This is what you do to prepare for homecoming: Get your hair done. Get your nails done. Shop for clothes. Layers are important, because depending on where your homecoming falls in the season, it could be unseasonably hot, or cold. You hope for something in between and you usually get it. Comfortable shoes for the tailgate because you will be on your feet for at least 8 hours, drinking and eating fried fish sandwiches.
You arrange your hotel room. This is important because you want to make sure you are not too far from campus. If you’re an oldhead you probably don’t know too many current students who will let you sleep on their couch. It’s fine because you are grown anyway, and you’ll probably be in the mood to contact old flames. For reasons.
What you don’t do, however, is plan to see a dead body.
Returning to my home by the sea included all of those rituals: the preening, the shopping, the knot of excitement about seeing old friends, who got fat, who lost weight, who’s married, who’s got kids. Hampton is the type of place that people send their children to become doctors and lawyers and government workers. You know, that particular brand of black folks that pops into your mind when you think of the term “bourgie.” Cliff and Claire Huxtable. Braxton P Hartnebrig. Them.
So, the Friday night that I arrived in Newport News with three other homegirls, a city about 10 miles from Hampton, I was expecting a weekend of drinking, partying, and eating at Tommy’s (amazing food, dirt cheap prices). We got a good deal at the Magnuson hotel, something young professionals and recent grads could afford.
We were going to the alumni party at another hotel because, being five and six years out of HU meant that we weren’t trying to deal with the rowdiness that comes along with younger crowds. The party being held at our hotel seemed to have a lot of younger looking folks. We flounced past them on the way out, glad to be in a place where we weren’t going to sweatboxes anymore. We were grown. It’s mid-October and warm so we get away with wearing short dresses and lace shirts and strappy heels.
Anyway, we go and party, drop it low (and sometimes have trouble picking it back up). After two hours we head back because we know that Saturday is tailgate and we will have to preserve our energy. In the car two of my homegirls have a disagreement. By the time we all get back to the hotel parking we agree that they need time to cool off so I take one friend to the hotel room, and the other two stay in the car get their heads right.
About twenty minutes later the other two homegirls come in, breathless.
Someone was shot in the parking lot.
In that short twenty minutes another argument had popped off, but it wasn’t resolved by separating the two parties and taking time to think it through. According to news reports a young man instead decided to pop his trunk and shoot, killing someone and hurting another. My friend J., a soon to be doctor, saw the victim’s lifeless body. “I felt like homecoming is one place I’ve always felt safe, and you never expect to see something like that, or hear something like that.” Where J. is from, shit like that happens all the time. She avoids going to parties and if she does she leaves 30 minutes before the party ends because the let-out can be dangerous. Homecoming is supposed to be different.
We still went to the tailgate the next day. But in the back of our minds the tragedy of the night before haunted us — who comes to homecoming to die? Even though the victim wasn’t a student or alumni at the school and the party was an off-campus non-school affiliated event, his death still happened during our homecoming weekend. He was a young person, like the rest of us, trying to enjoy himself. With the recent reports of the YardFest fuckery at Howard and a shooting at NCAT, there’s a feeling of disillusionment, at least among the people I’ve talked to, about who we perceive ourselves to be as HBCU alumni and the realities of hosting large events like homecoming. Nothing feels the same.
It’s been a long time, we know. But here’s something new and different — the inaugural episode of the monthly Bless Your Heart podcast. Our own Tracy “Brokey McPoverty” Clayton and Nichole Perkins talk about the tyranny of the dick pic, women-centered porn and “Martin.” (Some salty language, obviously.)
On the Monday I returned to work, I cried. A lot. I cried as I kissed Xavi goodbye and left him with Lupe, the babysitter. I cried as I shut the door behind me and walked the ten steps to my car. I cried as I drove to work on auto-pilot after so many years of driving and running the same route.
To calm myself down, I prayed a few Hail Marys. I needed whatever help la Virgencita could offer. I repeated mantras to myself. You’ll get through this. Xavi will be okay. You’ll get through this. Xavi won’t have any trouble taking the bottle from Lupe*. Sí se puede. You can rush home if you need to. He’ll be okay. You’ll be okay. We can get through this. Don’t stress. It’s not good for you or your milk supply. Lots of mothers do this and survive. You’ve done difficult things before. This isn’t too different.
Of course, those difficult experiences were nothing like this. This was on another level. It was hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
“I thought I told you to take my white clothes to the cleaners, Harrison.” “It’s handled, Liv.”
When we last left Olivia Pope and the “parade of monsters,” as my play-cousin Linda Holmes calls them, the putative queen of the fixers had just been outed as the President’s mistress. Blowing up the secret of Liv and Fitz’s not-terribly-secret relationship — the central tension of the show, really — is some ballsy-stakes-raising.
