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?

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  • 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

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • Danielle

      Amen Jessi

  • 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)!

    • Danielle

      I feel you, I feel you

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