There’s a reason why we need more Black and Brown journalists. When writing about race (especially in media), Black and Brown writers possess an esoteric splash of cultural competency that intertwines finesse, experience, and diversity while reporting the facts. All too often, when well-intentioned white or non-Black writers talk race, they reinforce certain stereotypes that Black writers actively avoid.
Case in point, this offensive article published on the New York Time’s website.
Alessandra Stanley, chief television critic for the paper of record, published an article highlighting how Shonda Rhimes reshaped the perception of Black women on television by way of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and the new How To Get Away With Murder, starring the talented Viola Davis. As noble an analysis Rhimes’ contributions offer, Stanley began her piece as such:
Ummm … really?
The article continues with the same offensive prejudicial rhetoric that Stanley ironically criticizes. Stanley writes “Ms. Rhimes has embraced the trite but persistent caricature of the Angry Black Woman, recast it in her own image and made it enviable. She has almost single-handedly trampled a taboo even Michelle Obama couldn’t break.”
With every paragraph, Stanley delivers cringe-worthy “analysis” that teeters on the edge of white gaze and paternalism. Her article, which is little more than a backhanded attempt at a diversified perspective, reinforces a tired narrative that skews and disjoints Black women in the public space.
Her piece left many Black women exasperated. Even Shonda Rhimes.
As Black women, we need to write our own stories. Our history, experience, politic, and Blackness encompass a deeply unique circumstance in which our agency is compromised by numerous channels of oppression. From racism to misogyny, the methods by which we challenge our marginalization are comprehensive. Our survival is holistic; touching into a microcosm of realms that others simply cannot fully understand, respect, or empathize with.
That’s why so many Black female bodies are appropriated with relative ease. And that’s why TV critics who write for esteemed newspapers feel compelled, if not entitled, to write tone deaf articles about a culture that never took the patience or humility to even attempt to understand.