Scandal is a popular TV show described as a political thriller drama loosely based on Judy Smith, a former White House press aide and current CEO of a Washington D.C. crisis management firm. The lead actress, Kerry Washington, plays Olivia Pope, whose background mirrors that of Judy Smith to a large degree. Scandal is the brainchild of Shonda Rhimes, writer and executive producer of the “Thank God Its Thursday” television juggernaut, which includes the shows Grey’s Anatomy and How To Get Away With Murder. Watching this show is a rollercoaster ride, along with being many a person’s guilty pleasure. But yesterday's episode shifted the dynamic, bringing the entertainment value of a TV show much closer to the realities of its huge Black global fan base.
“The Lawn Chair” is an episode based to a large degree on recent current events. A young man is gunned down by a police officer and left lying in the street. His father, from the midst of a gathering crowd, moves to his unattended son and fires a licensed shotgun in the air. He refuses to move until justice takes place for his son. By this time, the main character, Olivia Pope—who is also Black—intervenes enough to prevent the father from being shot. Her language to the commanding officer is interesting, as she points out all the cameras and cellphones recording the event in live time. Later information says that police received word that a Black male had just stolen a cellphone from a nearby business. The son, walking home, had a brand new cell phone in his hand. He was shot because he allegedly pulled a knife and lunged at the officer. Subsequent videotape showed the young man reaching in his pocket. It purposely only told part of the story, when, as the episode unfolded, he was clearly framed with a knife in death. In this episode, echoes of the Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin incidents present themselves, replaying them for many who watched with tears and angst.
This episode masterfully dealt with two sides of the issue of police brutality—from the side of law enforcement and government, with its wrinkles, good and bad. It showed a President wanting to, but not addressing this shooting that took place blocks from the White House, due to political expediency. It also gave a glimpse into the mindset of a rogue police officer, and other aspects of police work—especially one view of crowd control. We also saw in this episode the side of the victim. After setting the context and background, this side is what I wish to discuss.
I saw three aspects, perspectives, or players—use whichever one you feel fits best—in this episode on the side of the victim…the ‘Black’ side. There was the victim and his family, represented by the father. Many of our people find themselves at one time or another in this place. The second person was, simply put, the activist. He stirred up the crowd, while also having the ability to talk to the family. The third person, represented by Olivia Pope, is the well connected go-between who can navigate all worlds, eventually helping there to be a satisfactory conclusion.
Some in watching this may think that this is merely genius in scriptwriting, but the truth is that much of what we enjoy as Black people in this land was a comprehensive effort made up of protest, political leverage, lawsuits and legislation. This episode, however, shows us a present day solution while revisiting, in its own way, the past. The main takeaway is that everyone involved in this scenario has a role. The success at the end of the episode happened because the persons in each aspect, or role, worked together while remaining in their role. What does that mean? The father maintained his posture in wanting justice, but yielded when necessary to the other two players so they could play their parts in bringing it to pass. The activist at first didn’t appreciate the go-between, but then understood that he and the go-between were on the same team with different roles. The go-between learned that at certain points she had to fallback and be a part of the overall movement, even with formidable connections. Because each of them played their role, justice took place.
In real life and in real time, many forget this rule. We become attracted to the limelight of the activist, while forgetting to serve. No one signs up to be the victim and his/her family; this comes through circumstance. And if we are blessed to have connections and influence that can help the greater good, we refuse to use it, or squander the opportunity by getting trinkets with temporary shelf life for ourselves. After the smoke from the present problem clears, we wonder why things haven’t shifted much, if at all. I submit that this happens because we forget that we all have a place. Some of us are foot soldiers. Still others can strategize. Others can speak truth to power, educating the masses. We all have a place, yet we often look in envy at the gifts of others. We build personal brands from the misfortune and misery of our people, but wonder why things don’t change. Why wonder? As we get involved in our church and our community, through prayer and activity, I’m convinced that each of us will find our place.
Knowing your place, and realizing that we all have a place will release us from the spinning wheels of the last few years. The Bible says it best in 1 Corinthians 12:24-26:
But God has combined the members of the body… so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
We all play a part in our deliverance. What is your place?