The Angry Black Woman

Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes

The article about the awarded TV Show writer, Shonda Rhimes had not yet appeared in Sunday’s paper but the public could not help to protest on Friday after it was published online. What was the fuss about?

Alessandra Stanley, a TV critic for the New York Times, wrote the article. In its first paragraph it made a reference to Ms. Rhimes as an “Angry Black Woman,” an expression that struck many readers as completely off-base. Some though it was offensive, others went further saying it was racist but Stanley had said it in the best of ways, she was embracing Shonda Rhimes’s powerful and courageous personality.

In an interview with Talking Points Memo’s Stanley stated:

“The whole point of the piece — once you read past the first 140 characters — is to praise Shonda Rhimes for pushing back so successfully on a tiresome but insidious stereotype.”

The National Public Radio reported that others, including Rhimes, noted several instances in which the critic seemed to invoke the very stereotypes she was supposedly deflating.

This makes me wonder…shouldn’t a professional like Alessandra Stanley, who works for such an influential newspaper, be more aware and conscious on how she expresses herself? Isn’t minimize harm one of the codes of journalism ethics?

Another exert from Stanley’s story states:

“Ignoring the narrow beauty standards some African-American women are held to, Ms. Rhimes chose a performer who is older, darker-skinned and less classically beautiful than Ms. Washington, or for that matter Halle Berry.”

She claims she is just making an observation and acclaiming Rhimes for bringing diversity into television. Does this premise support her claims? Can her expression be considered racist or ignorant?

Alessandra Stanley had the best of intentions when she wrote the article, but we can argue that although she had good means, she suffered bad ends. This is one of the possibilities in Danner and Kiousis “Taxonomy of Means and Ends”

BBC news reported that the paper admitted the piece had been seen by at least three editors before it was published online, but none of them had raised any objections over its content.

Does this make the editors and Stanley equally responsible?

Danielle Matton, the Culture Editor for the New York Times said:

“This is a signal to me that we have to constantly remind ourselves as editors of our blind spots, what we don’t know, and of how readers may react.”

Stanley and other editors did not see a problem with the expression “angry black woman,” but Shonda Rhimes and other readers were insulted. This shows how attitudes can be cultured bound.

After the issue escalated and more people were aware of the situation, Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of the New York Times, wrote an article exploring the causes of the furor with the story and explained “she didn’t have any intent of offending anyone.”

Stanley finally apologized for her mistake and the New York Times published her final word. She expressed:

“In the review, I referenced a painful and insidious stereotype solely in order to praise Ms. Rhimes and her shows for traveling so far from it. If making that connection between the two offended people, I feel bad about that. But I think that a full reading allows for a different takeaway than the loudest critics took.”

Stanley “unknowingly” broke the ethical code of minimizing harm. She expressed herself in a way that struck the public in a racist and negative way. This could have affected the Black community, readers, the actors in the TV shows and the New York Times and its editors.

Although Stanley broke the code of minimizing-harm, did she redeem herself when she apologized?




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4 Responses to The Angry Black Woman

  1. Emily Dorso says:

    I continually find this story surprising seeing that this article was published in none other than the New York Times. While the entirety of her article was positive, the comments made by Alessandra Stanley were in fact ignorant and uninformed. Originally created as a witty opening line to gain readers attention, the article did just that. Unfortunately, it was in a negative way. More alarming is that this article passed through the eyes of three senior editors before publishing, all whom did not find a problem with the article.

    Stanley’s apology does not make up for her original mishap. It is just another example of how cultural ignorance is a continual problem in our culture, so engrained that even senior editors of the New York Times sometimes fail to recognize it. Although apologizing was an important public relations move for the paper, it certainly does not combat the racially-stimulated comments the author made.

  2. elizabeth blount says:

    When listening to your presentation, I was slightly unsure of what to think. I wondered if Alessandra Stanley’s comment was taken out of context. Upon reading the full text, I believe she used that phrasing full well knowing it would draw attention. Her full sentence reads, “When Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.” Now, I know the name of her new shoe uses the phrase “How to Get Away With,” but to use the phrase with angry black woman to reference Rhimes accomplishments is tacky. I’m sure Ms. Rhimes would say she has worked hard to get where she is and to create the characters she’s written. I find her phrasing to be equal to a sensationalist, misleading headline: written for attention. An apology was warranted.

  3. Melissa Tantillo says:

    This story is absolutely shocking. There is no reason for anyone to refer to another person by their color of skin. Especially not in the New York Times. This is supposed to be an extremely professional and accredited publication that should be ethically just in all postings and stories.

    I am mostly amazed at the fact that the author claims to have been praising Shonda Rhimes for her work. If this is someone you respect and appreciate, why would you even bring up anything about her race?

    Race is not a subject to be brought up in an article about this woman’s amazing work in the television industry. It really should not be brought up at all.

  4. jaclyn lepage says:

    I think that this is completely blown out of proportion and isn’t racist at all. I think if the article said “The angry white women,” that maybe it would have been a big deal. I do think that the person who wrote this article should have used her words differently especially when describing the characters in the shows, but I agree how she is simply making specific observations of the characters.

    I agree with the above comment how apologizing was a good move public relations wise, but I also think there should have been more done than that. I think the editor who approved this article should speak out as well as the person who wrote it. If they believe this wasn’t racist at all, then they should say that and also explain why they chose specific words in the article.

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