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The Race Card: Ethnicity on TV


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#17281

selkie

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Posted Apr 25, 2012 @ 9:16 AM

The Voice had a white guy this week doing a song on a Romeo & Juilet sort of set. (It was one of Cee-Lo's contestants. Heavy use of props and explosives is expected.) We don't see Juliet until the last few seconds of the song, and then discover she's black. Made me wonder if it was a bit of a snark toward the fuss about the Bachelor/Bachelorette, or if it was just The Voice's usually pretty organic inclusiveness.
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#17282

rlb8031

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Posted Apr 25, 2012 @ 1:05 PM

The most ironic thing about Girls is that it is set in neighborhoods (Willamsburg, Greenpoint, with references to places like Prospect Heights and Ft. Green)that are full of young white hipsters because they were majority minority communities that had relatively inexpensive housing. In many parts of Williamsburg, if you walk down the street, you'll see blacks, Latinos, and Hassidic Jews ALL THE TIME. Greenpoint is full of old Polish and Italians, Ft. Green is surrounded on every side by public housing projects. To not show a black person walking down the street, sitting in a cafe, or anything else, is just flat out wrong.

The funniest reference to me was the scene where there was a whole discussion of the great bars Weather Up and Washington Commons. I present to you the Google street views:

Washington Commons

Weather Up

These are transitional communities, but there are still plenty of black and latino middle class twenty somethings in these neighborhoods, both men and women.
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#17283

oreo8704

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Posted Apr 25, 2012 @ 1:42 PM

I grew up in a place that was at least 90% white and I still had some non white friends and acquaintences without seeking them out so I don't get all these really white shows set in way more diverse places.

Huffington Post has another editorial on Girls.

Edited by oreo8704, Apr 25, 2012 @ 2:05 PM.

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#17284

Ankai

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Posted Apr 25, 2012 @ 6:15 PM

This article from the AV Club was...interesting. It did get me a little bit curious as to whether other shows set in Brooklyn had received as much scrutiny or portrayed the populace better.
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#17285

AyeshaTheGreat

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Posted Apr 25, 2012 @ 8:14 PM

I've been following this Girls discussion and read most of the articles posted. Because of all of the attention, I figured I must watch the pilot. Surely a show getting all of this attention must be great and since folks have deemed it "hilarious", I wanted in. So I watched. Honestly, even after all the discussion about race, I still didn't notice the lack of POC because the show just did nothing for me. I did not find it funny nor did I want to watch it again.

So I wonder if the people who are discussing the racial demographics of the extras are actually viewers of the show. Because I know if there were more POC shopping in a bookstore or pouring water in a restaurant, it would not make me any more likely to watch the show. Even more, showrunner or not, I just don't expect much from the 25 year old writer/creator/director/star/whateverothertitlesheholds. I'm not surprised that the show is filled with her friends. Many creators do the same thing so if her friends all look like her then so will her show. However, I did like the one article that highlighted women of color who should have their own shows. I think it goes back to who is running the studios and networks. I want to see more POC on screen (big or small) as well but if POC or those who hold an interest for POC are not in the executive positions, we will just get more of the same.
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#17286

Ankai

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Posted May 12, 2012 @ 6:28 PM

I know if there were more POC shopping in a bookstore or pouring water in a restaurant, it would not make me any more likely to watch the show.

I get the impression that that was more the last straw than the main complaint.

Nikita was renewed for a third season. The Asian-American two-season curse has been broken, I suppose.
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#17287

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Posted May 13, 2012 @ 6:57 AM

Nothing succeeds like success. Billiedoux, a website that dissed the show because Maggie Q was not the 'real' Nikita, has suddenly decided to cover it.
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#17288

tip and fall

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Posted May 13, 2012 @ 3:07 PM

And considering that the CW has decided to order Beauty and the Beast (starring Kristin Kreuk) to series, that'll make two shows featuring Asian leads on the same network. Let's just hope that BatB doesn't try to pass Kristin off as white the way Smallville did.

