Why There Will Never Be A Black Male Olivia Pope
You know, I do sympathize with those annoyed by how Scandal (and, more recently, Being Mary Jane) seems to dominate the conversation in Black digital spaces. I can imagine it being even more nerve-wracking for people who have no interest in either show. Thing is, the place they have in our cultural zeitgeist is less about the show itself than the fact that, while people may not know an Olivia Pope or a Mary Jane Paul (or aspire to be either), they represent a version (well, an extreme version) of an archetype very many Black people seem to relate to: the “successful woman who seems to have it all together, but doesn’t.” Ultimately, the meta-conversations about these shows allow us to talk about ourselves without talking about ourselves.
Yet, the conversation is incomplete. There is another archetype. An archetype that seems to cause much of the angst our other archetype struggles with. This one is found in the same cities, the same Twitter timelines, the same offices, the same lounges, and even (occasionally) the same beds as our Pope-ly protagonists, but they don’t receive nearly as much cinematic or conversational deconstruction. This lack of attention isn’t due to a lack of interest, though. People (and by “people” I mean “Black women”) are very interested in what is going on in the head of the “single and successful Black male” – what drives/motivates him, why he makes the decisions he makes, where love and commitment fall on his personal needs hierarchy, etc. But no one actually wants to see it on screen.
I can imagine it now…
It would star someone relatively young and realistically attractive like Columbus Short or Rob Brown or Derek Luke. The show would be set in D.C. or Chicago. He’d be a lawyer or an engineer or something. He’d have a nice loft. And, while the show wouldn’t just be about his dating life, his dating life would be a big part of the show. He’d date. A lot. Some wouldn’t even be dates. Sometimes it would just be 11:32 pm “hey, do you want to come through?” texts. On Wednesday nights. Sometimes there wouldn’t even be a “hey, do you want to” attached to “come through.”
He’d always be very nice to women. Well, “nice” in that he didn’t talk bad about them, he remained (somewhat) chivalrous, he had many very close female friends, he’d always be affectionate and attentive to them, and he’d make a point to let everyone know how much he loves sistas with natural hair. But the niceness is only a surface niceness. He claims to feel bad when women he “dates” catch unrequited feelings for him, but he actually only feels bad when forced to confront their feelings. Worst of all, he knows what he’s doing. He’s too smart not to. He’s just selfish. Very selfish. He wants to settle down, eventually. When he meets the right person. At least that’s what he tries to tell himself. But he’d continue doing what he’s doing, with no real end in sight.
…and no one would watch this show.
Actually, let me rephrase that. We’d watch. But everyone would hate it. Black men would hate it for misrepresenting us and/or airing our dirty laundry. Black women would hate it because, while it’s easy to mock the Stevie J’s and the Peter Gunz’s of the world (and the women who deal with them), a show featuring their urban and educated counterparts would hit too close to home. Black people (collectively) would hate it for reinforcing the hyper-hetero sexual stereotypes about Black men. White women would hate it because, if it were to mirror the life of a real actual single Black man in D.C. or Chicago, he’d date nothing but Black women, and they (White women) would be pissed for not being included. There’d be a thinkpiece a week at Jezebel devoted to it. White men would hate it because…well, I can’t think of any reasons why they would. They’d probably love it.
I’m joking (well, kinda), but I don’t think I’m that far from the truth. Pretty much every other oft-discussed piece of the Black population has been explored in some way on TV. Upper class families. Working class families. Single women. People in the hood. Young parents. Young couples. But none from the perspective of a single and successful urban Black male who dates Black women. (That last tidbit disqualifies Kevin Hill and House of Lies)
And, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I’d want to watch it either. Sure, I’d watch to be a part of the conversation. And to nitpick stuff the show didn’t get “right.” But I’d probably cringe the entire time. Or, more likely, I’d vacillate between cringing and jumping on Twitter, Facebook, VSB and everywhere else I write to defend all the indefensible shit the main character was doing.
Of course I’d be telling on myself if I did that. The show would be far from a mirror image of my life — it would be much too extreme for that — but I’d see enough of him in me and other guys I know to be compelled to comment. Of course I’d deny the connections, though. And I wouldn’t be wrong. I mean, it’s “just entertainment,” right?
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)