So now, apparently, we praise people by heaping more stereotypes upon them.
2) Being the Only One can really suck.
The title of Holmes’ piece, “The Only One: A Talk With Shonda Rhimes”, resonated deeply with me. The idea that “Shonda Rhimes, really, is the Only One. She’s certainly the Only One at that level,” is a painful and lonely one. Because Rhimes is the sole black female television producer in the room when the industry is on parade makes her have to give up time spent being good at her job to shoulder the the burden of being the Explainer-In-Chief of all that is black, female, and therefore stereotyped.
When I was a kid and a young adult I was often the only black friend or acquaintance of the people around me. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I quickly noticed when being the Only One—the Only Black Person—in a room. During the wandering, slightly lost years of my early 20s there was little that made me feel more pigeonholed than the “Why do they do that?” questions. You know, the ones that require the respondent to explain the actions of people of a similar skin color whom the respondent has never met. For example, when a man I worked with asked me why black people end answering machine messages with “Have a blessed day!”, and why they use the past tense pronunciation of the word instead of “bless-ed”. It didn’t dawn on him that the saying was as much of a Southernism as it was a Black Thing. It didn’t dawn on him that my accent indicated that it had been at least partially developed outside of the South. The only thing that mattered was that I should have been able to answer his “innocent” curiosity because I was black. What that told me was that all of the experiences and and characteristics that made me into who I was disappeared when when my race was considered. The label was more important than the person.
In Stanley’s attempt to use “a rhetorical device to begin her essay,” according to her editor, Danielle Mattoon, and then follow that particular device by lobbing more labels at other black women in television, Stanley is doing exactly what the guy at the gym did to me—stripping away all of the work, talent, quirks, sacrifices and memories each of those women incurred through their careers and lumping them together in a single commonality. The idea that a woman in an industry where women have to work so hard to have their own individual talents and personalities recognized as something other than their gender would do such a thing to a woman working in an industry with the same problem is difficult to believe. But it happened, and I do believe that such a thought never occurred to Stanley. The proof, for me, is in the following paragraph which shows awareness of the way an industry reminds people of their place: