I can’t even begin to state how much I adore this week’s Crush, Janet Mock, and how much I loved interviewing her!
While I calm my happy ass on down, please check out the first half of the interview at the main blog, then come back for this second part, in which Janet and I talk about socio-racial politics in Hawaii, what she’s planning to avoid this summer, and her love for Mad Men.
You’re from Hawaii. And you’ve seen how some conservatives constructed Hawaii as practically a foreign country in regards to demanding POTUS Obama’s birth certificate from the state. What other images/stereotypes do “mainlanders” have about Hawaii that’s divisive to progressive politics?
Like the people of the “mainland,” the people of Hawaii are not a monolith (we don’t all surf, we don’t all dance hula and we are not all Asian) and have a rich history with their land. And this may be getting way too deep, but my mother’s mother was Native Hawaiian (meaning indigenous Polynesian people of the Hawaiian Islands) and her father is Portuguese, and if it weren’t for the U.S. military’s occupation of Oahu, my mother would not have met my dad – a Naval officer and black man from the South – and I would not be here. To be part Native Hawaiian and part black, I am a product of Hawaii and the mainland – which shapes my existence and political perspective and relationship to my homeland. When I think of Hawaii, I think about how missionaries came to Hawaii feeling that they were going to “do good,” forcing their religion and western values to an indigenous people they wrongly viewed as savage and ended up doing quite well instead, making major money in industries like sugar and pineapple and of course tourism. For Native Hawaiians (kanaka maoli) in the Hawaiian sovereign movement, they do feel Hawaii is separate and was colonized and stolen. The U.S. history of the Hawaiian islands is a revisionist telling of the story of our statehood, and like most indigenous people, Native Hawaiians have been displaced on their own land and would actually love for Hawaii to be its own sovereign “foreign” land again, as wrongly appropriated by the conservatives who wish to dismiss President Obama as “un-American” or “foreign.”
How/why did you move to New York City? Along those lines, what are you into outside of your incredible activism? Hobbies? Books you’re reading? Music you’re into? Movies you can’t wait to see?
I moved to Manhattan to study journalism at New York University and get a job as a magazine editor. Luckily, after earning my masters, I landed at People.com, where I worked for more than five years writing and editing stories, creating fun pun-filled photo galleries and of course developed my voice in social media. Right now I’m into everything, from following my dear sister in this movement Reina Gossett’s active archiving and retelling of the activist roots of trans women of color like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. I’m also into Instagram selfies, sharing curly hair photos and every bright lip color I find. I’m into books that critique and expand ideas of womanhood and blackness. I thoroughly enjoyed Sister Citizenand Iconicas well as Black Cooland How To Be Blackand Seasonal Velocities, and read This Bridge Called My Backtwice in one month. I also have a summer reading list of women of color writers’ classic and new works, like Salvage the Bones, Kindred, The Summer We Got Free, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere,and Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self.Oh, and I want to read the Katharine Hepburn (she’s my fave movie star) style book Rebel Chic,as well as Nevadafrom Imogen Binnie. As for music, my tastes are pretty mainstream, not original at all – though I have been listening to Diana Ross‘“Home”from The Wizon loop while writing. It soothes me and inspires me to own my space in this world. As for films, it’s about to be summer movie season so I am boycotting Hollywood, though I will see Free Angela Davis & All Political Prisoners.I’m more of a TV girl anyway, live-tweeting Mad Men, Scandal, The Mindy Projectand eyeroll-inducing escapism like The Real Housewives of Atlantaand Beverly Hills.
Anything else you want to add?
I just want to thank you for finding me crush-worthy and sharing your first-ever #nerdland appearance with me. I love that we got the chance to discuss Scandal in such a giddy and hopefully impactful way. For me, it was just amazing to be embraced as another woman who has something to say. Not dismissed as a trans woman, but embraced as a fellow sister. Often I fell I must put my pop culture passions at bay to discuss more pressing trans issues in mainstream media so it was awesome to show my other intersections, as a woman of color, as a visible trans woman, and yes, as a pop culture lover!
Ma’am, since you’re a Mad Men lover, we may have to recruit you for our Mad Men roundtable!
