'Scandal' Fans: Guilty by Association?

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Still of Tony Goldwyn and Kerry Washington in Scandal (IMDB.com)

(The Root) — I love Scandal.

The storylines are incredibly addictive; the show has a great blend of humor and drama; and the chemistry between Kerry Washington's Olivia Pope and Fitzgerald "Fitz" Grant (Tony Goldwyn), the married love of Olivia's life — and president of the United States — is crazy.

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However, since the ABC show's debut last spring, it's obvious that Pope and her "scandalous" behavior have polarized some of us. For some black folks, myself included, Pope is a breath of fresh air, a character who is flawed, like all human beings, but nuanced and complicated — a rarity in black female representation. For others, Pope is a hypersexualized "whore" who compromises herself for men — the norm in black female representation.

But lately I've noticed a bothersome trend: Whether on Twitter, Facebook threads or memes being circulated to spark conversation, it's now the character of black women who watch the show, not Olivia Pope, that is coming into question.

One meme that blew up on Facebook, especially among my friends, really struck me. It is an image of an African-American woman arguing with her African-American boyfriend, saying, "Chicks be like I hate infidelity." Underneath it is an image of Pope and Fitz with the sentence, "But on Thursdays be like Awwwww." At first I laughed, because it was funny. But it was shocking to see just how many people were co-signing on to women like me being hypocrites.

Another incident included a Facebook friend who asked his married female friends who "romanticize" the relationship between Pope and Fitz if they would do the same if it were their husband. His question sparked a heated debate in which one hostile married black woman insinuated that anyone who was vocally passionate about liking the show was probably "single and bitter and doesn't respect the sanctity of marriage."

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Since when did what we watch automatically mirror who we are or what we believe? The two are not always mutually exclusive.

I can love Claire Danes' character Carrie Mathison on Homeland, but that doesn't mean I agree with her morally bankrupt choices. I can adore Michael C. Hall's title character on Dexter, but in no way does that mean I co-sign on to being a serial killer. I can even swoon over reruns of The Wire's Idris Elba as Stringer Bell, the finest drug kingpin ever to grace the small screen; it doesn't mean I think that selling drugs is OK.

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Yet conveniently, the rules change when a black female character is involved. Now, because Pope's behavior is deemed questionable and problematic — much of what makes up current award-winning roles — all of a sudden an indictment is handed down on our collective character for consuming these images.

Meanwhile, no one else has to live up to that same high moral standard.

What gives?

Part of this nonsense plays into the old sport of pathologizing and demonizing black women. Remember the awful "Black Marriage Negotiations" and that entire "Black women are single because there is something wrong with us" conversation? Proving that we are immoral and/or unworthy never really goes away; it just reincarnates itself into different arguments within different topics.

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But something else is going on.

Perhaps this hostility toward us (and Pope) is less about the fact that she is sleeping with a married man and more about the fact that black female fans are cooing over this affair she is having with a white man. Perhaps we are being punished for recognizing that while "black love" is beautiful, it's not the only love allotted to black women.

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Granted, it's more complicated than that. Even in 2013, the very thought of sexual desire between white men and black women still invokes a sense of "master and slave" and the dangers of the white male gaze. But Olivia and Fitz's relationship doesn't read as Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson (despite Olivia's reference to the infamous couple in one episode).

It's not even giving us Monster's Ball. Not even close.

And while Pope may not be the leader of the free world, she sure as hell is running Washington, D.C. She calls the shots. She has an office of people who do what she tells them to do. The Hill begs her to fix their problems. And most important, Fitz loves her as much as she loves him.

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She's nobody's victim. She's nobody's Jezebel.

Yes, I understand and share a similar dissatisfaction with the media's take on us. We should never stop being critical because so many of "our" stories are not created by us, for us — and sometimes even when they are, the end results are one-dimensional, stereotypical characters who are either drug dealers, crackheads, criminals or sexual objects.

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This desire for "model citizen" imagery makes sense, but will respectability politics really solve our representation problem? Maybe the solution is to call for a range of images that convey the good, bad and ugly of who we are — the exact same as white characters.

Obviously, the disagreement around black representation — and whether or not Scandal and the women who love it are "bad" — won't be resolved by the time the show returns from a brief hiatus this week. The good news: The sanctified don't have to watch it — they have Mary Mary. I hear it's back for a new season. All I ask is that the critics keep the Olivia Pope debate civil and fair and our character out of it.

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Kellee Terrell is an award-winning, Chicago-based freelance writer who writes about race, gender, health and pop culture. Terrell is currently working on her MFA in screen directing at the Columbia College of Chicago. She also blogs about health for BET.com. Follow her on Twitter.

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