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.

  • iamnotakata

    “But none from the perspective of a single and successful urban Black male who dates Black women.”

    Ohh how a show like this would give me so much life!!! And a reality like this wouldn’t hurt either!!

    • http://EdotReed.blogspot.com/ E Reed

      Technically, we don’t have a stellar show about a successful Black woman who dates successful Black men. Being Mary Jane is terrible to me. And Scandal has Olivia dating nothing but white guys.

      • iamnotakata

        True, I am one of the 5 black women in existence that does not watch or stan for Scandal so I am not here for Olivia and her side chick behavior. I am yet to see an episode of sideline behavior cosigner Gabrielle Unions show BMJ. I doesn’t really sound like it would be my cup of tea though I am here for positive black love and relationships!

        • Michelle

          You’re not the only one. I have no interest in watching “Scandal”. And I refuse to support BET, so I am not watching “Being Mary Jane”. Plus Gabrielle Union’s acting irks me.
          Apparently being a flawed black woman on a TV show means that being a mistress.

  • V.

    Sadly, I think you’re onto something here. SMH

    • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

      “They don’t really care about us” – MJ

    • The Champ

      don’t be sad

  • To’Mas Que Fuego

    Before I even try to get my thoughts together on this one I gotta just give u e-daps on this entire post. Like d*mn. You came out swinging fa real in 2014. Well done and sh*t. Best post I’ve seen on this site in a really long time. Great topic too.

    I couldn’t agree more with this post. I followed the train of thought nodding my head and thinking “exactly, that’s what I’m saying.” the whole time while trying to find a point of disagreement to contrast my own thoughts with but I never actually found it. I hadn’t thought about how much I’d probably cringe and get nervous about the dirty laundry that would inevitably be shared, but that’s so true. The more I thought about the show the more I was glad we don’t have the spotlight. Sh*t would hit too close to home for the men AND the women. I really would love to watch the Twitter wars and blog battles that would ensue though. I’d probably get pulled in like a magnet too smh lol

    • Sahel

      It would be quite the trip won’t it. A black man dating black women in a scandalesq,the bachelor type show. You can start a drinking game every time you read the sentence starting Black men aint…

      • Joel

        Everyone would be passed out drunk by the time the opening credits finished rolling. lol

    • The Champ

      thanks and sh*t

  • Andrea

    I really enjoyed this post. It reminded me that I was wrong about Blood, Sweat, and Shoes. I think it definitely is gonna get a second season.

  • kidvideo

    Good post…I was going to mention the Kevin Hill show before you said we couldn’t.
    I haven’t seen Scandal nor Mary Jane but I can see a show about a “single, successful black male who dates blk women…(with natural hair, and foreign accents) it all depends on the “hook” of the show.
    *does he have a female boss who sexually objectifies him.
    * will there be an episode where you see him in his younger days(high school/college) when the ladies weren’t feeling him.
    * does he have “mommy/daddy issues”.
    * there has to be an episode where a former GF starts to stalk him.
    * how does he bond with his male friends(b-ball, video games, the local sports bar)
    * how does he bond with his platonic female friend(s)…(racquetball, grocery shopping, wine tasting events…VSB get together)
    I’ll think of more later.

    • Epsilonicus

      Does the hook have to be about dating? Could it be about something in his career that has folks interested? For me, that is where Scandal went off the rails once the love story became too much a part.

    • The Champ

      this sounds like “hitch”

  • Joel

    I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t watch such a show.

    As a Black man that is is many ways similar to the type of the character they’d put on this kind of show, I’d watch it if for no other reason to at least see how a TV version of myself comes across.

    Besides, someone’s gotta stand against the Stevie J’s and the Peter Gunzes out here making us Brothas look bad….I cannot let these kind of men continue to win in the game…Are we that messed up as a people to where the drama and BS the aforementioned men participate in is more exciting (by virtue of it being more watchable) than what a “normal” Brotha is capable of being on TV?

    • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

      Popular shows have escapism normal bores people

      • Joel

        I feel you, but in this day and age where the general consensus seems to be that Black men need to get their isht together (which comes from Black men and Black women) and there’s a shortage of good black men in the world (which comes from Black women)….having a show that even halfway quells any of these issues should at least get SOME burn from most people.

        • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

          They say they want solid drama free black men but the track record says otherwise…well kinda like real life

          • Joel

            Lmao…true indeed. I wasn’t even gonna take it there this morning. At the very least, keep pushing what they say they want at their throats until they either accept it or realize that’s indeed not what they really want.

    • The Champ

      “Besides, someone’s gotta stand against the Stevie J’s and the Peter Gunzes out here making us Brothas look bad”

      I think a show like the one I describe would actually make us look worse

      • Joel

        How so? We can celebrate the coonery of shows like RHOA and LHHATL but we can’t have a show where Black men are just trying to be….normal? good, even?