Re: Nikita - there's been speculation that the show might be gearing up for Sonya to take Birkhoff's place. I know Birkhoff and Aaron Stanford are very beloved, but honestly, I wouldn't mind this happening. Right now Nikita is the only WOC regular, and now that Amanda's apparently gone (for now), she and Alex are the only female regulars on the show, period. It would be nice to add a black WOC to the main cast. And I like Sonya, anyway. :)

Edited by tip and fall, May 13, 2012 @ 3:08 PM.

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#17289

memememe76

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Posted May 14, 2012 @ 10:47 PM

The CW is airing The LA Complex, featuring an Asian Lead. That may be arguable as the show hands out screentime relatively equally amongst its ensemble, but I do think Manny Santos (I don't know her name on the show, just her name on a previous show) is still the main protagonist. Of course, no one is watching the show so by the time Beauty & the Beast airs, it'll still only be two shows.
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#17290

Ankai

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Posted May 15, 2012 @ 6:25 PM

I thought that that was a Canadian import. Not that that excludes it from the discussion, but I feel that it is important to keep that in mind. I believe that there was some brief discussion earlier in this thread about Canadian television, its differences from American television, and whether a desire to break into America has led to certain compromises.
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#17291

Feckless

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Posted May 20, 2012 @ 6:04 PM

Kristen Kreuk's character does appear to be Asian in Beauty and the Beast, since her mother is played by an Asian actress too. The trailer is here.

Edited by Feckless, May 20, 2012 @ 6:05 PM.

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#17292

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Posted May 26, 2012 @ 9:32 PM

Was anyone else bothered by the telenovela spoof in the Modern Family season finale? Something about it reminded me very much of Santana's speech to the teacher in Glee (don't watch enough to know his name). It felt patronizing.

Edited by ThomasAAnderson, May 26, 2012 @ 9:37 PM.

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#17293

SnarkySheep

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Posted May 29, 2012 @ 7:41 AM

Like you, I have experienced a lot more "casual" racism than anything else. I actually can't remember if I've ever been told to "go back to China" or been called a "chink" to my face. I have had people compliment me on my English, ask where I'm really from (or where my parents are from), told me that I should be more outgoing and not submissive because I'm in America now (I'm quiet because I'm an introvert, not because I'm Asian, fyi), been called "oriental", etc.

FWIW, tip_and_fall, I have also experienced something along these lines, and I'm a white, American-born person. Long story short, I was born in a city with a generous-sized immigrant population, to a dad who came from a European country as a young man, and a mom who is from the same background but a city native. When people hear how well I speak the language, they tend to put it together with my looks, which are pretty classic for this country, and ask me "how long I've been here." Um, 32 years?

I try not to be offended, because A)I don't think these people mean it offensively, and B)getting annoyed won't change it and is just not worth it. But honestly, why on earth would people assume that someone who is fluent in another language isn't "from here"?

On a related note, I've always been a bit annoyed at how people of European descent are portrayed on TV. Characters are either straight from the Old Country (literally, wearing weird peasant clothes, as though people all over the world don't wear jeans in 2012), speaking good but very accented English, and the characters in the show get to play the Benevolent Americans, showing the Old Country Visitor how to really live!

Conversely, if someone on TV mentions roots from another country, it will always be so distant as to have absolutely no bearing on them. It's rare that they are basically American, yet speak the language and maybe cook some of the food. And yet that was the norm for nearly everyone I knew growing up, be they Polish, Italian, Greek, whatever.
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#17294

PRgal

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Posted May 29, 2012 @ 3:06 PM

Speaking as a person of Asian descent, what SnarkySheep said. And to top that off, as I've said before, white TV characters who mention their "other country" roots are usually Italian or Irish (is that somehow "safer" than, say, Polish or German?) And why are the vast majority of black characters multigenerational Americans with US slavery roots? Where are the characters whose parents are off the plane from, say, Nigeria or somewhere in the Caribbean? And what about the golf and status-obsessed Asians (parents who want that prep school education for their kids, country club membership, living in the right neighbourhood, etc..?) Or is that a Canadian stereotype?
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#17295

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Posted May 29, 2012 @ 4:09 PM

And why are the vast majority of black characters multigenerational Americans with US slavery roots? Where are the characters whose parents are off the plane from, say, Nigeria or somewhere in the Caribbean?

