“Is Olivia Pope the New Sally Hemings?” Stacia L. Brown’s question as penned in a recent article in Clutch Magazine has gained little traction. Most responses to her question have been a resounding “NO.” Online commenters tend to think the comparison is a huge stretch for a number of reasons including a few listed here:
- Olivia and television’s “Scandal’s” President Fitzgerald Grant (Fitz) are fictional characters. Sarah “Sally” Hemings and her slave-owning lover, President Thomas Jefferson, were actual people.
- Olivia is not a slave; she’s a powerfully influential business owner. Ms. Hemings lived her entire life literally owned by other people. (While she died in 1835 residing with her two sons, historians report that neither President Jefferson nor his heirs ever officially granted her freedom.)
- Olivia, a fully grown and educated professional woman, consents to her relationship with Fitz. Historians attest that Ms. Hemings was about 14 years old when she began her romantic relationship with President Jefferson. Even accounting for women marrying at younger ages in past eras, Ms. Hemings’ age and slave status call to serious question her ability to consent to such a relationship.
While Ms. Brown’s comparison does not receive much support for the sake of online debates, it does raise a critical question.
Olivia may be independent, but is she free?
Are any of us black women, descendants of slaves, free if we cannot love any man we choose (adultery and other betrayals of commitment aside) without attracting comments and inquiries regarding our choices? The attraction of these comments and inquiries indicate that we don’t choose, no matter how tangibly successful we are, on a level playing field. This conversation is certainly a reality check; black women are still connected to the vestiges of American slavery.
When will a black woman be free enough to love whomever she chooses?
Perhaps creative work like “Scandal” and Shonda Rhimes’ other shows (Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice) advance us toward true freedom. Ms. Rhimes’ characters and storylines never hinge upon race. Whenever race happens to be a factor in a story, it isn’t magnified and is done as one feature in a larger picture. We know from history that music, arts in general, and sports help connect us across boundaries like race. These connections assist in reducing and eventually dissipating the issue of color lines forever.
Bravo, kudos, and AMEN to Olivia Pope, the cast of Scandal, Shonda Rhimes and all others associated with this fabulous show! Olivia is not today’s Ms. Hemings, but because Sally Hemings was, we are.
Ms. Brown’s article was written prior to Scandal’s season finale, so she didn’t have an opportunity to take into account the final scenes. In these scenes Ms. Rhimes seems to hint that President Grant’s wife is aware of and supports her husband’s relationship with Olivia. When Grant’s presidency is threatened, she tells Olivia something like, “Because you didn’t do your job, now, I have to take my husband back.”
Scandal FLOTUS’ support of the extramarital relationship reminds me of another complex trio – Hagar, Sarah, and Abraham from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Again, in this story, the dark-skinned mistress is a slave and without full citizens’ rights. And just like what may be happening in the Scandal world, Sarah not only approved of the affair, she orchestrated it.
What do you think about that?
LINKS for your consideration:
- Stacia L. Brown’s Article in Clutch Magazine
- The Root’s Re-post of Ms. Brown’s Article
- CNN’s Story Celebrating the First Black Female Lead on a Major Network in Nearly 40 Years
© 2012 candi dugas, llc