Yes yes, y’all! Actor and graphic novelist Erika Alexander (you may know her as Living Single's Maxine Shaw) approached the R to cross-post the very first post on her blog, Showbiz Is Glamorous—and we were thrilled to do so!!!
Check it out:
Why did I write an episode of Mad Men with Negroes? And by that I mean with “Negro” characters in it, not with.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Anyway, why did I write an episode of TV that I know will never be made?
ThoughI work as an actress and have pitched and sold a television series or two in my time in Hollywood, I’m not a writer on Mad Men, so this episode won’t appear anywhere but here. Why, then? And why negroes? Aren’t we finished with all that? In honor of the Season 6 premiere, let me tell you about it.
I like Mad Men. A lot. I like the subject matter (advertising); I like the cast (Don Draper is hot); I like the look (sexy Eames meets Op Art); I like the writing (Matthew Weiner is a storytelling beast). I love the writing.
I have only one issue with Mad Men (OK, with a bunch of shows, but let’s stick with this one): I’d love to see more diversity. I’m a Black actress, so diversity is an issue that comes up for me. A lot. Mad Men, Game Of Thrones, Girls, Veep–these are cool shows, except for the fact that they would really rock with more people of color, series regulars or otherwise. I complain, wtf?…and bemoan, WTF!…but alas, for all my years in TV, I’m not able to make a difference in my own living room. Or am I?
A March 14 Media Matters story entitled How Chris Hayes’ Show Differs From Other Sunday Shows In One Chart offered this info-graphic to support their contention that Hayes’ weekend TV political magazine, Up, “has provided much-needed diversity“ of race and gender to television political programs.
Now, I’m not trying to minimize the accomplishment indicated by the graph. In fact, some of those “diverse” people who appear on Up are friends of mine. But uncritically trumpeting these numbers is indicative of a problem with the media and how it addresses race that even shows like Up are often guilty of. Here’s what I mean.
The “diversity” Media Matters lauds is far from robust. For one thing, the people of color represented in this graph are, in the vast majority, black. That’s not a problem in and of itself until you consider how those who are not black are represented on Up.
ChangeLab pulled the transcripts of seven weekend political programs televised between January 1-June 30 of last year. The shows included Face the Nation, Meet the Press, State of the Union, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Fox News Sunday, Up with Chris Hayes, and Melissa Harris-Perry.* Over this six-month period, these seven programs aired 169 episodes.
In those 169 episodes, Native Americans were never mentioned at all. They weren’t just left off guest lists. Words to describe them were never used. Now you might argue that the way these shows define “politics” is at issue here, and not a conscious bias against Native Americans, but the impact is the same. By leaving Native Americans off the agenda, we contribute to one of the most insidious means of conquest of Native America – making Native Americans disappear. We make native people disappear in many ways, not least by imposing blood quantum restrictions that lead to tribal termination, and by treating native people and their issues as if they are irrelevant to contemporary (non-native) American life.
This disappearing act was as evident on Up as on every other Sunday show, making Media Matters’ “diversity” virtually meaningless to Native Americans.
So the other week, Lucy Liu was under fire for her comment on David Letterman’s show about how she looks “a little Filipino” when she tans. Although Lucy has already apologized, a number of people are unsurprisingly still offended by the comment. The funny thing is, it’s not so much of an issue of ignorance as it is about cultural exposure. In the northern Philippines and parts of the south, there are light-skinned people who look Northeast Asian; in southern China, there are dark-skinned people who look Southeast Asian (Malay like some of the people found in the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia), and to the west in Xinjiang, some have blue eyes and “white” skin.
It all comes down to the question of diversity that many have a million answers to, but don’t ask enough questions about. Yes, it’s known that Asia is a continent and a region, with a myriad of cultures, languages, and ethnic groups. The ones who make up Asian America, however, are only a small sample of that diversity from each country. The groups who have immigrated to North America historically reveal that it’s not just the melanin level that defines their dark or light skin, but social classes too.
In short: when people in North America think of Filipinos, they think “dark skin” and when they think of Chinese, they think “light skin” to the point a Taiwanese friend said to me “I’ve realized Filipinos are really just dark-skinned Asians,” which puzzled me a bit as I took the time to process that. Why does it puzzle me? Because it assumes that “normal” Asians have light skin–which means that non-Aryan Indians (a large segment of India) and much of South Asia is not “normal” and this is a frighteningly common misunderstanding, especially within Asian America.