Exactly. I had this same conversation with a friend once, and it's almost as if blacks just aren't suppose to have a varied ethnic background the way Caucasians can have (ie, Irish, Scottish, German, etc...). It's as if "black" just says enough and implies, just as you said, US slavery origins. I can't remember the last time I saw a black character on TV who had a background other than the usual fare.

Edited by PepSinger, May 29, 2012 @ 6:56 PM.

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#17296

tip and fall

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Posted May 29, 2012 @ 5:11 PM

I try not to be offended, because A)I don't think these people mean it offensively,

I'd argue that most people who say/do racist stuff don't mean it offensively, even when you're talking about shit that you'd think would be completely blatant. Look at the crap people say on I'm Not Racist, But.... So for me that's not a valid reason to not get annoyed. To bring it back around on topic, just look at how things like blackface and whitewashing are treated in the media. You call Hollywood out on whitewashing a character, or putting someone in blackface, and you get producers and showrunners simpering about how they didn't ~mean to be offensive.

and B)getting annoyed won't change it and is just not worth it.

But neither should such assumptions be allowed to pass unchallenged, or else people will continue/persist in thinking that said assumptions are okay. If one were to get annoyed at this sort of thing, then maybe more people would realize that such attitudes are not cool.

Exactly. I had this same conversation with a friend once, and it's almost as if blacks just aren't suppose to have a varied ethnic background the way Caucasians can have (ie, Irish, Scottish, German, etc...). It's as if "black" just says enough and implies,just as you said, US slavery origins. I can't remember the last time I saw a black character on TV who had a background other than the usual fare.

IA. I have a number of black coworkers, and I think a grand total of one is actually a multigenerational American. Granted, this is in NYC, so the demographics might be different compared to the rest of the US... but even in NYC-set shows, you don't really see a variety. Basically, all black people are the same.

Edited by tip and fall, May 29, 2012 @ 5:12 PM.

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#17297

ribboninthesky1

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Posted May 29, 2012 @ 7:20 PM

To be fair, I think the majority of black Americans ARE multigenerational with US slavery roots, so it's not as though it's unrealistic. But, it is certainly true that blacks can have varied ethnic backgrounds just like anyone else, and it's rarely depicted as such on TV. NYC isn't representative of the majority of black Americans, anymore than it is representative of the majority of white Americans.
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#17298

Ankai

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Posted May 29, 2012 @ 9:25 PM

I work in a mid-sized town in Central-Southern Massachusetts and have met many Black people from Africa. I have trouble telling them apart from multigenerational Black Americans until maybe they start talking. Maybe sometimes I can see that they carry themselves a little differently, but I think that that is just my imagination trying to convince me that I am more clever than I am. The American-born second-generation or the ones who immigrated when really really young, though, I would not be able to tell one way or another.

I can't remember the last time I saw a black character on TV who had a background other than the usual fare.

What about the Witch Doctor or the former child soldier or the little girl who is about to get circumcised? Or the Jamaican? Or the Haitian?

But neither should such assumptions be allowed to pass unchallenged, or else people will continue/persist in thinking that said assumptions are okay. If one were to get annoyed at this sort of thing, then maybe more people would realize that such attitudes are not cool.

