning or relevance in this FICTIONAL story where this FICTIONAL character does happen to actually love another woman.

  • Angela

    I’d really love to know when and where does Olivia ever 1) Sleep her way to the top
    2) Is over-sexualized 3) Prostitutes herself. Oh I forgot, black women are not allowed to have sex because that makes her a “jezebel”. Not to mention they can’t be attractive either because that makes her a “Sapphire”. Wait no, if she’s NOT attractive than she is an asexual “mammy”! Oh what do we do? I know, lets not put black people on television altogether. WAIT NO THAT WOULD BE RACIST! Haha.

  • Angela

    OK, I was with you until you brought up there being possible “love” between Jefferson and Hemmings. Sally was a 14 year old slave. That is rape.

  • Shazza

    Sorry but the Olivia Pope charactor is just too powerful in her own right to make this a valid argument. She’s not being forced and is entering into this relationship of her own free will. Whether it’s a wise romantic choice is another thing but I’m not going to be self-rightous or judgemental about what is basically a fantasy storyline. It’s brillant casting with the Olivia/Fitz relationship is the fire under the entire series.

  • Out of Sight

    I think the scene was created to play off of Steven Soderbergh’s movie Out of Sight. Rhimes used the exact same music from the scene with Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney when they finally got it on after the infamous restaurant scene.

    I think the stacatto command thing that Stacia is saying is meant to be domineering is really suppose to mimic the freeze framing Soderbergh used to make his original one in Out of Sight famous.

    Did anyone else notice the wink at that scene? I saw it clearly. .

    I think the Sally Hemings thing is really sad. .. Why not just enjoy it?

  • Christine

    This article is a stretch, a reach, and a BIT MUCH… please take a seat.. matter fact, I will go find you one. Please stop being a crab in a barrel and trying to “gear” this site towards women and feminine solidarity and the first chance you get you start to BASH…

  • Danielle Johnson

    @Job, it is just entertainment. Tammy is absolutely correct along with a lot of other comments.

  • Cocoa

    I think it was important to NOT have the philandering president portrayed by a Black man…

  • BloominLotus

    By the Episode 3 “Scandal” reminded me of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.
    Thank you for writing this piece.

  • Toni

    The name of the show is SCANDAL! Goodness! Why would self-righteous people watch a show with this title if you can’t handle it???? Why go looking for something to critique and as if you were set up and surprised that *gasp* the show is scandalous? Lol! Smh.

  • Gigi

    Ugh!Why are we as black people never satisfied? When we don’t have enough black characters on TV then we complain. For the first time in a long time, we have a smart, interesting, desirable black female character on a hit show and we compare them to a slave?Smh!

    Also this is entertainment and the show is called ‘Scandal’, obviously its going to be Scandalous, and as a lot people pointed out, Liv’s character could be played by a woman of any race and it wouldn’t have made a difference. I am actually glad the show has not chosen the whole race angle. Fitz and Olivia’s race is NEVER brought up. It’s just two people caught up in a complicated love triangle, they could have been white, black, Asian, Hispanic or what ever. It doesn’t matter!

    To me it reminds me of The Bodyguard, also a forbidden love story where there was a white man and a black woman couple, yet race was never discussed. That role could have been for an actress of any race, it wouldn’t have mattered. So this slave thing is ridiculous, stop over analyzing and ruining a good show.

  • Elle

    This is the most ridiculous article I have read. I’m new this site and appreciated some of the articles. But this article….yeah I’m cosigning with other people and saying that you reached so far out. The back story clearly presented Olivia and Fritz as two soulmates who have bad timing. Olivia is her own woman and there is no submissive-dominant element to their relationship. These are two equals who cannot be together.

  • Kathleen Cross

    Olivia Pope is a grown-ass, free black woman making decisions about where to invest her heart. The name of the show is SCANDAL. It is FICTIONAL ENTERTAINMENT.

    Sally Hemmings was the 14-year-old property of a US President. Her REAL LIFE powerlessness may have entertained Jefferson, but I wouldn’t watch a show about it.

    Scandal, on the other hand? FAN! Get ‘em, Kerry!