And what of Olivia? Viewers are not privy to this type of information where her character is concerned. All we know is that this black woman committed herself to Republican Presidential Candidate, Fitzgerald Grant, and has been a fixture of his campaign and administration to varying degrees throughout the show. Thus, any depth Pope possesses is always connected to the American Political System and/or Fitz.
The type of information we are allowed to know about Olivia is quite reminiscent of the ways black actors and actresses accent the story lines of white folks in television shows that do not claim to place them at the center of the drama. As a result of this sacrifice of significant character development, the character of Olivia Pope must rely on stale media representations of black women for the semblance of substance.
In most episodes Pope is little more than a political mammy mixed with a hint of Sapphire who faithfully bears the burden of the oh-so-fragile American Political System on her shoulders. The mammy characterization has always had the goal of redeeming the relationship between black women and the white people whom they serve, particularly in the slave economy. Post-slavery, the mammy image has been repackaged time and time again in order to imbed itself within an ever shifting culture. Pope is one of the latest manifestations of this characterization. Similar to how the mammy of slavery was normally portrayed as neat, clean, and happy to serve and maintain the inner-workings of the massah’s house; Olivia Pope is neat, clean, and well-dressed; she understands the inner-workings of massah’s house — The White House, and tirelessly works behind the scenes to ensure the house continues to function as expected. Furthermore, just as the mammy stereotype would have us believe, Pope is happy with her life of service to the good white folks running the country.
But she’s not always all smiles as we’d expect a typical mammy to be. Pope just as quickly puts her hands on her hips, hardens her facial features, and roles her neck ever-so-slightly letting us know that she won’t take anything lying down. Just like the Sapphire representation, Pope is up for a fight. But to only portray Pope as a political mammy with a hint of Sapphire would be too obvious to viewers and would make her character even more noticeably flat. So, the show utilizes the ingredients of sex and violation masked as a romance to make her character seem a bit more complex.
When Pope is not gleefully maintaining the house or being overbearing, thus undesirable, she’s in the back shed with massah — the Oval Office — Fitz where we realize she’s actually quite desirable (see Season 1 Episode 1). President Fitzgerald Grant can’t keep his hands off of her. He continuously expresses his incalculable love for her, but can only seem to express this “love” by forcefully grabbing her and feeling her up whenever he gets the chance. In the very first episode he forces himself on her while she attempts to decline his advances. But because of our conditioning, we see Pope as a Jezebel: she really wants it, we think. So, we accept the violation and believe there’s nothing wrong with Fitz’s unwelcomed advances; apparently “no” really doesn’t mean “no” in this case. The problem is, sexual intrigue and force do not equal love. We have seen no actions that support Fitz’s claim to love Olivia; but we do have plenty that suggest she is the object of his sexual desire.
Everyone plays their role in the process. Olivia Pope leads the other characters in this role playing by example; playing not only the one role that the system demands of her, but three of them. The only way Pope is empowered and seemingly in control is through service to the system that demands her powerlessness and capitulation. Ultimately, Scandal is not concerned with the life of Olivia Pope or portraying a black woman in a new way in spite of our celebrations of the show. It is concerned with the fragile foundation of the American Political System. It’s goal is to subtly train us in the ways of imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy and teach us that playing our roles is the only way to truly succeed and be happy within its confines. The show merely rearranges the elements of our world to make them more bearable and reassure us that political mammies like Pope are out there tirelessly fighting to maintain the system we so greatly desire to uphold.
Arrianna: Also, the dynamic of Fitz telling Olivia that she was not his Sally Hemings was … interesting. It’ll take more thought for me to unpack that.
T.F.: Yea, it’s not really his call to make, is it? I’m also intrigued that Shonda has Olivia be the one to invoke the Hemings reference. To be honest, her throwing Sally Hemings in Fitz’s face was the first time I found their romance remotely interesting.
Anyway, I’m not sure who we’re supposed to side with in Fitz and Liv’s exchange. Having the heroine of the show raise the issue invites viewers to identify with her to some degree, but I think we’re also meant to see Fitz’s side of things as well — that he’s in this untenable position of having found the love of his life, but being unable to act on it in any honorable way, and apparently also unable to not act on it.
Which personally I think is a load of crap. Sure, he’s in a tough position as president, but there’s very little about Fitz/Liv’s relationship that says “great love” to me. It may very well be that they can’t stay away from each other, but that isn’t necessarily love. More like toxic and codependent.