In My father’s House: Olivia Pope, Black Women and Compartmentalization
On more than one occasion, I’ve had conversations with folks who say that Black women put up walls to keep people out and keep emotions in. Silly humans. We don’t put up walls. We build entire whole damn houses up around us. Mansions. People, thoughts, emotions, events and things all have a place. There’s a fancy word for it—compartmentalizing, but we just call necessity. Because you can’t survive racismsexismclassismcapitalismpatriarchy and think about it every minute of every day. So you send everybody and everything to their respective rooms while you handle your business. Kind of like Olivia Pope does.
If you’re familiar with the Scandal storyline, you know that some time ago Ms. Pope was kidnapped and subsequently put on a virtual auction block. If you’re not familiar with the storyline— spoiler alert. At any rate, her squad did what squad does and Olivia was rescued. And then she did what Black women do and went straight back to the business of saving other folks. She put the traumatic event behind her and save for a few flashbacks, appeared to not be bothered by the events. That is, until one of the people responsible for harming her decided to open old wounds. Former VP Andrew (the man who had OP kidnapped) threatened to spill the beans about how the President went to war (actual war) to save Olivia. Which is a big deal because soldiers died so POTUS could save his mistress (and still failed. Because squad is better).
When it hits the proverbial fan, Liv goes into high drive to protect everyone implicated if Andrew spills the beans— POTUS, former FLOTUS turned Senator (who is not named Hillary), current VP. Everybody. Except herself. While we hear and see Olivia’s concern about everyone else, not once do we see her consider what this would mean for her. Meanwhile she’s inundated with flashbacks of being kidnapped, held hostage and trying to escape. PTSD. Or, grad school. In real life. But no one around her noticed because everyone is just trying to figure out how she can solve their problems. Or, Tuesday for Black women. But since she can’t simultaneously break down and hold the world on her shoulders, Liv sends her trauma to its room and gets back to work.
Thing is, all that time Olivia had been trying to keep her white hat clean. Even though daddy Pope warned her about apples and trees and how the former don’t fall far from the latter. But in the process of everyone looking out for themselves, OP’s “friend” Abby gets power-hungry and makes a call that saves POTUS’s neck but throws former FLOTUS turned Senator (not named Hillary) under the bus. And because Olivia has charged herself with protecting former FLOTUS turned Senator (NNH), it was a personal shot. So much for clean white hats. The walls, and with them the rooms she so carefully crafted to keep everything in its place, came crashing down. As tends to happen with compartmentalization because you can only successfully manage it for so long.
I find it interesting that what triggered Olivia wasn’t the selfishness of folks around her. It wasn’t even when her so-called friend betrayed her (I told y’all OP needs some sister friends). She didn’t break at the prospect of throwing herself on the sword to protect her former lover. What ultimately sent her over the edge was the sort of thing that sends Black women over edges all day every day. The language. It wasn’t enough for Andrew to have harmed her by kidnapping her and having her sold. He needed her to internalize her objectification so he did that in the same way that most people are taught to internalize inferiority— with words.
He kept saying the words. Over and over again. Every insult lobbied at her was sexualized in some way. Or, Monday for Black women. Olivia’s resistance required her to silence the words. To mute the voice that sought to not only oppress her but to make her believe she was deserving of that oppression. She shut it down.
In the end, Olivia literally and metaphorically returns to her father’s home. The home that likely prompted her need to start building so many rooms in the first place. Because cycles.