‘Scandal’ Exploits Black Women’s Images?

This TV season's stereotypes are "masquerading as something new," says media insider Tom Burrell.


The thing that both that show and Revolution are saying is that we are really at a point where the race issue is over. The impact of that is that it distracts us and keeps us away from realizing that we still have racial issues to deal with in this country.

And Revolution is a show about a post-apocalyptic world, 15 years after some devastating event like a nuclear bomb or something. Giancarlo Esposito is in the starring role, and while he is kind of an angry black man, he is a very smart one, and he basically goes around slapping white guys, in a position of authority, not an outlaw, but just a tough taskmaster. It really says, “We’re in a postracial period.” By and large, that representation is natural, or slightly positive. That makes it the best thing I’ve seen thus far this season.

TR: Better than Scandal?

TB: I’ve got major problems with Scandal. It comes dressed up and masqueraded as something new, but Scandal is basically a continuing perpetuation of the stereotype of a black woman whose libido and sexual urges are so pronounced that even with an education and a great job, and all these other things, she can’t control herself. So, she’s basically a reincarnation of Bess from Porgy and Bess; she’s the female in Monster’s Ball; she’s the sexual predator and aggressor. It basically plays into the whole sexual stereotype of black women that’s been around from the very beginning, and that basically gives permission for them to be sexually exploited.

TR: So, on balance, when it comes to the images of black women on the show, you believe the negative sexual stereotypes outweigh the positive things — like her intelligence, power and professionalism?

TB: Yes. The intelligence and professionalism let us go in under this pretext. But the message that is really being delivered is that no matter how much education you get and how much power you get, you’ve still got that “around the way girl” in you. It’s basically saying that black women are innately, inherently, hot to trot. He doesn’t seduce her. She seduces him.

TR: Aren’t most people on television these days — regardless of race or gender — kind of “hot to trot,” though?

TB: Black people are not dark-skinned white people. We are not in the same position as white people. We don’t have the luxury of doing what they do. When they do something, they get a pass. When we do something, we are reinforcing stereotypes and we are keeping people in their place, which is not an equal place. Until that deficit is made up, we have to overcompensate. You know, in the old days, when you put black people on television, it was to increase your black audience … now I think they’re putting black people in these roles to entertain white people, as opposed to drawing a larger black audience.