Shades Of Grey: Interracial Couples On TV
Erica Chito Childs / Hunter College and CUNY Graduate Center
Showing interracial couples on television is not necessarily something new. In 1968, Star Trek aired what is widely regarded as the first black-white interracial kiss on television between William Shatner’s character, Captain Kirk, a white man and a black woman, Lt. Uhura, when the two were forced to kiss against their will by a galactic enemy.
Now, over thirty years later, media reports play up the idea that the numbers of interracial couples, both on-screen and off, are skyrocketing, and push the idea that these unions are so common that interracial relationships barely raise an eyebrow. Yet according to 2010 Census data, only eight percent of all marriages are interracial. While real-life interracial marriage remains low, interracial couples may be cropping up more frequently on television. Do the growing numbers of interracial couples on television signify increased racial acceptance and color-blindness or do these depictions overwhelmingly reproduce long-standing societal notions about the deviant nature of interracial sex and the location of these relationships in the margins of society?
Looking at the contemporary representations on television, interracial relationships are most often found as temporary relationships (lasting just a few episodes), in side-storylines or otherwise marginalized. These relationships are almost exclusively depicted as comical misadventures, introduced as part of a criminal case, used as symbolic of the different worlds that are being portrayed, or play on perceptions of difference, highlighting that racially matched characters are the norm.
Even among newer shows that are heralded for their diverse casts or cutting-edge approach, interracial representations are arguably problematic. There may be a trend to present interracial couples without mentioning race but that does not mean that these representations do not carry familiar racial messages. Still a number of television show producers maintain that they have adopted a colorblind strategy, which they argue transcends race. For example, on New Adventures of Old Christine, Christine is a divorced white woman who becomes interested in a black teacher at her daughter’s private school.
Initially they can not date because of a school policy which forbids dating between teachers and parents. The creator Kara Lizer stated,
It’s shocking to see how segregated comedies are…I don’t see (race) entering their personal relationship. It’s not a factor and there are enough factors for them to deal with. It’s not a fresh area and I would love it to be a non-issue.1
Race is rarely discussed other than in flippant comments about the black teacher like “Who knew diversity could be so gorgeous?” Similarly on the popular new show Parenthood, Jasmine is engaged to Crosby.
Much of the comedy centers on their differences: Jasmine is organized and prepared while Crosby is scattered and non-committal. While racial and cultural issues are never discussed, portraying the couple as complete opposites reinforces the idea of racial differences. The racialized message is still received yet in a color-blind package like contemporary racism and promotes an assimilationist perspective that encourages the view that race does not matter.
Putting characters of different races together is also used for comedic or shock value, where the two are clearly mismatched and the “Otherness” of the minority character is emphasized. On the NBC comedy Modern Family, Gloria, a beautiful Colombian woman is married to Jay, an older white man.
The interracial relationship makes for many laughs, based on the “cultural” differences between Gloria and Jay. Also Gloria’s character is always sexually clad with an exaggerated Spanish accent, and fiery temper, which is reminiscent of the racialized “Hot Latina” image that Hollywood has produced for decades, Rather than challenging racialized stereotypes, these depictions play with racial and ethnic differences, leaving us with virtually the same stereotypical images.
On television, when we do see an interracial relationship, it tends to involve a white man and a woman of color. The representation of a woman of color dating a string of white men, sometimes at the same time and often to the exclusion of men of their own race appears throughout a number of shows. Nip/Tuck, a popular primetime cable network show on FX, featured a multi-episode guest appearance by the African American actress Sanaa Lathan, who played a woman torn between her “rich tycoon husband and the plastic surgeon Christian Troy treating him,” both of whom are white.
The actress, Sanaa Lathan described the relationships, “I have so much respect for [Nip/Tuck
creator] Ryan Murphy, because my character could have been any race. But race never came into it, and I love that.”2 Unfortunately looking at patterns of representation, casting choices are not as race-less as this actress may believe.
What about a show like Grey’s Anatomy, which features many different interracial pairings and even multiracial families, which are particularly rare on television? Like the color-blind approach of shows like Parenthood, issues of race and ethnicity are not discussed on Grey’s Anatomy. The creator/executive producer Shonda Rimes espoused this color-blind approach, stating that they simply “cast(ing) whoever we thought was best for the part.”3
Despite this philosophy, the show doesn’t stray too far from the patterns identified. For example, Dr. Lexie Grey, who is white, is dating Dr. Jackson Avery, who is biracial.