Another show would have let a huge plot twist like that reverberate at least through a few episodes. But in Scandal-land, we were hurried along to the next plot twist — Liv’s people made it look like another White House staffer was Fitz’s actual mistress. It’s this addiction to the Big Twist that makes Scandal so fun and also so maddening. My friend Rhonda pointed out during the watch party at my house1 that the throng of reporters that descended on Olivia’s car to grill her about her affair with Fitz seemed to be indifferent to the fact that Liv was rescued by Huck, who of course was the lead suspect in an assassination plot on that same president last season. Indeed, after everything that happened on the show in its first two seasons, nothing has fundamentally changed: Liv and Fitz are still madly and annoyingly in love with each other, Mellie is still trying to use her broken marriage to further her political career, and Cyrus is trying to keep everything from blowing up. When we first started doing these recaps, I was going in blind since I ain’t watch the first season, and people argued that I was going to miss out on all kinds of important details. But that’s proven to be wrong: if the show doesn’t care about its fidelity to these details, why should I?
But really, I wanted to pick your brain about this Joe Morton situation, though. When Liv and her dad are having one of several shouting matches they had this week, he scolds her for not being more discreet, more careful.
“Did I not raise you for better?” he yells at her, spit practically flying out of his mouth. “How many times have I told you? You have to be what?”
Olivia is doing her cryface. “Twice.. as…good,” she says, trying to interrupt the snot bubbles before they happen.
“You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have,” her father reminds her.
Of all the things Scandal does that are frustrating — and there are so, so many — the thing that I find most jarring are its clunky, ham-handed attempts to inject racial commentary into the show. Last year, it was Liv’s ridiculous, sanctimonious invocation of Sally Hemings and Fitz’s hilarious insistence that the sight of an interracial first couple would jolt bigoted Republicans out of their ignorance. (Is there a more childish, naive view of the tenacity of racism than the oft-repeated idea that we can fuck ourselves into bonhomie?) Lots of black folks have gotten the “twice as good” speech from their folks: Obama referenced it in his commencement speech in Morehouse in May; it’s the title of Marcus Mabry’s very good biography of Condi Rice. Papa Pope’s reference here was obvious, but it felt less like a stretch than the show’s other acknowledgments of race.
But are we gladiators or are we bitches? (This is an honest question. My wardrobe choices going forward are contingent upon your answer.)
1Yo, Fight me, though.
I think you may have answered your own question regarding the Papa Pope lecture. Because that “twice as good” ideology is part of so many black families’ realities, it’s a more organic, believable exchange than say, “I don’t want to be your Sally Hemings” (a reference that was only used as a direct rebuttal against multiple blogs that had raised the comparison).
The mention of race at all is a departure for Shonda, whose world-building trends toward racial silence (or, at least, away from race as such an overt part of her shows’ discourse). Race wasn’t addressed at all in Scandal’s first season, and I think its appearance in subsequent episodes is in response to deafening online discourse around it.
I’m glad it’s being raised here, I guess. Though always notably multiracial, none of Shonda’s other shows have ever been anchored by a black star. Any show that refuses to address race after casting a black lead — presumably asserting that casting black is the address (and the only necessary one) — is limiting its narrative possibility. Especially in our current political climate, race has asserted itself as a huge deal. Still. It would be disingenuous and strange to keep ignoring it here.
But I agree with you that most attempts to address it have been very clunky and that Papa Pope’s is the best of the lot.
Speaking of him, much has been made of the way Liv flinched when he went to touch her face in that scene, suggesting that he may not only be a verbal abuser but a physical one as well. The writers seem to underscore that when Liv stands up for herself later, responding to his warning that, “[the White House] would destroy her” with, “That’s what mom always said about you.”
It’s taken us two full seasons to get any substantial back story on the main character of this show (which is crazy, when you think about it). But I’m very interested to see what Liv and Papa Pope’s sparring reveals about how she became this quivery-lipped control freak to begin with.
For me, the strength of Scandal has always been its relationships (with the exception of Liv and Fitz’s, which just makes me really uncomfortable all the time). So I’ll leave readers to speculate about what’s in the file Cyrus saw and to discuss the plausibility of framing ol’ girl as the president’s mistress.
The last thing I want to say is: what is the deal with Harrison? He’s so weird, right? All these intense, quickly delivered diatribes that have (mostly) stopped yielding him the desired results, all this presumption about his closeness to Liv… he *does* know that Huck is Olivia’s constant, right? He does realize that she never confides in him or trusts him with anything much or listens to his long-winded hot air ego trips, yes? What’s his motivation? We’ve been speculating about him since episode one. Is he in love with Liv? Just beholden to her? A long-lost half-brother as yet unrevealed to us? I don’t understand him. Some context would be nice.
The rest of Liv’s Scooby gang also still annoys me. I’d be fine if she downsized her whole operation and just worked out of her bedroom, brainstorming with Huck under a comforter.
Notes on a Scandal:
- Charlie’s back!
- Sally Langston’s sanctimony may be giving way to a dent in her armor. (Is her husband a womanizer?)
- Liv’s mom’s no more dead than you and I are. Watch.
