abso-fucking-lutely crying. Well done, well done!
When was the last time you watched TV? The average American spends 34 hours per week watching TV, says a new Nielsen report. So chances are, you’ve watched TV pretty recently. But when was the last time you really watched TV?
I recently challenged myself to actively engage while watching TV – to not just follow along with the plot of a story or a character but to really pay attention to what I’m being shown and to analyze how what’s being depicted or sold to me pertains to real life. By and large the most striking thing I’ve noticed is the lack of diversity. I don’t just mean in movies or popular TV shows. Advertisements for PS4, Life Alert, Poland Springs water… if there is a single POC, I’m impressed. For the most part, these commercials feature pre-dominantly, if not entirely non-POC. The problem with this, aside from the very obvious issue of generally lacking diversity, is that it reinforces on a subconscious level the idea that there is some sort of separation between minorities and dominant culture. It teaches us that “normal” is a non-POC man drinking a bottle of water, or playing tennis, or smoking a cigarette – and the subtle “othering” effect of that is pronounced.
Apparently POC don’t get cable…
Nor go to prom. Or drive Audis. Or have first kisses.
This is evident in the recent backlash USA Today experienced after their article: “’Holiday’ Nearly Beat Thor as Race-Themed Films Soar.” While I am impressed and relieved to know than USA Today received backlash at all regarding the slight, it doesn’t detract from the initial err as far as I’m concerned. What exactly makes “The Best Man Holiday” a race-themed film? The all-black cast? The predominant use of R&B music?
According to the U.S. Census, approximately 36.5% of Americans are POC – and yet we’re still unable to see a film in which the cast is not predominantly non-POC without considering it to be somehow “race-themed”. If having a cast of predominantly one-race makes a film “race-themed”… well, I’m looking at you, Avengers/The Notebook/Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind/Batman/Lord of the Rings./etc. How do we not get bored of all these race-themed films, Hollywood??
POC see movies featuring non-POC every single day (even in times where it’s not appropriate: see Jake Gyllenhal in Prince of Persia, Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, etc) and not once does anyone say “wow, that race-themed film was surprisingly good!” So why are we surprised that “The Best Man Holiday”, which poignantly explores issues of love, friendship, trust, and forgiveness, and is a fantastic feel good movie/tear jerker galore, beat out a sequel (a sequel, y’all!) to a movie about a superhero with a giant hammer?
Listen. I love me some shirtless Chris Hemsworth. And I love me some shirtless Morris Chestnut. My point is simply that we need to start advocating for more POC representation in every day life – on billboards, in commericals, on TV – so hopefully one day POC doing normal things like living and loving and being successful is not considered more foreign to the general public than abnormally strong men with magic hammers from other planets.
For more about this, read npr’s story: “Best Man Holiday Resonates Across Racial Lines”.
Peace and love,
A few years ago, I realized for the first time what it meant to be mixed.
Growing up, I rested assured in the knowledge that at any point in time, I could “claim” one heritage more than the other – I could transition seamlessly from white to black to Latina without anyone being the wiser. I wore this like a bullet proof vest. In a city full to the brim of ethnicity and “culture”, I would never have to fit just one mold. I would never have to face the universal fear of exclusion – at least not where my race was concerned.
I attended a private, predominantly white high school on the Upper East Side, and despite my new exposure to a world in which I seemingly had no definable role (other than the “nanny” – but that’s a post for another day), for the most part I remained blissfully unaware of the racial microaggressions that occurred on a daily basis. I had my group of minority friends. While we battled with the socioeconomic exclusion that naturally flourished in such an environment, we rarely were confronted with our ethnicity. The lines of division separated those who could afford expensive parties/weekend trips out of the country/summer AND winter houses from those who could not – and in the land of the Have-Nots, race simply played second fiddle to our seemingly never-ending navigation of socioeconomic structure. The fact that we were the only eight minorities in the entire grade was a laughing matter; that students felt the Financial Aid fund was less important than putting art on our school walls was not.
When I went to my PWI college, things shifted drastically. There was no student union for broke kids, financially needy students, us poor folk. Most of the time, no one talked about money at all. Whereas in high school, it was safe to assume if the student was a minority they were thereon some sort of scholarship, in college I met international students (brown and black like me) who had enough money to buy my entire family. And suddenly, the racial divisions began. There were the Latino-American students – students who craved to remember their roots, Mexicans and Salvadorans and Puerto Ricans who came together weekly to speak Spanish and eat arroz con pollo and dance and joke about abuela with her chancleta. There were also the foreign Latinos – students “fresh off the boat” from Spain and Argentina who wanted absolutely nothing to do with OLAS or the Latino-Americans. This seemed true of almost every racial group – CASA and JASA (Chinese-American and Japanese-American, respectively), ASA (African Students) and BSU (Black Students) seemed to have universally different interests. There were also “Latino-“, “Black-“, and “Asian-” interest sororities and fraternities – each of which commanded a certain mold, a certain ‘type’ of individual.
For the first time ever, I was supposed to choose. And as a mestiza (Afro-Latino and White) from the ethnic quilt that is NYC – I had no idea where to begin.
Therein began my exploration of race in the United States. It fascinated and overwhelmed me – I took classes about it, I read books and blogs and found myself altogether consumed by how this “social construct” defines everything we do. This blog is simply my attempt to make sense of it all. I encourage you to participate – I am approaching this as a by-stander. I have no right answers, no real direction to be honest. Hopefully, you, like myself, are also simply trying to understand and navigate this vast and endless ocean. If so, I bid you welcome. Have a cup of tea. Stay a while. Comment, share, and enjoy.
I leave you with a quote, and also the source of inspiration for this blog title.