Victoria Rowell played ‘The Race Card’?

THIS article (posted at The Huffington Post)  won’t seem like it has much to do with the comments Victoria Rowell made regarding the status of African-American actors and actresses on the YnR, and daytime in general.  If you have the time, however, please read it.  If not, at least please view the video below.  While neither the article nor the video seem as if they have any connection to the comments  leveled by Ms. Rowell or at her since her departure from the genre, I urge you  to hang in there with me, and give me a minute to put it all in context.

(WARNING!!!!!!!!!!  The video below is of performers appearing in ‘black face’ as the ‘Jackson 5’ and another performer appearing in ‘white face’ as Michael Jackson):

There’s something you need to keep in mind about these performers.  They are all real life friends, and  real life physicians.  They were INVITED to come back and perform that routine,  having originally performed it some 20 years ago on the same show -when they were all medical students.  Shocking, huh?  It blows away the stereotype/the myth that only deeply evil or completely ignorant and uneducated people, all of whom are beyond reason, engage in such inappropriate behaviors.   Some acts of racism are intentional, others are not.  Some acts of racism are meant to wound, others are not.   Some actions aren’t deemed racist in the times they occur, but with reflection we can see the harm they caused.

How will we ever know the difference if we never take another person’s charge of racism seriously when it happens?  (That question also includes the other  ‘isms’ we often pretend aren’t happening:  sexism, ageism, and homophobia/orientationism).  If we never embrace and examine another person’s charge of bias when it occurs – we are doomed to repeat damning patterns of inflicting pain.  We’ll continue to expect others to live with our messes, grin and bear our ignorance, suffer in silence and just be a good ‘team player’.

As I’m reading the message boards about the  ‘conflict’ between Victoria Rowell and Christel Khalil, I’m deeply saddened by the use of the phrase ‘race card’ in reference to Ms. Rowell’s charges that she and other African-American actors were treated unfairly backstage at the YnR.  The ‘race card’ charge is being leveled  by fans and others, especially given Khalil’s recent interview with Buzzworthy radio (you can hear that interview by clicking:  Khalil Interview.  It should be noted that Ms. Khalil is not making that charge, to my knowledge).

The next time someone uses that phrase, I would appreciate a definition of the term to accompany it.  What does it mean to those who’ve used the term?  I’m African-American and I’ve  never received one!  I don’t know any other person of color who owns one.  As I understand it, it’s a ‘get out of <insert problem> free’ card.  You can ‘play’ it and everyone around you bends to your will.  Is that what it is?   And if so,  just how is that workin’ <g> for everyone?  Who has successfully played this mysterious ‘race card’?

GH  dismantled the ‘Asian Quarter’  more than a decade ago.  The only lead African-American male, and one who was connected to one of the show’s prominent core families, was found dead and stuffed in the trunk of a car — THE TRUNK — and he was an attorney.  Of course, he’s the only prominent attorney I can remember who fell in with the mob and was killed for it.  Latinos on GH???  Does Michael’s ex-nanny, Leticia, count?  There were the Alcazars, but they were criminals.  Sonny?  Enough said?

AMC has FINALLY brought the Hubbards back, but the Santos family is long gone.

DAYS?  Technically they still have Abe and Lexie, but other than her getting it on with any new (and young) man who comes to town, there isn’t ever much of a storyline for either of them.  We’ll see what happens with Rafe  and his growing family.

Every soap has its own problems with ‘race’, though OLTL leads the pack in trying to get things right, as far as I’m concerned.

So who has successfully played this ‘race card’?  The writers backstage?  How many writers of color are there in ALL of daytime?  Head writers?  Executive Producers?  Heads of Daytime of any of the networks?  Directors?  HELL, stage managers?  Whoever these successful ‘race card players’ are, someone should give them Victoria Rowell’s phone number.  Apparently they play it well and I’d love to see her back onscreen again!   The trouble for Ms. Rowell is that whenever she’s accused of playing it, she’s also accused of being ‘crazy’, or words to that effect.

When Peter Bergman implied that Victoria Rowell was imbalanced for her criticisms of the treatment of minority actors and characters,  it was heartbreaking.  I can only imagine that Ms. Rowell was in shock, having worked on the same set with the man for so long. I don’t know how she actually felt, I don’t know her.  I do know what I felt when I read his words.  I know how I reacted as a fan.  I  was DONE with him.  I haven’t rooted for him as an actor, or for his onscreen character, since that time.    In a June 2007 Interview with TV Guide

TVG: What did you think of Victoria Rowell [ex-Drucilla, Y&R] lambasting the Emmy system in Soaps in Depth, calling it ‘contaminated,’ and daytime ‘racist’ because she failed to be recognized by her cast?
PB: I look at her with compassion and concern. I don’t think she’s playing with a full deck.

TVG: And the work being judged began in January 2006. When the Emmys air, we’re already into half a year of eligibility for next year’s Emmys!
PB: Exactly. It’s a flawed system, which was born from another flawed system. We haven’t perfected it yet. Another weird thing: I got my pre-nomination on either the 16th or 18th of January. When the Emmys air on June 15, it will be half a year this process has been going on! I mean, come on! There is so much about it that’s maddening, especially with the pre-nominations. For Victoria Rowell, I don’t even know what to say about her because she’s not grounded in reality, however, the system does amount to a popularity contest. You’ve heard all the rumours of who is reviled on their soaps, and that ultimately costs them a nomination even if they had the goldest of golden years.