I think that there is a middle-ground between getting upset over a genuine misunderstanding and letting it slide. While I cannot claim a moral victory for my behavior, I sometimes try to ask why the people assumed certain things about me or why they asked me about my ethnicity, which happens completely out of the blue more often than it comes up naturally within a larger conversation. I keep prodding in a somewhat passive-aggressive manner until they get upset without actually being able to accuse me of being offended; all the while, I have given up pretty much no information about my ethnic background. Again, it is not exactly the high road, but it is more fun than lecturing them about how to think or simply letting them think the same way. It might not change their ways, but they may think twice the next time.

I've said before, white TV characters who mention their "other country" roots are usually Italian or Irish (is that somehow "safer" than, say, Polish or German?)

While Germans and Poles have faced discrimination in the United States, I get the impression (in other words, whatever comes after the word "wrong" may be completely wrong) that the discrimination against the Italians and Irish was much more pronounced, even if it may not have necessarily been harsher overall. The success story of Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans are also quite notable in modern American history. Polish success has been more quiet and dispersed while German-Americans, who form a large segment of the American population, may have gotten a little quiet about their ethnicity after the World Wars.

The success of non-Anglo-Saxon Whites may not have directly led to ethnic pride, but maybe the success was caused by assimilation into the Anglo-Saxon world by an ambitious generation embarrassed by their Old-World parents, which led to a backlash by the next generation searching for an identity denied to them by their parents. They are not just successful Americans, they are successful Irish-Americans. And there are successful Irish-Americans in so many areas of everything. And even the Irish-Americans who are still struggling see that it can be done; that there can be pride in one's heritage beyond weathering the sticks and stones of hostile neighbors. The underdog can become top dog; how any individual fares is not really relevant. There is security in knowing that possibility, even if one believes that those top dogs had sold out to get to those positions. So why not toss around one's ethnicity casually and even jokingly? No one can hurt us now; not like that.

That is probably why UNICO did not have much sway when it came to protesting against The Sopranos or Jersey Shore. The success stories of the past provided an emotional buffer against less overtly positive portrayals of a certain ethnic group. I don't think that non-White groups have made it to that level yet in the United States, as a whole or as individual ethnic groups. It is more difficult for a generation to first assimilate into "White" society and lose itself enough so that the next generation can rebel at such a level. Some non-Whites can, if they look White enough. While there have been success stories from non-Whites, I feel that overall sentiment has portrayed such successes to be largely limited to certain fields, even when reality is more varied. Those who break into public consciousness are treated as anomalies and people scramble to show how they are different from and similar to all of the other people of their ethnicity, including people of the "anomaly's" ethnicity; that was one reason why I was wary of Linsanity from when I first heard about it. The sense of security is there for a significant number, but there is not enough clout or publicity for the sense of full security to take hold. A display of ethnic pride can just as much be an assertive reaction against a supposedly negative action as it can be simple pride, and ethnic self-deprecation can just as soon be a preemptive measure as it can be just a simple joke.
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#17299

selkie

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Posted May 29, 2012 @ 10:49 PM

I can't remember the last time I saw a black character on TV who had a background other than the usual fare.


America's Next Top Model of all shows went there a few seasons back when they cast a recent black African immigrant who had some tension going on with other African-American girls in that cycle.
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#17300

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Posted May 30, 2012 @ 2:47 AM

There are black British characters like Geoffrey on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Ashley on Revenge. And didn't Cliff Huxtable have some black Caribbean friends who played cricket? They were not regulars but I believe they were in several episodes of The Cosby Show. But I agree that it seems less common for characters to have those backgrounds if these are the only examples I can think of off the top of my head.
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#17301

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Posted May 30, 2012 @ 4:50 AM

Clair Huxtable was originally supposed to be an Afro-Caribbean Latina. In the first couple of episodes she would curse in spanish, but they dropped that. Clair ended up being bilingual but with no specific reason why.
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#17302

SnarkySheep

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Posted May 30, 2012 @ 7:18 AM

Another interesting tidbit on the African/black subject -- I'm in the middle of reading a memoir in which the (white) author and her husband adopted several Ethiopian orphans. In initially mentioning them, the author says they were adopting "African-American" children.

