Racism In the Screen – How Television Can Spark Conversation

From Geek Goes Rogue TV Editor Zach Lorton, who, once he takes hold of an issue, runs with it:

I’ve been trying to avoid all the talk about racism that has come over our airwaves in the last month, but stuff keeps happening.  I can’t escape it.

Now to be fair, the place where the most of the flames are really being fanned is the internet, with all its various, gloriously self-appointed morality judges who often speak according to their own convictions, rather than to what their higher sense of belief guides them in.  Sounding off has become the norm in the Internet age, and whether you’re a Christian, Atheist, Agnostic, Muslim, Hindu, or any other derivation thereof, you probably have a moral opinion shaped by something.

But since most of these items wouldn’t have been given the light of day if television hadn’t catapulted their subjects into national spotlights, I wanted to talk about racism and how it’s handled by those handling our TV viewing experiences.

By the way, I’m not an expert.  Keep that in mind while you’re reading.

The Paula Deen issue isn’t really an issue, in my estimation, and the corporations that have distanced themselves from her have done so as knee-jerk reactions — unjustly so.  When she spoke about the times she used the “forbidden word” in the past, she was under oath for a legal deposition, and it became a matter of public record.  Was she going to lie?  Of course not.  But to think that it was completely inappropriate for anyone to use that term in the South in the mid-80s?  Has everyone lost their memories?

I have family that used to live in Oklahoma, and I heard that term thrown around when I was growing up.  It went away as I got older, but now, I hear more black people — men and women — using that term than anyone else.  If corporate and media America is going to throw a fit anytime someone utters that particular slur, then they need to throw a fit EVERY time someone does it.  Start with the entertainment world — musicians, filmmakers, and the like.

So in Paula Deen’s case, you have to consider the context.  At the time, and in that place, the context was much more acceptable, almost exponentially so, than it is now.  And I know there’s more to this story than what exploded recently, so we’ll move on.

George Zimmerman.  How is this really about race?  It’s not.  We have a young black man who lost his life, and the man accused of killing him (and ultimately acquitted) is a mix of Caucasian and Hispanic heritage.  That’s it.  Really, that’s it.  Let’s not forget that it took around 45 days for charges to be filed against Zimmerman.

But now it’s reported that Zimmerman is suing NBC for editing the audio of the 911 call on one of its news programs.  The suit claims that the call was edited to the point of portraying Zimmerman as a racist, causing him undue pain and defamation.  So yeah, that kind of information can skew someone’s view of someone else.  As far as I’m concerned, if the jurors of the case acquitted Zimmerman of criminal charges based on testimony and evidence presented during the trial, then they had all the information that the rest of us didn’t have.

Big Brother 15.  True proof that racism in America still exists, a few of this year’s contestants on the CBS program has prompted the network to air a disclaimer at the beginning of the show saying that the show is made up of real people who have no privacy for 24 hours a day, and that anything those contestants say or do is not a reflection of the corporation at large.  In today’s litigious society, I’m certain the network feels that they must protect themselves from lawsuits brought by anyone trying to make a buck.

The contestants’ comments have actually gone so far as to enrage the show’s host Julie Chen, according to the Huffington Post.  But how, exactly, and why?  This is a network that, during a season of “Survivor”, separated the contestants into tribes based on their race in one of its past seasons.  Can anyone with the network be surprised that racial comments might be made based on the fact that these people are real?  They’re not actors, and while producers may give them instruction or guidance, ultimately, the cameras capture everything.  That means that their baggage, training, exposure, and experience can come to light at any given time.  So, given that, is ANYONE at CBS surprised that something like this could eventually happen?

However, as reported by the website Reality Tea, two of the contestant have been fired from their jobs because of their behaviour on the show.  But we’re not done…

Cheerios.  Most of the negative publicity from the commercial featuring a bi-racial family came from its presence on YouTube rather than its airing on television.  But again, TV is how most commercials come into our consciousness.  But because the opportunity for feedback is like crack to racists, Cheerios had to disable comments for the video on their YouTube channel.  People got all up in arms over the fact that a bi-racial child was featured in a family that had a black husband and a white wife.  That’s it.  Literally, that’s all they had to get up in arms over, and they chose to.

Over a commercial for cereal.  I’m going to let the poignancy of that sink in a moment.

Because recently, we’ve had two instances of United States citizens of Hispanic descent singing patriotic songs at high-profile sporting events over the last month.  In mid-June, Sebastien de la Cruz, an 11-year old mariachi singer that has been featured on “America’s Got Talent”, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the game — and the kid SOLD it.  Sure, he wasn’t 100% on musically, but the little guy’s got some great stage presence, and he brought it.  Of course, Twitter blew up like a racist Old Faithful, spouting hateful comments about somebody who wasn’t … well, let’s say it, white or black … singing our national anthem.

And earlier this week, pop singer Marc Anthony sang “God Bless America” at the MLB All-Star game, and the Twittersphere went off the deep end again.  And once more, they were wrong — Marc Anthony is a natural born citizen, even though he is of Puerto Rican heritage, but he doesn’t look white or black.

 

I’m not going to pretend that racism is over.  Many people claim the fact that we have a black President as a reason for all this racist talk to stop, but it’s not enough for some people.  As far as I can tell, racism works three ways:
1. We hate other races for simply being another race.
2. We hate our own race for what people in our race have done to other races.
3. We impose our beliefs about race and racism on others.

It’s Method #3 that bothers me the most, and television and situations borne out of television events are bigger perpetrators of these ideas than pretty much anything else I’ve seen in the media.  And why?  We trust what the news programs tell us.  We listen to TMZ, Entertainment Tonight, Dateline, 60 Minutes, the local news stations, and we don’t ask any questions.  We believe that when someone does or says something that might be construed as inappropriate, based on what our media tells us, we jump at the chance to vilify them.

Why can’t we accept that some people want us to believe certain things, think a certain way, or buy into a certain ideology, whether it’s right or wrong?  Are we that blind?  Do we really think that the people in charge of the media are willing to let us believe whatever we want?

 

“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” — I John 2:9

“…and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.  Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, but Christ is all, and in all.” — Colossians 3:10-11

I prefer to stand for what Jesus stood for, and nothing will change my mind about that.  No program, no pundit, no politician, no Twitter twit, no broadcast will ever shake me from that foundation.  I refuse to get caught up in Method #3.  I’ll keep watching television.  But like a hawk.


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