  • Geneva Girl

    Actually, a show like this could work – as a comedy. Why do it as an hour-long drama? When I think about single men and black men in particular I think of them hanging out with the guys, playing ball, tweeking their stereos or doing whatever single guys do. I think of them hanging with their friends and trying to hook up with women. That could be a very funny show. No, wait, isn’t that show called Very Smart Brothas?

    • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

      You have a point about the comedy, but there’s a very specific reason why. I’ll do it in another comment so as to not say the same thing twice.

    • The Champ

      “You started out 2014 swinging for the fences harder than Barry Bonds in 2003 after a dose of PEDs

      actually, considering what PEDs supposedly do to male performance, it wouldn’t be hard to be harder than barry bonds in 2003

      • Joel

        Lol. I see what you did there.

  • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

    I’m with Tomas and Geneva Girl on this one. You started out 2014 swinging for the fences harder than Barry Bonds in 2003 after a dose of PEDs. Great work, and I just want to add a point that I think would flesh this out a little bit.

    Black men, like every other group in American society that isn’t White heterosexual Christian males, have some negative stereotypes attached to their sexuality. The big thing for Black men is that our sexuality is presented not merely as “bad” or “wrong” (though it does include that), but as a clear and present threat. Simply put, a Black man being sexual is reacted to in a similar way as a man with a loaded gun. I think the only way you could deal with that in a show without people feeling shook 24/7 is in a humorous way. If anything, the continuous tension spins off jokes at a high rate, a trait that generations of Black male comedians have taken advantage of to great financial success.

    As a drama, it would come off like the show 24 set in someone’s neighborhood. It would be way too loaded to be dealt with in a certain way. I would seriously fear for the life of the cast because I think *someone* might threaten their life, and not necessarily for racial reasons. The conversations would generate more heat than light, though it would get decent ratings.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    Wasn’t some of what you described the Kevin Hill show which only lasted on season?

    • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

      Cancelled on UPN of all networks, the lowest of low

      • Sigma_Since 93

        It’s not like we didn’t have a show which spoke to Champ’s post. The only other show I can think of and it’s a stretch is Entourage.

        • To’Mas Que Fuego

          But not only is Entourage about white dudes, but the main character was a movie star. Not the same. Very few guys can relate to that.

  • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

    It could work as a comedy…but then it’d just be a black how I met your mother

    • Rachmo

      Would that be a bad thing?

      • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

        Done well, no. The problem is that I easily see a show sliding into outright coonery within 2 seasons as well.

        • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

          Seems like black sitcoms peak in 3 seasons then they just run outta ideas

          • http://trulytafakari.com/ dtafakari

            Most black comedy is a recycling of the same tropes and stereotypes. I don’t find most of them funny. I honestly wish we would stay out of comedy and exaggerated drama. If we tapped the well of the human experience, who knows what we could come up with.

            • Joel

              So how about a 80 percent drama/20 percent comedy? Enough drama to make it realistic, yet enough comedy to keep it from being *too* serious.

              • http://trulytafakari.com/ dtafakari

                Sure, why not? I think even dramas need to have light moments. My major qualm with the Being Mary Jane pilot is that it was 55 minutes’ worth of piling on. It made the mood exceptionally dark.

              • afronica

                Good drama is hard to write. Good comedy is even harder. But the highest difficulty setting might be for mostly drama with a splash of comedy. That tone and balance I think would be really difficult to pull off.

                People like to be told what to feel. It’s why sitcoms have laugh tracks, dramas have dunh-dunh-DUNH music running under scenes and horror films have those screeching violins a-goin’ during their don’t-open-that-door moments. Scripts that don’t stick to those scripts would make people uneasy. And I don’t think uneasy gets ratings.

                • Joel

                  I see your point. So maybe this kind of show wouldn’t get much love on Fox or ABC, but maybe on a less-major channel? (And no, not BET….lol)

                • http://missrosen.wordpress.com/ esa

                  good writing is just plain old hard. it’s almost .. counterintuitive. funny how words get in the way of words. thas why most productions tend to overcompensate.

                • Val

                  I avoid TV shows with laugh tracks.

                  • afronica

                    That’s because you don’t like to be insulted. I hate laugh tracks with a passion. And whenever I’m watching something and the word “score” floats through my head, I can’t help but be really attuned to and annoyed by the music and sounds being used.

      • Shamira

        loved HIMYM at first, now I want to shoot Ted Mosby’s whiny behind, and all of the other characters have become caricatures of themselves. lol.

        If they did it again, it’d have to be a much shorter show.

        • http://uphereoncloud9.com/ Wu Young

          Ted is a walking Drake record.

        • Kozy

          American shows tend to drag on way past the posted “Sell By” date. I hate it, but have come to expect it.

          • Shamira

            agreed. so many shows I had to force myself to get to the finish line just out of loyalty….the UK format is just so much better for consumption purposes, if not for profit.

            The best think 30 Rock ever did was end seven seasons in.

            • Epsilonicus

              A lot of cable shows are doing a 5 season format. I like that better

              • Shamira

                Agreed.

          • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com/ Tristan

            its always that damn 8th season that half the cast didnt wanna do but they got an offer they couldnt refuse that ruins it