Posted on 07-06-2010
Filed Under (Current Affairs) by Rashtrakut

After a longer than expected gap, a couple of race related stories gave me the impetus to resume blogging.  Both stories have received considerable publicity.  The first story and the subject of this article comes from Arizona.  This is not related to the ill-conceived crackdown on illegals (opposed as counterproductive by many Arizona police departments because it makes cooperation by illegals in fighting crime close to impossible) which is almost certain to have the side effect of racial profiling  American citizens like me with brown skin and an accent (even Arizona’s governor failed to articulate just how exactly a police officer will identify illegal immigrants).

This is a more depressing story that stems from a brouhaha over a school mural in Prescott, Arizona.  The local school commissioned a mural using existing school students as the models.  Some local school kids were chosen as models and *shudder* the school had the temerity to prominently portray Hispanic and African American kids.  This raised the ire of local councilman and self-proclaimed non-racist Steve Blair because in his opinion the school (which is significantly more diverse than the largely white town) was engaging in unnecessary statements supporting diversity and picked an African American kid for the mural due to the skin tone of the man controlling the nuclear football.  Then according to the artists there were the local bravos who drove by yelling slurs (in the presence of kids).  To make it worse, the school initially bowed to the vocal but relatively minor local pressure and tried to “lighten” the faces of the mural.

Thankfully, since then the school board’s spine has been replaced by something firmer than Jello.  Operation bleach has been called off and a cringing Arizona can move on from the latest display of racial idiocy in the state.

I bring this sad story up to highlight a couple of points:

First, is this excellent column by Roger Ebert on the subject and his very personal account of the evolution of his views on race.  Definitely worth a read.

Second, this story just goes to go how far we are from a truly race-blind society.  It is very easy to dismiss Steve Blair and his cheering section as a bunch of prejudiced folk, but the truth is that racial stereotyping is alive and well today, and not just in the war on terror.  The image of an “American” typically brings up someone who is white.  Blair and his ilk could not believe that someone naturally picked this bunch of kids without another more insidious motive.  In a rapidly browning country, the worst perpetrators of racial stereotyping are the supposed liberals in Hollywood, particularly the studio executives.  While Hollywood no longer engages in blackface and occasionally casts minority actors in lead roles, racial typecasting is prevalent.  Starting with the recent “Prince of Persia,” Hollywood’s summer offerings are creating a whitewashing controversy for casting white actors in roles originally intended for minorities and touting diversity based on the supporting cast.  The financial risk with minority leads is often touted as the reason for race based casting decisions.

So Hollywood’s fear of displaying an America that comports to reality results in typecast minority actors.  Most Asians on TV speak with accents (Indian-American actors (with the exception of Kal Penn) typically speak with exaggerated Indian or British accents) and minority actors are relegated into race stereotyped careers and personalities.  A show like Friends could spend a decade in New York city with almost no minorities.  To the best of my recollection, the most prominent minority in the (also) New York based show “How I Met Your Mother” is the occasionally appearing Indian cab driver.  Minorities often get segregated off into their own shows like the George Lopez show or the Tyler Perry shows on TBS.  More shows need to follow the mold of “Grey’s Anatomy“, “Lost” and “Heroes“.

While I am glad to see that the people of Prescott ended up doing the right thing, far more needs to be done to combat the mindsets of the Steve Blairs of the world.  This does not involve racial quotas, but rather truly race-neutral casting that relies on the maturity of the viewing public instead of perceived racial roles.  Cable news and newspaper opinion pages could probably benefit from this approach as well.

Coming up next…South Carolina and its spotlight on “acceptable” racism and bigotry.

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