Besides “Swamp People” and “Mad Men,” my favorite show is “Scandal.” Olivia Pope is the main character who’s known for “erasing” Beltway bigwigs’ career-threatening indiscretions. Impossibly beautiful, wicked-smart, put-together and cool as a cucumber, Olivia’s also in an on-again, off-again, rain-forest-steamy affair with the President of the United States. The married President of the United States. The white, married President of the United States. And he is yummy. But I digress.
Olivia Pope is black, which in this context, is an important fact. Personally, part of the show’s appeal is that color is immaterial to an already absorbing plot line that never descends into cheap racial characterizations or stereotypes. But I’m betting race will become an issue in the coming weeks. Not from within the show itself, but from the fans.
Here’s why: Olivia and the POTUS have put their relationship on ice (sort of) and a new love interest has appeared on the scene for our heroine. And he’s white too.
See where this is going yet?
Pretty soon, I’m sure there will be outcries of “Why can’t Olivia find a black man?” or “Why does Olivia only date white men?” Then outrage. Mixed couples and matchey-match couples will defend their choices on daytime TV and before you know it, Soledad O’Brien’s next CNN special will be Interracial Dating: Who’s Doing It and Why; Who Won’t Do It and Why Not. Just mark my words and put on your Gallagher-splatter jackets now because the messy talk is on its way.
The only reason I know it’s coming is because I’ve lived it. At least a little.
Jamie and I were both in our thirties when we got married, which means I was on the dating scene for some time before we tied the knot. (Too long for my liking because I hate dating.) Some – not all – of the pre-Jamie guys I dated happened to be white. This wasn’t intentional. In fact, I never even thought about it. I was just looking for someone who had similar musical taste, a dry-snarky sense of humor and common sense. And who was also not a stalker. Or a pathological liar. Or an embezzler. And good-looking. Definitely good-looking. If I’m being honest here, good-looking was probably higher on the priority list than it should’ve been, but um…yeah.
Anyway…during that time, I’d overhear comments like:
“Hrmmpf. She must think she’s too good for a black man.”It'd make a twinge of embarrassment momentarily shudder down my spine only to be quickly replaced by indignation. They don't even know me. Do they have any idea that any man of any race potentially wears an invisible LOSER tattoo on his forehead that only materializes after a few months of dating? And for pete’s sake, if they want to cast any kind of judgment, why can’t they at least make it positive; or have they bought into negative images of black men so wholly that they can’t even bring themselves to think “Poor thing, she doesn’t think she’s good enough for a black man.” Then I’d think: Screw you. You’ve got issues.
After we were married I got smacked with this gem:
“Yeah. (indignant snort, condescending smile) Your husband looks just like I thought he would. (indignant snort again, head nod) You would be married to someone like him.”
That was from someone to whom I proudly showed our family picture after seeing the person for the first time in over ten years. It stung, because I knew this person well enough to know they were using the comment’s ugly subtlety to put my “blackness” on trial. I flashed back to good-natured jibes about me “dancing like a white girl” and thought maybe they weren’t so good-natured after all in retrospect. I knew the comment was intended to question my “authenticity,” as if my authenticity rested upon getting out there and matching up mate colors to prove how black I really am. Our miss-matchiness blinded them to the fact that I finally found someone who brought out the happy and settled in me. It was disappointing. You’d think at the very least, they would’ve commented on Jamie’s good-looks and what an adorable couple we made.
So I’ve been there; and if I could say anything to the out-cryers and out-ragers, it’d be what I've wanted to say to all the sigh-ers, hrrmpf-ers, and tsk-tskers who’ve crossed my path at one point or another in the past and will cross my path in the future:
The only statement that mixed couples are making is that they’re like everyone else, and just trying to find the person who’s right for them. Skin color is immaterial to them...and to the plot.