Thinking About Black Women’s Sexuality on the Show “Scandal”: The Liv and Fitz Affair

One of the central arguments that I make my research on Black women’s sexuality in pop culture is that Black women’s sexuality is a racialized sexuality.

Folks can often have a hard time both acknowledging that our sexuality is a racialized sexuality and with seeing that the intersection of race and sex shapes how we are seen and interpreted. Anita Hill knows.

On the December 6th episode of “Scandal” the main protagonist, Olivia Pope has an intense and steamy interaction with Fitz, the man who plays the president.

One of the key lines in this scene is when Pope states that she is not his “Sally Hemings.” My mouth dropped, because in that moment, she brought history into the room on mainstream Thursday night television.

Now of course Pope isn’t his Sally Hemings, this is a different time and different location. There are three generations of Black women living in the White House in 2012.  But it is important to acknowledge the different social locations occupied by Pope and President Fitz. In a society and culture where maleness, masculinity and whiteness are privileged or held as the norm for what being human means, he DOES have more social power in that relationship. It may be difficult for folks to acknowledge this, but it is what it is. If you don’t agree I will ask you what is your personal investment in not acknowledging the difference.

Here is another reason why I thought this scene was powerful. Oftentimes we, many Black women, see the intersection of race and gender but it is never stated explicitly, just kind of implied which can often feel like a microagression. So I found it interesting.

I also want to add something about Shonda Rhimes, the creator of “Scandal.” I think that it is really interesting that a Black woman has created this show and that is based on a real life character. One of the arguments that I make in my research is that I am interested in seeing more Black women create work that centers Black women as subjects. It is not that I will agree with the work, I have homies who are artists and I don’t get all of their work, but I support it because I want to see it live.

It is oftentimes hard to watch a smart, young, and fancy Black women be tangled up in this Love triangle, but the Gods to honest truth, is that many of us HAVE been there. We may only admit it to our best friend and to Jesus, but we have, so to see the messiness of this relationship on screen both attracts me and repels me. On another note, as I writer, I know that is some good storytelling.

I am interested in seeing us represented as the contradictory, awesome, loving, human beings that we are.  To embody contradictions is to be human. So, it was with these thoughts in mind that I thought of a thread I saw last night on Shadow and Act that drew a line between what some Black women say they want and how they respond to the affair on “Scandal.” Here is the image:

The drawing of a direct line between what some Black women expect the fact that many of us find pleasure in watching Pope on “Scandal” is interesting. I say, the more contradictions, the more human we are. But I also know that some folks are not invested in seeing Black women as human. Fuck ‘em.

Did you see this episode of Scandal?

The Sally Hemmings line though?

Yup. I am back. If you want to sign up for my newsletter for info on my book projects, speaking engagements and the like, do so here. A longer more polished version of this post will be in my book on Black women’s sexuality in pop culture. I’d Love to have you on my team. Thank you for your support.


Renina is a cultural critic, author, instructor and a blogger. She is also the founder of Black Girl Everything, New Model Minority. She is book "Black Girls Are From the Future: Essays on Race, Digital Creativity and Pop Culture".

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  • Brownbelle

    I had

    • Reninaj

      BROWNBELLE!!! You’re here!

      I don’t see any evidence of love between the, just passion/chemistry/lust.


      For those of us *cough* who have been attracted to unavailable people, this is part of what is sooo attractive the passion/chemistry/lust.

      . If the affair were exposed, Liv would no doubt be painted as a
      scheming temptress who “trapped” the President into “forgetting” his
      duties to wife and country.
      Black women as “ho’s” would certainly come into play.

      Fitz is forever putting his hands on
      her-grabbing her arm to keep her from leaving the room, shoving her
      against a tree and fondling her in front of a half dozen Secret Service
      agents, pushing her up onto his desk even after she says “No” and “I
      can’t do this”. When she justifiably brings up why they shouldn’t be
      together, he accuses her of playing the race card and makes himself the
      victim! If that’s not codependent and emotionally abusive, I don’t know
      what is.
      I don’t know BB. Aren’t you erasing her agency here. Part of her is showing up to be around, wait, smell and deal with him. Is it possible that this is hard to watch because we know women who sell themselves short. I know I HAVE, and I had to learn about that shit real quick. When I didn’t learn, I kept doing what I was doing until I left the person alone.

      Is it so much that he was making himself the victim, rather than telling her that she desires what they have just as much as he does, fucked up and all?!?!?!?

      • Brownbelle

        RE chemistry: I’m sure that’s part of the thrill. I tend to be clingy so unavailable men are a no-go for me.

        RE agency: I didn’t think about that, but you do have a point. She is definitely allowing Fitz to have power over her, and that is a choice. BUT at the same time, manipulators know how to push the emotional buttons that erode your ability to think clearly. Guilt and shame combined with passion would cloud anyone’s judgment.