Yet this relationship will be short-lived because Lexie really wants to be with Dr. Mark Sloan, which even Jackson’s mother could see. The other two main interracial relationships involve women of color. Dr. Cristina Yang, an Asian American, first dated Dr. Preston Burke, an African American, where their relationship was depicted similar to Parenthood’s Jasmine and Crosby as complete opposites, though race was never addressed. Now Cristina is married to Dr. Owen Hunt, who is white. The other serial interracial dater, Dr. Callie Torres, a Latina, first married a white intern George in the 2007 season, then had sexual relations with a string of other white men before realizing she was a lesbian and settling down with a white pediatric surgeon Arizona Robbins.
While separated from her partner Arizona, Callie becomes pregnant by Dr. Mark Sloan. Callie, Arizona and Mark decide to raise the baby together, becoming one of the few multiracial families on television raising their biological child. While this may be cutting edge, it still places the idea of interracial unions and multiracial families, outside the margins of mainstream society. In contrast, at the same time, the main characters Meredith Grey and Derek Shepherd (both white) are attempting to adopt an African baby girl, who was brought into the hospital for surgery. Intricately wrapped in the representations of interracial unions are the ways that whiteness, blackness, and racial Others are represented. When interracial relationships occur, if it is not shadowed in a world of deviance, the person of color involved is presented as an exceptional person, usually removed from their racial community and the “goodness” of the white person is explicitly confirmed through the relationship.
The question remains, if interracial coupes are portrayed in these problematic ways, then why do television shows feature interracial relationships at all? I argue that by showing interracial relationships yet parodying or fetishizing them at the same time, the shows can maximize their audience without alienating others. Difference sells, yet the presentation must be constantly adjusted to fit the contemporary discourses on race.4 Using interracial sex to push boundaries is widely recognized. Dana Wade, the president of advertising agency, Spike DDB, discussed this idea with television ads, arguing “certain brands might use interracial couples to convey a hip image” adding that “the whole personae of the brand is kind of risky, or on the edge.”5 Ironically these “hip” and “cutting-edge” depictions are actually just barely repackaged stereotypes.
On-screen interracial relationships, particularly between whites and blacks, are either alienating (not even shown), taboo and shown as problematic, or a fantasy, fetish that allows the viewer to dabble in difference, living vicariously through the TV characters, yet still existing as marginal storylines rather than centered. Multiracialism and consuming color as exotic may be tolerated, even purposefully marketed, yet this fits in with the historical pattern where whites have been simultaneously appalled and intrigued, offended and attracted to racial Others sexually, while monitoring, disciplining and indulging. As Stuart Hall argued, “there’s nothing that global postmodernism loves better than a certain kind of difference: a touch of ethnicity, a taste of the exotic…’a bit of the other.’”
The particular patterns of representations reflect the stories we know and the stories we want to continue to see. While journalists like Ann Oldenburg and Carmen Van Kerchove, co-director of New Demographic, a diversity training company argue, “the more people see positive and normal representations, that will lessen the fear and taboo,”6 referring to many of the television relationships discussed here, I argue that these representations are not normalizing interracial relationships or lessening the novelty. Rather than represent a color-blind multiracial utopia, these depictions of interracial couples overwhelmingly reproduce our long-standing notions about the deviant nature of interracial sex, and the location of these relationships in the margins of society. Just because race is not discussed does not mean it does not exist, rather in its deliberate denial it can be ever more present. As Henry Giroux argues about the sexually suggestive interracial Benetton clothing advertisements, these depictions do not increase racial tolerance and awareness, because they are “decontextualiz[ed], dehistoriciz[ed], and recontextualiz[ed]” and reproduce the dominant social relations rather than challenge them.
The fantasy of interracial relationships can not be bogged down with the unpleasantness of racism, inequality, and discrimination, so it erases these structural and institutional realities that shape everyday social interaction. Interracial relationships may be popping up more frequently on television but they do more to reinforce the current racial situation rather than challenge us to move beyond it. Still in contemporary television the fascination with interracial sexuality may be more acceptable than the reality.
1. Grey’s Anatomy
2. Grey’s Anatomy
3. New Adventures of Old Christine
6. Grey’s Anatomy
7. Grey’s Anatomy
8. United Colors of Benetton
9. United Colors of Benetton
Please feel free to comment.