Has any other actor been called ‘crazy’ (or words to that effect) when they’ve commented on the unfair Emmy process?  PB dismissed Ms. Rowell without refuting any of her claims.   What evidence did he offer that there WAS NO racism either backstage or in the Emmy system?  That, in itself, suggests to me that Ms. Rowell was waging an untenable battle  on a daily basis.  Who took her voice seriously?    PB’s comments, in my book, came across as incredibly self-important, ignorant, arrogant, and self-indulgent – that’s THIS fan’s perspective, you may have viewed his comments differently.  How many African-American actresses have won a daytime (or even prime time) Emmy as Best Actress?  Best Supporting Actress?

From Tom O’Neil (March 2009):

Angela Bassett would make Emmy history if she wins lead actress for ‘ER’

There is a spirited debate in the forums about whether Angela Bassett of “ER” should put herself forward in the lead or supporting category at this year’s Emmy Awards. The Oscar-nominated actress (“What’s Love Got to Do With It”) has joined the cast of the NBC medical drama as attending physician Cate Banfield for the final season of its 15-year run. Were she to get a lead nod and then win, Angela Bassett would make Emmy history as the first African American actress to prevail for a regular lead role on a drama series.  (Read the rest of the article by clicking on ‘Tom O’Neil’, above)

EMMY HISTORY?  In 2009!?!?!?  Click HERE for the ‘Prime Time’ list… I could find no such list for Daytime, if you know of one, let me know.  My current understand is that NO African-American actress has won for Lead or Supporting.

Victoria, Rowell, the ex- Drucilla Winters. This image may be subject to copyright - all rights retained by the original owner

My  interpretation of Mr. Bergman’s comments is that he seems to suggest that things are good for him, so they’re good across the board -, but your mileage may vary in your interpretation.  It strikes me as odd because the man was in a storyline about his “Vietnamese family” (and they were treated as such, never fully integrated into the Abbott family and then written off as quick as an eyeblink given what should have been a prominent status).  Was that not odd?  One of the longest running African-American characters on the show was a woman who served as the Abbott maid, Dru and Olivia’s aunt, a woman named ‘Mamie’ (and if you think about the significance of her name, and her status, you get it).   Ashley was Liv’s sorority sister and despite having no other real friends, they almost never speak.  The YnR made a big production of signing the first lead Asian-American male role in daytime… and then killed him off relatively soon after:  Eric Steinberg’s Ji Min Kim.

NO lead actress/supporting actress Emmys for black actresses, not once in the history of the Emmys and Rowell is  ‘not playing with a full deck’?  Is it possible that Ms. Rowell isn’t crazy, but that she has a different perspective?  Is it possible that she’s thinking about the underside of the industry that doesn’t seem to be openly discussed often enough?  The side of the industry that has existed without intense scrutiny for far too long?  I’m disheartened when thinking that Ms. Rowell spoke out, alone, and that there were no real advocates on her side – at least none that I could find.  I’m disheartened to think that  some of her colleagues still seem to think it’s  perfectly fine to dismiss her as a  ‘difficult’ person, instead of a FRUSTRATED person who may believe that she has to fight for thing things that others seem to take for granted in their work.  I’ve been there.  I know what it’s like to show up day after day and believe that your contribution won’t carry the same weight as others (who may have even contributed less).  I know what it’s like to feel obligated to mention the inequalities and to fight for new standard only to realize that to others it means that you’re being ‘difficult’.  I’m saddened that Ms. Rowell seems to be dismissed as a stereotypically ‘angry black female’, rather than having anyone address the merits of her argument.  That her argument has not been addressed, but that she instead is the focus of any response I’ve heard, suggests to me that there’s something there worth exploring.

I’m glad to hear Kristoff St. John – also on Buzzworthy Radio,  speak out about a similar issue, the problem of diversity overall in daytime and specifically on the YnR (There are no comments from anyone associated with the show which have referred to KSJ as being ‘divorced from reality’, as far as I know!).  It seems that most of the core Winters family have spoken up about the same issue.  You can hear the KSJ interview by clicking HERE.
For the record, I don’t think that the actors, writers, producers, and others are overtly racist.   That’s not the point of this article.  The point of this article is that no matter where we are in our lives, there are very good people, all of whom mean well, but who sometimes have poor judgment – as with our physician friends above.  We are sadly as not introspective about our own ideas, motives, actions as we are judgmental about those of others.  As I think about Ms Rowell’s reactions to very serious issues related to racial diversity in daytime, I am empathetic.  To not want to be subjected to well-meaning, yet still soul searing, unintentional assaults does not make one:

  • mean and nasty
  • crazy
  • troubled
  • delusional
  • disruptive
  • unreasonable
  • too ‘PC’
  • too sensitive
  • ungrateful
  • too outspoken
  • ridiculous

or any other  adjective you might add with a similar sentiment.  It just makes you tired and, yes, sometimes a little angry.  There’s a reason Ms. Rowell has continued to be embraced by so many African-American viewers, and not just as ‘Drucilla’.  I would love for her to continue to speak out, and for others to listen, and to ultimately correct any situation that bears correcting.

*****************

Edited to add a great big special thanks to the brilliant-as-always Adampascalfan for the comment about Debbie Morgan. I found this: “…The talented thespian, who portrays sensible and nurturing Dr. Angela Baxter Hubbard on ABC’s long-running soap opera, became the first (and) only African-American actress to win a Daytime Emmy Award in 1989 when she won (in a tie-can’t the Emmy jurors let a sister get her shine on solo?) when she won for Best Supporting Actress…”   Essence

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