Well, no. You adopted AFRICAN children. They later became American after their adoption, and being raised in the U.S. by their new parents.

It just really leapt out at me as an interesting point. Apparently many white people today are so conditioned to say African-American in place of black or anything else, to the point where they don't even stop to consider if it makes sense in every context.

So, long story short, I think this may be something that's happening on TV, too.
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#17303

FoolishWanderer

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Posted May 30, 2012 @ 8:43 AM

Related, and amusing. I've heard of commentators referring to black athletes as African-American when they aren't even American! Instead of African-French or whatever. So I suppose it has become muscle memory for the tongue or something.
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#17304

PepSinger

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Posted May 30, 2012 @ 2:17 PM

I can't remember the last time I saw a black character on TV who had a background other than the usual fare.

What about the Witch Doctor or the former child soldier or the little girl who is about to get circumcised? Or the Jamaican? Or the Haitian?

Heh. I probably should have added "non-stereotypical" in there.

I've heard of commentators referring to black athletes as African-American when they aren't even American! Instead of African-French or whatever. So I suppose it has become muscle memory for the tongue or something.

I totally agree that "African American" has become a catch-all phrase when in certain contexts it makes no sense.

Edited by PepSinger, May 30, 2012 @ 2:19 PM.

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#17305

yearoftheroostr

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Posted May 30, 2012 @ 3:25 PM

And why are the vast majority of black characters multigenerational Americans with US slavery roots? Where are the characters whose parents are off the plane from, say, Nigeria or somewhere in the Caribbean?


Because non-African American Black Americans are near-mythical in the television universe, even though American society has proven otherwise.
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#17306

Ankai

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Posted May 30, 2012 @ 4:58 PM

Another interesting tidbit on the African/black subject -- I'm in the middle of reading a memoir in which the (white) author and her husband adopted several Ethiopian orphans. In initially mentioning them, the author says they were adopting "African-American" children.

When Charlize Theron adopted a child, some people got really cheeky with the "African-American" label.

Because non-African American Black Americans are near-mythical in the television universe, even though American society has proven otherwise.

Right now, I could name six London-born Black actors who have been on American television shows, but I cannot remember ever seeing a Black English character on American television, unless I count Taio Cruz. Then again, I guess that all Europeans are considered White.
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#17307

corvus13

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Posted May 30, 2012 @ 6:14 PM

I cannot remember ever seeing a Black English character on American television


Ashley on Revenge is a Black English character.
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#17308

tip and fall

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Posted May 30, 2012 @ 6:44 PM

There's also Sonya on Nikita, although she's a pretty minor character - I hope she gets more stuff to do in season 3.
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#17309

Ankai

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Posted May 30, 2012 @ 7:11 PM

Well, then there are two. And two more to chalk up on my list. Actually, I just remembered another, so there are nine that I can think of.
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#17310

SnarkySheep

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Posted May 31, 2012 @ 7:04 AM

I cannot remember ever seeing a Black English character on American television


Also, on Lie to Me, which got cancelled a while back, the main character played by Tim Roth was, like Roth, British. As a teenager in London he'd been taken in by his best friend's family for a time, after some family issues. The best friend was black, and there was an episode where he appeared. It was just a guest role, though.

Then again, I guess that all Europeans are considered White.

This made me think of another interesting tidbit I recently learned (sorry, I'm a total history buff!) I had heard long ago that Italians, particularly Sicilians, were not considered "white" for quite a long period of American history. However, I was amazed to read that neither were the Polish, Russians, etc. by some. Apparently, the idea was that unless you were Anglo-Saxon, you weren't "really white." I was quite honestly dumbfounded.

Edited by SnarkySheep, May 31, 2012 @ 7:24 AM.

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