I cannot count how many conversations I’ve had with folks lately about Scandal. At the lawyer’s office. At the bus stop. Even at the funeral parlor! Once I tell people I write about black media, folks inevitably ask: Did you see the last Scandal? or Ooooh, girl! What do you think about Olivia Pope? The conversations are always animated, since all are thrilled to see Washington onscreen as Pope. Yet many conversations are also pained, since many folks question why she has to be the mistress. Well, sex remains an easy sell. And black sex? Jackpot! Especially when you sprinkle in the excitement of interracial coupling. You’d think American society would be over it, enmeshed as we are in this “post racial moment.” But nope. We still tune in every week to see the latest “Olitz” exploits because as much as we say it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white (to quote Michael Jackson), we have to admit black/white sex still titillates us.
In this sexual economy, Olivia transcends cliched onscreen blackness, perhaps, in that she is not “just black,” but a black woman who wields power, controls assets, and exerts influence. (Not that being “just black” onscreen is bad, but it often is code for “token” at best and “stereotype” at worst.) Even still, I don’t think we can escape Olivia’s potent sexuality. Heck, Olivia and Fitz can’t either, so arguably we’re in good company. In the end, sex is the most powerful weapon Olivia uses, and as audiences, we are reminded that black women can still be reduced to their collective sexual prowess.
Right now, no black woman exemplifies this idea better than Nicki Minaj. If Olivia’s sex sells, Nicki’s sex redefines the word commodity entirely. Her latest album cover, Anaconda, shows us why. In our attempts to reflect a wider swath of black female representations, to challenge the respectability paradigm, does only the ratchet remain? In ostensibly moving past race, do we just delve further into sex? Try as we may, black pop culture cannot be divorced from black feminism. But if Olivia and Nicki’s brand of black pop culture feminism can be reduced to just slinging our behinds (Olivia) or showing our behinds (Nicki), I think perhaps we’ve swung the pendulum too far.