No, We Aren't All Angry: How Alessandra Stanley Gets Away with White Privilege9/21/2014
by Tamerra Griffin I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Shortly after Alessandra Stanley’s piece of work on Shonda Rhimes as an “angry black wom...
by Tamerra Griffin
I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Shortly after Alessandra Stanley’s piece of work on Shonda Rhimes as an “angry black woman” ran in The New York Times, I began receiving exclamation-heavy text and Facebook messages directing me to the story and inviting me to join the collective deep sigh side eye. One of my friends even told me to grab a glass of wine to help me get through it. I did not listen, but I should have.
Digital news outlets tag-teamed by publishing critique after scathing critique of the sloppy read, and Twitter users launched their own campaign which took to task Stanley’s description of award-winning actress Viola Davis as “less classically beautiful.” Stanley asserts that her intention was to praise Shonda in the article, but that only fanned the flames.
That knowledge makes her blisteringly offensive critique of Shonda Rhimes’ newest drama, “How to Get Away With Murder,” slightly less surprising. But only slightly. The article is rife with overtones that work the “angry black woman” stereotype to exhaustion, and is, in true Stanley form, inaccurate: she assumes Rhimes is the creator of the show, which stars Viola Davis, when in reality, it is Pete Nowalk (Shonda pointed this out in a chilling response to the article on Twitter).
Stanley presents us with a Las Vegas buffet of issues to take with her article. There’s the obvious: that the Black female lead characters Shonda Rhimes creates and produces are not “angry black women,” but brilliant, complex, dynamic people who display a wide range of emotions that just so happens to include anger (And how dare a Black female character display her anger in a drama series! What’s next—agency? Independence? Sexual desire??); the bile-inducing phrases Stanley packs into the critique (with a special shout out to “powerful, intimidating black woman,” “sharp minds and potent libidos,” “sexual and even sexy, in a slightly menacing way,” and “less classically beautiful”); and her weak employment of this scene to define what an angry black woman even is. My primary issue with this article, though, is its theory that Shonda Rhimes is some sort of “all over the place” narcissist who has chosen to fashion iterations of her own so-called “angry black woman” self. Excuse me…what? This is a lazy argument that completely undermines Rhimes’ creative prowess. It also exposes Stanley’s inability to view black women in all of our multidimensional humanity. Have I missed the article that called “Weeds” creator Jenji Kohan an “angry white stoner,” or does it simply not exist because writers and critics know not to define her by the characters she creates?
This critique is yet another reminder of the staggering level of privilege journalists like Stanley have to write about producers like Shonda Rhimes, actresses like Viola Davis, and shows like “Scandal” and “How to Get Away With Murder.” I whole-heartedly support the solution proposed by Mychal Denzel Smith from Feministing: that Black women, and only Black women, should be responsible for the work of critiquing Black women’s art and culture productions. He writes that while social media has given a platform to marginalized voices, “The gatekeepers are still the gatekeepers, and their limited understanding of the people they don’t invite into their newsrooms often means they will either go searching for ‘the black woman’ opinion or invite someone who isn’t a black woman to provide ‘the objective’ voice. So most people get exposed to an idea that’s assumed to be speaking for all black women, or something that reads as if the author has never spent time with a black woman in their entire life.”
The good news is that you do not need a paid monthly subscription or a certain hacking savvy to access truly informed critiques and discussions of Shonda and her shows. Black Twitter/YouTube/Tumblr/etc. is teeming with a diverse collection of smart, hilarious, and insightful takes on “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” and “How to Get Away With Murder” will most certainly receive the same treatment. If only Stanley would have bothered to check in with these outlets before putting proverbial pen to paper.
Photo Credit: Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com
Tamerra Griffin is a freelance journalist, a Bay Area native currently living in New York City. She recently earned her MA in journalism and Africana studies, and plans to become an international reporter. Until then, she will continue to chase down stories in her own backyard, particularly those that allow her to write about marginalized communities. When she's not doing that, she is flowing through sun salutations and plotting her next brunch move. Find her on Twitter