Even as a badass professional fixer and Washington, D.C. power-broker, Olivia Pope still experiences the subtle sexism so many women of color face.
Thursday night's episode of "Scandal" focused on the biased, slut-shamey media coverage Kerry Washington's character faces after it is revealed that Pope is the President's mistress.
Towards the end of the episode, after nearly an hour of news reports about Pope's sex life and past relationships, Pope's gladiators (a.k.a. her entourage/staff), Marcus, Quinn and Huck, decide it's time to fight back. The three go on the offensive and point out the media's sexist and racist microaggressions which often go unnoticed by the general public.
And, damn, was it good.
Marcus coaches Huck and Quinn for their upcoming on-air interviews, labelling these offensive microaggressions "dog-whistle politics."
As Marcus defines the concept in the clip above, dog-whistle politics include “racism, sexism, anti-semitism, misogyny. It’s bigotry in the form of a language so coded that the only person it’s targeting is insulted by it like a dog whistle.” When a woman is labelled "pushy" or "bossy" when she speaks up for herself, or a person of color is called a "thug," that's dog-whistle politics.
During the episode, the gladiators call out media outlets for using words like "sassy," "well-spoken" and "arrogant" to describe Pope. And last night, "Scandal" showrunner Shonda Rhimes tweeted out a list of these subtly offensive words.
As Marcus says during the episode: "Words like these mean nothing to the general public which is why the media... can get away with using them. But when women of color, like Ms. Pope, hear that kind of code of language, they know exactly what you’re getting at."
Just last year, Viola Davis, the star of "How To Get Away With Murder," which is a ShondaLand show, was described using this "coded" language. In Alessandra Stanley's 2014 New York Times review of the show, Stanley described Davis as "darker-skinned and less classically beautiful." Luckily, this did not go unnoticed by other women of color, who quickly responded on Twitter, calling out the racist and sexist undertones of the review.
Women of color should not have to face this insidious sort of commentary -- ever. Hopefully Thursday's "Scandal" will, at the very least, make people more aware that it happens.
Well done, Shonda (read: Queen).
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