As you listen to Sarah Collins Rudolph talk about her survival of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, you almost feel like you’re being offered a glimpse into the making of an out-and-out horror story. One minute, she was a 12 year-old girl in her church’s ladies’ lounge watching her 14 year-old sister tie the sash on a friend’s dress, and the next minute, she was being carried to the colored ambulance, the BOOM! still crashing around in her head and her skin perforated by glass. After two and a half months, she left the hospital with one less sister and one less eye and a glass replacement for the eye. Fifty years later, she lives with cataracts, PTSD, and glass obstinately stuck in her stomach and her “good eye.” Despite the mountains of financial, mental, and emotional burdens Collins Rudolph has struggled to mount since the bombing, she’s received no assistance from Birmingham, where she still lives and earns minimally as a domestic worker. It’s “like they’re saying, ‘Well, you didn’t die so don’t expect anything,’” she tells the interviewer, encapsulating the absurdity of it all. Her story evokes the unreality of the black living made socially dead — its nightmarish quality is like the behind-the-scenes-but-in-front-of-the-curtain of racial terror in the US — and you are somehow vehemently appalled while also furiously unsurprised.
That Sarah Collins Rudolph is overdue for compensation seems like a no-brainer. She’s been permanently scarred by an act of terror, the effects of which have cost her money, caused unfathomable trauma, and rerouted her life trajectory in numerous ways including interfering with her goal to become a nurse. What about this is fundamentally different from the attacks on the Boston marathon and the World Trade Center? Both of which, as Diane McWhorter highlights in her excellent NYT editorial, saw an outpouring of financial aid for the victims in their aftermath. How is Collins Rudolph, who is sometimes called “the fifth little girl,” so different from the victims of the racial violence that occurred in the black town of Rosewood, Florida in 1923, when homes, churches, and stores were torched and at least six black people murdered? The descendants of whom were compensated seven decades later, when the Florida senate put $1.5 million toward reparations for survivors, $500,000 toward those displaced, and $100,000 toward scholarships for descendants and other minorities. One state senator even said, “Our justice system failed the citizens of Rosewood.” If only it were an anomaly, this whole reparations business would be a lot easier.
But the “justice system,” mayor, city council, police chief, and fire department of Birmingham didn’t simply “fail” its black residents on September 15, 1963. These municipal entities didn’t play the role of bystander who was slow to act, morally implicated but factually absolved. On the contrary, city officials were complicit, on that day of many; they were enforcers and protectors of violence and the status quo in shamelessly racially discriminate ways. In that sense, maybe Collins Rudolph’s case is more like that of the Japanese and Japanese Americans who were put into internment camps during World War II? That was government sponsored and at some point Reagan acknowledged a fraction of its awfulness and signed off on an act that allowed $20,000 in reparations to each survivor. But then, there are many other state-sponsored atrocities still, so perhaps there is no need for, or possibility of, a methodical means of comparison.
Yet, even if we were granted the likeness of tragedy and unpunctual compensation for Sarah Collins Rudolph, there would still be questions left unanswered concerning the debt the US owes for its enslavement and segregation of black Americans. These questions would not be the ones of logistical character that seem to always crop up in discussions of reparations: How would we determine who’s owed what? and how long ago do “past” wrongs reach?* The unanswered questions would rather be with regard to our commitments as a country that has sustained the wrongs it was founded on for over three centuries, wrongs from which one group benefited and others suffered. As a country whose White House and Capitol were built by slave labor. It is amid this past that we have to consider: For how long will we banish “reparations” from the domain of politically viable issues, rendering black suffering banal and the prospect of redress unspeakable? When will we forfeit the charade and definitively draw the curtains? The horror story that is some folks’ reality started long ago and belongs to us all — so what can we do to flip the script?
*It’s worth noting that despite the popularity of these questions, there have been reparations lawsuits filed, with the earliest known to have occurred in 1915 and multiple more recently. Some suits concern descendants of slaves and raise claims such as conspiracy and human rights violations against corporations, while others — like the case in Tulsa, Oklahoma – are against state and municipal actors and focus on the violent repression of Jim Crow.
PB’s own Joel “blackink12” Anderson had himself a hell of a first week at Buzzfeed, topped off with an appearance on Melissa Harris-Perry’s show on MSNBC Saturday morning. Joel dropped in to talk about the NFL’s settlement with former players who suffered football-related brain and neurological damage.
It makes sense that Joel was asked to weigh in on this — he’s talked candidly about his own experiences with football and head trauma here at PB. He remembered a hit that knocked him out when he was a high school running back in Texas and his day-job has written about a top lineman prospect who had sustained so many concussions during his high school years that doctors said he might die if he kept playing in college.
You can see the former Giants lineman Roman Oben doing the contortions that so many people do when dealing with brain injuries in football. We’re teaching people to tackle differently. Calls to ban the game are alarmist. But as Joel pointed out on the show, you can’t extricate violence from a game predicated on it.
“I don’t really think there’s a way to make football safer,” he said. “I think that you can legislate some of the more dangerous hits, some of the more projectile-type hits, but we’re still talking about people who the goal is to run into each other and to score. They’re only going to be able so much. And long-term, we’ll have to ask ourselves: are we willing to live with that?”