So I know I have been doing a lot of TV show centered posts lately but TV has a major influence over how blackness is perceived in America. As a black man in America, TV is responsible for the stereotypes that have been created about me. TV narratives that have dehumanized black people over the years have allowed for many people to disregard black lives bringing us to the current situation we are in with the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The truth is TV has made people feel comfortable with not caring for black people aside for the few outliers. These TV centered posts are designed to highlight black representation that is changing the narrative concerning blackness and that is why I am surprised no one has paid attention to Alfre Woodard’s portrayal as President Constance Payton in State of Affairs. Now many critics are writing off this show because they claim it to be a copy of Homeland, I am not one of those people (I for one actually enjoy the story line plus I heard Homeland has some racist elements so I’m not interested). But regardless of how this show’s standing is with critics Alfre Woodard’s character is important to recognize and critically analyze. After all what is not the “pinnacle of success” (success comes in many forms) but for a black woman to be elected to one of the most powerful positions in the World?
So I will not go into details of what Woodard’s character does necessarily, you should watch the show for that, but in the Olivia Pope Age the way black women are portrayed has shifted slightly. There are still elements of stereotypes in them but we also get to see new sides of black women as leaders at the top of their game. Woodard’s character is no different, as president she is handling an ongoing onslaught from terrorists attacking the US. Aside from being a powerful president who formerly served in the Army, we are able to see Payton struggle with personal issues such as the death of her son and the trouble it causes with her husband played by Courtney Vance. This is a new byproduct of the Olive Pope generation of black women on TV, sure you had elements of this before but for some reason I can’t explain this group of women is different.
Alfre Woodard’s role is especially important considering that we are now in the sixth year of Obama as the country’s first black president (yes he’s mixed but he has more widely claimed blackness than whiteness). In the Obama Era we have seen the band aid that was covering America’s racism removed and an increase in anti-black sentiment became overt, just look at the tweets that came out when he was reelected or just scroll down the comment sections on any news article about him. Many would not claim to be racist but the whole birther movement and the disrespect he has received is rooted in deeply ingrained racist ideas about blackness and black men. (I saw a sign from the Romney 2012 campaign that said “Let’s put the white man back in the White House”). Obama aside, the idea of a black woman in charge of the nation would provide a different level of criticism. In addition to racist language a black female president would have to deal with sexism as well. Now Payton does receive criticism in the show just like a president would but it seems as if her critics are more opposed to her politics than more sinister motivations although in reality racism and sexism would play a role both overtly and subtly. Payton isn’t the main character of the show, that is Katherine Hiegl, but it would be interesting to see a show explore the dynamics of a black woman President of the United States of America. I can imagine what the comments would say about her. There would most likely be comments claiming her to be a slut or sexually lewd drawing from the Jezebel stereotypes or comments that she is too bossy and stiff drawing from the Sapphire stereotype . There would be comments that she needs to know her place in the kitchen, home, etc. Like President Obama she would face the more subtle racist/sexist critiques that she is incompetent and unable to lead and protect the nation so let’s impeach her. Though the show does not get into these details they are important to consider. Just look at how Michelle Obama’s body has been up for critique with people calling her fat (WHAT?!) and making inappropriate comments about her butt. There is also a historical context to this critique of black women and their bodies that is global in scope. The whole body critique is why some people see Olivia Pope’s relationship with Fitz as problematic.
So though I haven’t seen anyone else do it I’d like to commend Alfre Woodard on breaking new ground for black representation on TV. Considering this is Black History Month the idea of having a black woman as president is something we should look forward to in the future yet her election would not remove racism or sexism from the country creating psuedo post-racial or post-sexist societies. Woodard probably didn’t intend to do this but her portrayal raises several questions that we as a society need to consider about what a black woman at the helm of the US would look like. If President Obama can create such a stir I can only imagine what a black woman would endure. The black feminists out there should get on this!
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