How about everyone who isn’t a black woman just stops writing about black women

1405420835shonda rhimesAfter reading the New York Times story about television producing mogul Shonda Rhimes that starts by saying “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called ‘How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman,'” I have a modest proposal. No one who isn’t a black woman should be allowed to write about the cultural products created by black women.

Not a forever moratorium, but at least, I don’t know, a couple decades. And this isn’t to say there aren’t talented, non-black woman cultural critics who have done good work around the music, art, film, and television produced by and centering black women. Slate has a decent piece up about “Clair Huxtable, feminist hero” written by someone who isn’t a black woman. Kudos to them. I stand by my proposal. 

Because if we are still at a point where, in the paper of record, a writer is talking about black women cultural figures and reading their assertiveness and professionalism as “anger,” while using phrases like “less classically beautiful” to describe Oscar-nominated actress Viola Davis without pausing to interrogate what that means, and then asserting, “Nobody thinks Shonda Rhimes is holding back and nobody is asking to see the real Shonda Rhimes. She’s all over the place,” as a suggestion that Rhimes herself is an angry black woman whose only talent is creating characters in her own image, then it’s time for a major reassessment.

And look, stepping back and only allowing black women writers to serve as the critics of culture created by/for/centering black women doesn’t mean that won’t be robust debate. That’s part of my point here. Democratization of the internet by way of social media and blogs has meant that we get to witness in real time the colliding of divergent opinions by people with similar identifiers. For some of us. 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. Then our best and brightest black women cultural critics spend inordinate amounts of time having to critique the clueless critiques.

Imagine how much richer the conversations around Scandal and Beyoncé and Kara Walker and Ava Duvernay would be if black women didn’t constantly need to tell other people they lack the cultural context to understand their work. I want to go to there. But if top publications insist on valuing the voices of others over black women, and believing that there exists a singular black woman’s voice they’re obligated to lend credence to, then we will continue to end up with sentences like this: “Ms. Rhimes has embraced the trite but persistent caricature of the Angry Black Woman, recast it in her own image and made it enviable. She has almost single-handedly trampled a taboo even Michelle Obama couldn’t break.” I mean… what the fuck?

It’s sounds like I’m calling for an end to racism and sexism in the world of media… well, yeah, that’s basically what I’m saying.

MychalMychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, as well as columnist for and Salon. As a freelance writer, social commentator, and mental health advocate his work has been seen online in outlets such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, Salon, Al Jazeera English, Gawker, The Guardian,, Huffington Post, The Root, and The Grio.

Mychal Denzel Smith is a Knobler Fellow at The Nation Institute and contributing writer for The Nation Magazine, as well as columnist for and Salon.

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