New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan has updated a post she published this morning regarding Alessandra Stanley's wildly racist article about Shonda Rhimes where she repeatedly called her an Angry Black Woman.
Sullivan reached out to Stanley, Culture Editor Danielle Mattoon and Executive Editor Dean Baquet for comment. She has since received responses from Mattoon and Stanley that are almost as obtuse as the original article.
"There was never any intent to offend anyone and I deeply regret that it did," Ms. Mattoon said. "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."
Intent is not impact. Intent is not impact. Intent is not impact. Why is that so difficult to understand? In terms of importance and relevance here, your intention is secondary, at best, and qualifying your apology with a, "Well, I didn't mean it," doesn't exactly bolster your sincerity.
Not only did Stanley begin her essay with that "rhetorical device," or as everyone else is calling it, racism, she continued to use it over and over again throughout the piece.
Besides, we already know that upholding racist images of black women probably wasn't your direct intent. The general cluelessness displayed throughout the piece made it clear that no one involved in the article really knew what the hell they were doing anyway.
The idea that the piece "was so largely positive" is also laughable. Ask any black woman if they found the article positive. Shonda Rhimes herself didn't find it positive. But please, white lady, continue to explain why she should be flattered. By centering the entire essay around a racist characterization of Rhimes, there was little room left for positivity. Mattoon's argument is essentially, she may be an Angry Black Woman but she's a successful Angry Black Woman.
Describing Shonda Rhimes through racist rhetoric but continuing to bless her with your special special New York Times ink does not equal positivity.
Further, referring only to the Angry Black Woman language ignores the fact that Stanley insulted not just Rhimes, but all of Rhimes' black female characters, her ability to write characters who are not black women and invoked additional racist tropes when discussing Viola Davis.
Suggesting that the piece was largely positive is farcical and frankly, makes me question Mattoon's reading comprehension and ability to sympathize with experiences other than her own.
Stanley drooled all through her non-apology by blaming the readers for our inability to understand her work.
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.
What is with Stanley thinking that we didn't read the piece? I read it. All of it. Repeatedly. I came away with the exact same take every time.
You're critiquing a television show for one of the most widely read newspapers in the world—this ain't Finnegans Wake. If all your readers are somehow "missing the point," then the problem is you and your writing, not us.
The notion that you must directly address stereotypes in order to combat them is incredibly simplistic. It's the difference between and saying that a young woman is "pretty for a black girl" and simply saying that she's pretty.
Stanley continued to blame the reaction to her piece on all her dumb-dumb readers.
I didn't think Times readers would take the opening sentence literally because I so often write arch, provocative ledes that are then undercut or mitigated by the paragraphs that follow.
You hear that New York Times readers? You idiots. Why aren't you intimately familiar with all of Stanley's work? If so, you obviously would have known that you weren't supposed to take literally a very specific group of words that were printed in a newspaper that has 114 Pulitzer Prizes.
The only thing I can get on board with is both Mattoon and Stanley realizing that they could have avoided this colossal fuckup through better newsroom diversity.
She told me that multiple editors — at least three — read the article in advance but that none of them raised any objections or questioned the elements of the article that have been criticized.
"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."
Or, you know, get editors with fewer blind spots in these issues—like black ones.
Sullivan suggested just that.
I still plan to talk to Mr. Baquet about the article, its editing, and about diversity in the newsroom, particularly among culture critics. The Times has a number of high-ranked editors and prominent writers who are people of color, but it's troubling that among 20 critics, not one is black and only one is a person of color
Troubling. Yes, I would say it's troubling your culture department doesn't have any black people when black Americans play a disproportionally dominant role in American music, sports and fashion—I believe we call it, culture.
This is a stupid lasagna. Just layers and layers of stupidity. With any luck, a smart response and sincere apology from Dean Baquet can put an end to this and the New York Times' culture department can get to work on hiring some black people.
In related news, the Hollywood Reporter reached out to 30 of Shonda Rhimes' colleagues, including Viola Davis, Scott Foley and Portia de Rossi, and asked them to describe her in three words. Spoiler alert: no one said Angry Black Woman.
Image via Getty.