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Without Clair Huxtable, there would be no Olivia Pope

Among the many inaccuracies and indignities in Alessandra Stanley's much-maligned New York Times piece on Shonda Rhimes, a line about Clair Huxtable caught my attention.

Stanley's central thesis is that Rhimes has shattered some "angry black woman" glass ceiling in Hollywood, carving Scandal's Olivia Pope and the main character of How to Get Away With Murderthe latest from her Shondaland production company, out of her own image.

Rhimes was as shocked as any of us to find out that she and her characters are angry black women. (Her white, oft-angry female characters are just "women," apparently.) To prove this, Stanley compared Rhimes's black female leads to black women on TV in the '70s and '80s — "bossy, sassy, salt-of-the earth" types like Esther Rolle's Florida character (of Good Times and Maude). She added that Rhimes' leading women "certainly are not as benign and reassuring as Clair Huxtable, the serene, elegant wife, mother and dedicated lawyer on The Cosby Show."

This made me wonder if Stanley had ever even seen The Cosby Show, let alone Scandal. Clair Huxtable was not benign and reassuring. She was a badass partner in a law firm! And she taught a million young women (admittedly, through the unrealistic lens of a network sitcom) that pursuing such a demanding career and having a family were not mutually exclusive.

She taught me about feminism before I knew what it was. As Clair, the brilliant Phylicia Rashad ranted frequently and famously, just like Rhimes has all of her "angry black women" characters do. She was always the smartest person in the room. If Olivia Pope were a real person, she would have been inspired by Clair Huxtable. On the 30th anniversary of The Cosby Show's premiere, it's baffling that such an obvious connection went unnoticed. It was one of many points missed in an article that thoroughly bungled issues of race, gender, and basic TV history.

For an example of Clair's "benign and reassuring" presence, check out the video above, in which she sets her foolish future son-in-law, Elvin, straight on gender roles.

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