Dating, Relationships, & Sex, Pop Culture, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

Why There Will Never Be A Black Male Olivia Pope

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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”)

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a contributing editor for EBONY.com. He resides in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes.

  • http://www.awesomelyluvvie.com/ Luvvie

    I’d AT LEAST watch the first episode of this show. The premise seems interesting and super relatable and if it’s good, I’d prolly stick around. I think it’d be refreshing to see that shit.

  • Freebird

    Blk Bond made a great comment last week . No one cares what black men have to say, not even other black men. Any show that does not make folks feel Kevin Hill, Benson, or Cliff Huxtable comfortable is not going to fly on network tv. The people who watch the most network tv have to be comfortable. Just taking what I know about Olivia Pope…..I don’t think black and white women would watch Scandal starring a black man, and you could change the show anyway you’d like: white or black female POTUS (married to a white or black husband or a woman of any color) love affair….a gay male POTUS…..A white Olivia Pope and a black or interracial couple in the Oval Office. Men would not watch either.

    Mena kind of touched on something I’ve noticed: Folks have a hard time dealing with black maleness that does not fit a comfortable narrative. Myself included. As a heteros@xual man, Lavern Cox on OITNB initially made me very uncomfortable, but truthfully that is one black man’s story/journey. As progressive as we are now-a-days Lavern Cox is not getting a primetime show on network tv anytime soon. I think black men outside of the box are scarrier than folks admit, in part because the possibilites are threatening and seem uncontrollable. As “groundbreaking” as Scandal is the narrative (“strong”/”powerful”, ambitious, black woman, successful, sleeping with a white man, in power) is not new or threatening. Perhaps exciting! But not a threat.

    I’d be interested in seeing a show about a single not so affluent dad (I know several) with a powerful, ambitious, baby mama that is doing well (who after him married a white guy or a another woman) who is dating women of his choice and comfortable about being single in a peer group of frends that are married. His singleness and dare I say, his selfishness is a choice he has consiously made independent of the lives of women and what society says. It could be a dramedy. With the right writing and cast I’d watch something like that.

    But that show would not last a season.

  • Joel

    Lol. I wish I had any kind of screenwriting chops, I might give it a try. I mean, in real life I’m about two-and-a-possible of the guys Strings described (the shy guy, the outcast, and possibly the guy that’s ready to settle down)…

  • Rachmo

    They did that in Friends. Also with Chex and the City. And Living Single. There was nothing wrong with those people overall (EXCEPT FOR CARRIE), they just were dating the wrong folks. And it lasted for years.

  • Yoles

    wait!!! is the general consensus that women only like and date and want white collar men now?? I’m just trying to keep up b/c from what i remember dudes from broke to billionaire are drowning in pussC if they are confident… has it changed now??

  • Joel

    Confidence can go a long way, but it doesn’t make up for the simple fact that some folks just aren’t being checked for by the opposite gender. Trust me….

  • To’Mas Que Fuego

    H*ll yeah man. Plus all the chicks they interacted with ESPECIALLY the ones they get serious with would be really interesting and layered (but likable and are/hot for the most part) too. There would be some entertaining one night stand chicks and chicks that make short cameos for a few episodes. There’s a lot of room to really get a WHOLE lot of representations that involve intriguing characters of both genders.

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