Shonda Rhimes at The Human Rights Campaign Gala in Los Angeles, 2015
“Let me describe myself as a kid: highly intelligent, way too chubby, incredibly sensitive, nerdy and painfully shy. I wore coke bottle thick glasses. Two corn row braids traveled down the sides of my skull in a way that was just not pretty on me. And here’s the kicker — I was often the only black girl in my class.
I did not have friends.
No one is meaner than a pack of human beings faced with someone who is different.
I was very much alone.
I created friends. I named them and wrote every detail about them. I gave them stories and homes and families. I wrote about their parties and their dates and their friendships and their lives and they were so very real to me that —
You see, Shondaland, the imaginary land of Shonda, has existed since I was 11 years old.
I built it in my mind as a place to hold my stories. A safe place. A space for my characters to exist. A space for ME to exist. Until I could get the hell out of being a teenager and could run out into the world and be myself.
Less isolated, less marginalized, less invisible in the eyes of my peers.
Until I could find my people in the real world.
I don’t know if anyone has noticed but I only ever write about one thing: being alone. The fear of being alone, the desire to not be alone, the attempts we make to find our person, to keep our person, to convince our person to not leave us alone, the joy of being with our person and thus no longer alone, the devastation of being left alone.
The need to hear the words: You are not alone.
The fundamental human need for one human being to hear another human being say to them: “You are not alone. You are seen. I am with you. You are not alone.”
I get asked a lot by reporters and tweeters why I am so invested in “diversity” on television. “Why is it so important to have diversity on TV?” they say. “Why is it so challenging to have diversity?” “Why does Cyrus need to be gay?”
I really hate the word “diversity”. It suggests something…other. As if it is something…special. Or rare.
As if there is something unusual about telling stories involving women and people of color and LGBTQ characters on TV.
I have a different word: NORMALIZING.
I’m normalizing TV.
I am making TV look like the world looks. Women, people of color, LGBTQ people equal WAY more than 50% of the population. Which means it ain’t out of the ordinary. I am making the world of television look NORMAL.
I am NORMALIZING television.
You should get to turn on the TV and see your tribe. And your tribe can be any kind of person, any one you identify with, anyone who feels like you, who feels like home, who feels like truth. You should get to turn on the TV and see your tribe, see your people, someone like you out there, existing. So that you know on your darkest day that when you run (metaphorically or physically RUN), there is somewhere, someone, to run TO. Your tribe is waiting for you.
You are not alone.
The goal is that everyone should get to turn on the TV and see someone who looks like them and loves like them. And just as important, everyone should turn on the TV and see someone who doesn’t look like them and love like them. Because, perhaps then, they will learn from them.
Perhaps then, they will not isolate them.
Perhaps they will even come to recognize themselves in them.
Perhaps they will even learn to love them.
I think that when you turn on the television and you see love, from anyone, with anyone, to anyone — real love — a service has been done for you. Your heart has somehow been expanded, your mind has somehow grown. Your soul has been opened a little more. You’ve experienced something.
The very idea that love exists, that it is possible, that one can have a “person”…
You are not alone.
Hate diminishes, love expands.”