The New York Times’ public editor, Margaret Sullivan, isn’t mincing words when it comes to her colleague’s recent article about Shonda Rhimes. Last week Alessandra Stanley’s article on the award-winning producer—in which Stanley referred to Rhimes as an “angry black woman” and stated that Viola Davis was “less classically beautiful” than lighter-skinned black actresses—caused an uproar.
In response to the article, Rhimes took to her Twitter account to express her disappointment:
In what seemed to be a subtweet directed at the article, Davis also went the social media route to express her feelings:
Sullivan is now apologizing on behalf of the newspaper and stated that the article was “astonishingly tone-deaf and out of touch.”
Sullivan also said, “The readers and commentators are correct to protest this story.”
She continued, “Intended to be in praise of Ms. Rhimes, it delivered that message in a condescending way.”
The newspaper’s culture editor, Danielle Mattoon, took a different route in addressing the story. But that whole “we didn’t mean to offend” approach is nothing short of a faux-pology.
“There was never any intent to offend anyone and I deeply regret that it did. Alessandra used a rhetorical device to begin her essay, and because the piece was so largely positive, we as editors weren't sensitive enough to the language being used,” Mattoon stated.
How is it possible that editors did not recognize that the article was not only offensive but racist? Mattoon used the excuse that editors didn’t recognize their blind spots, but apparently they don’t recognize ignorance, either.
In defense of her own article, Stanley stated, “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.”
She said, “I didn't think Times readers would take the opening sentence literally … Regrettably, this stereotype is still too incendiary to raise even in arguing that Ms. Rhimes had killed it once and for all.”
So what happens, now that the s—t has hit the proverbial fan over at the New York Times? Sullivan plans on speaking to Dean Baquet, the executive editor, who happens to be black, about “diversity in the newsroom, particularly among culture critics.”
That’s all good and kumbaya, but it’s probably a little too late.
And just when you thought Sullivan was doing her part, she also revealed a lack of diversity in certain areas of the newspaper: “The Times has significant diversity among its high-ranked editors and prominent writers, but it’s troubling that with 20 critics, not one is black and only two are persons of color.”
And therein lies the problem.
The faces of mainstream media are not only white but ignorant when it comes to reporting on black people and people in color in general. I guess it doesn’t matter if you have a rack of Emmys and the No. 1 TV ratings night in the country—you can still be labeled an angry black woman. For no reason at all.