How the 2014-2015 TV Season Had White People in their Feelings

by Inda Lauryn

Any pop culture enthusiast or critic who pays attention has noticed that the 2014-2015 television season brought more black and brown faces to the small screen. While many of us celebrated television’s acknowledgment that this diversity brings in viewers, white women seem to have gone into a tizzy. In March, Deadline op-ed writer Nellie Andreeva published the article “Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings -- About Time or Too Much of a Good Thing?” in which she muses that “the pendulum might have swung a bit too far in the opposite direction” from television’s mostly white presence. (The article has since been retitled “Pilots 2015: The Year Of Ethnic Castings,” as the previous title “did not correctly reflect the context of the article.”)

Andreeva was not the only one distressed about the increased presence of black faces on her screen. In early April, Andrea Poyser of The New York Post claimed, “Shows Like Black-ish Perpetuate Racial Stereotypes.” Her reasoning that Black-ish is racist? The fact that a modern, affluent African-American family explicitly deals with race in their lives makes the show racist.

It should first be noted that these women have gross misunderstandings of just how much representation people of color get on television as well as the meaning of the concept of racism. Clearly, both these white women also have no concept of how the lens of whiteness shades their panic over black and brown representation on television. As the comments Patricia Arquette gave in February during and after her Oscar win, white feminists still have trouble dealing with the concept of intersectionality and how their white privilege allows them to deal with (or not deal with) race in specific ways.

Although the headline for Andreeva’s piece was later altered, the content still reflects white privilege. White people have no idea how awful these things they say are and they reflect a wider panic of white men and women proclaiming “reverse racism” when they see a world challenging that privilege. Never mind that television remains predominantly white both in front of and behind the camera: the handful of shows that prominently features black and brown faces must mean that “minorities” are now taking roles from whites who are more deserving of these opportunities.

The real problem many white people have when it comes to representations of black and brown people on the screen is that they may not “connect” with them. Shows such as Black-ish and Empire include more nuanced depictions of blackness and black people, so many whites may feel left out of the conversation these depictions spark. They do not get cultural cues and mores that dictate these shows, which makes them uncomfortable. However, they do not realize that their privilege has allowed them an existence that does not regularly include people of color they do not know outside of media.

Opinions like those from Andreeva and Poyser would be laughable if only they were satire. But they are not. These women—and many others like them—are clearly disturbed by the increasing presence of people of color, particularly black faces, on their television screens. Their dismay points to a larger issue of many white people who feel that this increase in people of color points to forced diversity coming at the expense of more “deserving” (read: white) actors.

Much like Carl Wilson’s piece musing Kendrick Lamar’s “overwhelming blackness,” white women like Andreeva and Poyser have found themselves confronted with representations of blackness that do not fit their already preconceived notions. Apparently, shows that do not center whiteness and narratives that cater to white audiences now equal reverse racism.

The good news for white people is that reverse racism does not exist. The current visibility of black and brown faces on television does not equal subjugation or a lack of white faces. Furthermore, this current influx of darker skin tones does not necessarily indicate a permanent change in television. As soon as the television networks regain the ground they lost, the powers that be will turn back to white-led shows and kick POC-centered shows to the wayside—as they have time and time again.

In the meantime, white people should realize that people of color deserve representation as much as anyone else. We need to have our stories told in all their complexities and messiness just as white women and men have had for decades. When people like Adreeva and Poyser write pieces about diversity being a “problem,” they reinforce the idea that people of color should not see themselves in ways that make us three dimensional and whole.

Whether or not this current surge in POC-led shows is temporary or a real change in the television landscape, white folks must recognize that people of color have a right to our own stories and that the addition of our stories does not mean that whites have anything to lose. They must also recognize the structural institutions that perpetuate racism and realize that “reverse racism” is impossible. Perhaps then they will calm down and celebrate a media landscape that more accurately reflects reality when it comes to racial representation.

Photo: ABC

Inda Lauryn has previously been published in Blackberry, A Magazine, Interfictions, The Tost, and Callaloo, as well as had her work featured on blogs such as Black Girl Nerds, Bitch Flicks, and AfroPunk. She is currently working on a novel and countless other unfinished writing projects, occasionally blogs at Corner Store Press and shares music playlists at MixCloud.

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