Miranda Bailey

Before Olivia Pope, there was Miranda Bailey

Tonight marks the end of the first year of ABC’s Thank God It’s Thursday (#TGIT), three consecutive shows on Thursday evenings run by the now legendary Shonda RhimesGrey’s Anatomy is the rock upon which Shonda Rhimes built her church. The foundation of her success, however, does not lie with the titular character. Rather it is Dr. Miranda Bailey who proved that women of color could carry shows.

Before Kerry Washington donned the white hat on silver screens across the country as the formidable Olivia Pope, Chandra Wilson stormed onto the scene as the incomparable Miranda Bailey. Dr. Bailey, first introduced as “the Nazi,” quickly became a fan favorite on Rhimes’ first show. Known for her pointed comments, incredible intelligence, and work ethic, Dr. Bailey — simply known as Bailey — has become a staple on one of the longest-running shows currently airing on television.

Bailey captivated an audience as soon as she opened her mouth to give her five rules during the interns’ first shift at Seattle Grace. She has been the undisputed favorite of former Chief, Dr. Richard Webber, since the first episode. That did not mean, however, that she never struggled. She worked through pregnancy while still in her residency, was passed over for Chief Resident, got divorced, decided to marry again, this time to a co-worker, and has been the glue holding Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital together since the days it was Seattle Grace Hospital.

She could have her own show, and that’s the point.

On the surface, Bailey seems like yet another caricature of the “sassy Black woman” or “strong Black woman.” She has never held back from letting someone know how she really feels, including those above her on the hierarchy. Beneath the surface of her eye rolls and witty tongue, however, lies a deeply complex character that inspires love and admiration for those whom she supervises as well as her peers. Bailey’s story is revealed to be one in which she struggled to find her own voice and be confident in her abilities as an intern. She thinks critically about what it means to be a mother as well as a surgeon, and divorces her first husband in the process. She has developed and is not at all one dimensional. She is brilliant, ambitious, cutthroat, nurturing, vulnerable, and also sassy. In that sense, Bailey has always reminded me a little bit of my grandmother. To quote Chimamanda Adiche,”The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, it’s that they are incomplete.” Bailey’s depth consistently allows her to authentically be herself without being relegated to a simple stereotype.

There are many similarities between the characterization of Olivia Pope and Miranda Bailey. They are different characters, to be sure, but they share some traits. They are smart, keep their wits about them in a crisis, and are desirable women. Different professions, different body types, different people, but they are caregivers who inspire those around them and are lauded for their accomplishments. And these two women are not Claire Huxtable. They aren’t lauded as the epitome of perfection; they’re just trying to make it. They have flaws, and that’s ok.

The cultural impact of Grey’s stretches beyond reviving the medical drama genre. The multiculturalism of the show sparked conversation right when the show premiered in January, 2005. Some people have referred to it as “colorblind,” but the beauty of the show lies in the fact that race does matter, just not in the way folks had become accustomed. Grey’s has never been a show about race or gender or sexual orientation; rather it is a show about life seen through the lens of working in a hospital, which necessitates the inclusion of discussions about race, gender, sexuality, religion, and other social identities.

What makes ShondaLand shows successful is how these social identities are explored. Whether it is problematizing Izzy asking Cristina to translate Chinese for her — Cristina is Korean — in Season one of Grey’s, or casually dropping a Sally Hemings reference during a tense conversation between Fitz and Olivia in season one of Scandal, the audience can relate to multiple characters in these moments. Well-intentioned people who’ve accidentally offended someone cringe when Izzy makes the same mistake, and marginalized people who’ve experience similar microaggressions as Cristina cheer when she replies, “Besides, I’m Korean.”

When ABC announced #TGIT as the anchor of its television line up, they doubled down on ShondaLand. The success of #TGIT has spurned another Rhimes show The Catch, as well as Quantico, a new show by Joshua Safran chronicling the first year of FBI Agents in Quantico, and starring Priyanka Chopra, a woman of color. ABC has been committed to cultivating diverse talent for over a decade, but Shonda Rhimes proved that diverse casts paired with excellent writing and story lines can turn profits.

ShondaLand is built on the complexity of characters, and the notion that women of color could be viewed through such varied lenses has been revolutionary for television. The rock of that argument is most assuredly Miranda Bailey.

I’m still hoping she will get her own show.


Katie Barnes (they/them/their) is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer. While at St. Olaf College studying History and (oddly) Russian (among other things), Katie fell in love with politics, and doing the hard work in the hard places. A retired fanfiction writer, Katie now actually enjoys writing with their name attached. Katie actually loves cornfields, and thinks there is nothing better than a summer night's drive through the Indiana countryside. They love basketball and are a huge fan of the UConn women's team. When not fighting the good fight, you can usually find Katie watching sports, writing, or reading a good book.

Katie Barnes is a pop-culture obsessed activist and writer.

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