  • Robby

    This article is a bit of a stretch. God forbid when a black woman dates a white man or is portrayed as dating one in real life, this slave/master shit comes up. Over it. Usually it is black men who bring it up and ironically, sometimes it is black men who date white women. LOL! Also, Pope’s character worked for Clinton AND Bush. And, are you for real? Last week’s episode totally showed us that the president and his wife had a contentious relationship before they were in the White House. The president and Olivia totally have chemistry! Most people on my timeline last week were saying how hot it was, men and women of all races. If anything, OLIVIA has the president wrapped around HER finger. In fact, it seems like Olivia almost checks herself and pulls herself away from the president because she knows that he is so in love with her. He seems a bit fragile at times like he is just ready to say “F*** it, let’s run away together.” LOL But, I digress…I feel the author and some people are “uncomfortable” with an interracial relationship. Also, maybe because Kerry has been known to date white men in real life are causing some crabs in the..(ahem, clears throat), I mean, causes some people to not like it and be extra critical. You could at least wait until the season is over, see where the writers are taking us before you rush to this judgment. Support Kerry’s debut! #ScandalStan

  • Robby

    I feel like the author and some of the commenters are not watching the same show as everyone else. Hmmm…first, if she was a side-piece, then how come his right hand man did not even know about the affair. I am sure Clinton had some “handlers” who helped him facilitate his meetings with Monica. The fact the President’s right hand man was shocked tells me that a.) He realized that he doesn’t really KNOW everything about the president; and b.) It wasn’t just a casual relationship. Second, Someone said why doesn’t he get a divorce. He is the PRESIDENT! Plus, there goes the storyline. Third, I do not condone adultery. However, I believe that people assume they now everything about a marriage when no one but the couple TRULY know what is happening in their marriage. Also, people often assume that the person cheating with the married person is somehow in a worse, more painful position. But, they never stop to consider that the married person is probably in just as much, if not MORE pain because they are trapped in it, at least the single person can move on. Relationships, sex, people are so layered and complex. This is what I like about the show.

  • Nadia

    Thanks for writing this article. Most of the comments seem to be in the negative, but I enjoyed reading it. Thought provoking to say the least. I admit that I don’t (and haven’t) really watched Grey’s Anatomy, but I think that the only prominent African-American characters on that show are a male doctor involved in an inter-racial relationship with a Caucasian female, and a woman who is a mentor for the “new recruits”, most of whom are Caucasian. She didn’t seem to have much of a social life beyond work. Some could see the latter as a “Mammy” figure (and please don’t attack for my lack of expertise on Grey’s!). Now, we have Olivia Pope. I did see the most recent episode of Scandal, and didn’t like it. I considered that I haven’t seen the series, but this episode seemed to be a a type of “wrap-up” before a finale (season, series or otherwise). I think I would’ve preferred if Olivia was more of a static power-broker, and not besotted with the married, white Republican president. Perhaps I’m too aware of our current political atmosphere, which is very serious, and cannot completely remove myself and perspective from fiction to reality. I also think that I would have a more objective view of a character like Olivia Pope were it not for the scarcity of African-American women in significant roles on prime time television, which is probably the worst criticism. Why is Olivia Pope okay, and not the breadth of humanity that the African-American community can represent, beyond stereotype and assumption? Are we to think that Olivia Pope is the only acceptable African-American female character to present in a lead role? It would help to see more African-American women in roles of power that are not trenchant in roles of “Jezebel” variants. Olivia Pope can be a power broker for the Republican party, but I’d also like to see her counterpart that is not yelling at Caucasian subordinates who are the real stars of the show (The Mentalist, etc). However, I never disregard or mind someone’s statement or writing to the contrary that makes me re-think my opinions. For this reason, I’m appreciative of all the comments that differ from my own. I’m not attacking Shonda Rhimes for her success, nor Kerry Washington. I only wish there were more African-Americans on television that really represent our total community. We can be fathers, mothers, a-holes, presidents, janitors, etc. We can be the stars and headliners, in dramas as wells as comedies and “realities”, without fighting and snatching each others’ wigs/weaves off. Yes, there are African-Americans that fill these roles on various shows, but we’re not the stars. Far too often, we’re the sidekicks, lieutenants angry at the rebellious Caucasian subordinate, rarely seen wife, “wild-card” partner, etc. So again, thanks for this. I don’t see anything wrong with “Olivia Pope”. What I think is wrong is that her counterparts in character and depiction are nowhere to be seen. Where are they?

  • Delawareldy

    I think you’re reaching. First we complain about there not being enough roles for black women. Then here we have a black women in a role that could have been played by a white women and you invent some racial narrative that isn’t there. What would your commentary be if the cast was all white?…. Crickets…

  • Pingback: Give ‘Em a Break | Musings of a (Recovering) Strong Black Woman

  • Pingback: ‘Scandal’ Recap: Hopes, Prayers and What the Hells | Parlour Magazine

Latest Stories

Watch: ‘Black People Mate’ a Parody About the Ridiculous Stats on Black Women & Dating


University President Under Fire for Wanting to Make School Less White In the Future


Taraji P. Henson Says European Men Are Less ‘Bitter’ and ‘Jaded’ Than American Men


Style Inspiration: Casual Work Outfits

Read previous post:
Mother’s Day and Loss: How to Be Supportive
What is the Purpose of Marriage?