- Braxton, Greg. 2007. “The Hot Button of a Casual Embrace” Los Angeles Times, February 11, 2007. [↩]
- ibid. [↩]
- Oldenburg, Ann. 2005. “Love is no longer color-coded on TV,” USA Today December 20, 2005. Washington: Smithsonian. [↩]
- Kellner, Douglas. 1995. Media Culture: Cultural studies, identity, and politics between the modern and postmodern. London: Routledge. [↩]
- Kuriloff, Aaron. 2005. ‘The Racial Undercurrent,” ESPN.com (Accessed February 3, 2005 at http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/print?id=1983393&type=story. [↩]
- Oldenburg, Ann. 2005. “Love is no longer color-coded on TV,” USA Today December 20, 2005. Washington: Smithsonian. [↩]
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Fantastic article — I’m in an interracial relationship and it’s really awesome to read this and hear my thoughts put down by another. Tried to have an argument with my mother, a white woman, expressing how these thoughts are legitimate, and she still feels our society is post-racial and that we’re so “passed” all this stuff and that we’re “one people,” and it’s really hard to get her to think critically…hopefully I’ll find a way someday. Anyway, thanks again for this! Will be sharing with friends. :)
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I also agree, great article! And I agree very much. And as I read it I begin to wonder about the representation of interracial couples not just on TV in general, but on network TV in particular, as opposed to cable TV. Much of the above conversation centers around Grey’s Anatomy, Modern Family, Star Trek, Parenthood, The New Adventures of Old Christine – all shows on major networks that it seems the author is saying often focus more on parody of different cultures and the highlighting of differences to appeal to audiences.
It makes me think of Six Feet Under, the HBO series, and the interracial gay couple of David Fisher and Keith Charles (played by Michael C. Hall and Matthew St. Patrick respectively). The show seemed to represent the two men in a very even handed way – both were professional men trying to live a life as a married couple with adoptive children – without an emphasis on differences or parody of either race or even the typical over sexualized parody stereotype of gay men in particular. Six Feet Under also did not represent this gay interracial couple as temporary as the author points out is a key trait of network interracial pairings, but rather David and Keith were in a committed relationship that seemed to undergo the same sorts of problems that straight, same-race couples in long-term relationships weather.
And in the case of Nip/Tuck, also a cable show, it seems that much of the show’s overall focus is on sex and sexuality in overdrive, not to mention the entire world of plastic surgery, youth and beauty issues, modifying one’s appearance through surgery – all topics at the heart of the show. Nip/Tuck’s goal, it seems, is the exploration of our addiction to visual attractiveness. I wonder if this show is a special case in the realm of interracial couples because those themes, what Stuart Hall seems to be identifying as an altogether human issue of attraction to the different or exotic in his statement, “there’s nothing that global postmodernism loves better than a certain kind of difference: a touch of ethnicity, a taste of the exotic…’a bit of the other.’” , really are the point of the show.
These are only two different and specific examples, so I wonder if overall there has been less parody in cable representations of interracial couples than on network shows. And if there has been it must be in some way because cable shows don’t have the need to appeal to mass audiences of varying educational, socio-economic, and regional demographics, like network TV does. Instead cable shows are more free to avoid parody all together in favor of more even handed representations, or more interesting investigations of the unique attraction between races.
Your example of the Star Trek Kirk/Uhura kiss, which was only accepted because the two characters were controlled by an alien and acting against their own will, and your question, “Do the growing numbers of interracial couples on television signify increased racial acceptance and color-blindness or do these depictions overwhelmingly reproduce long-standing societal notions about the deviant nature of interracial sex and the location of these relationships in the margins of society?,” suggest that interracial relationships are depicted on television for their shock value and are not an indication of growing racial tolerance in the United States.
I must point out that although you state that depictions of interracial couples on television are common but that actual interracial married relationships in the United States are low, new studies actually put interracial marriages at an all-time high. (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org.....rmarriage/) Also younger generations are waiting longer to marry, so one can assume that there are many couples in interracial relationships who just so happen to be unmarried. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/26/us/26marry.html
I am a biracial person. I grew up in a loving mixed race household that was, to me, a completely normal environment. There were cultural differences, occasionally, but they were handled with love. It was not until I grew much older that I realized that because of my dual heritage, there is no relationship that I can be in that is not an interracial relationship. Therefore, I fail to see how the positive representation of a loving couple, regardless of race, equates to the reproduction of “our long-standing notions about the deviant nature of interracial sex, and the location of these relationships in the margins of society.” I disagree with your argument that interracial relationships on television “do more to reinforce the current racial situation rather than challenge us to move beyond it.” It would be far worse for interracial couples and families to NOT see similar relationships represented on television.
Great article! And great examples to support your claim! I totally agree with everything you’ve mentioned and I am fully aware of this as well. Taking this a step further, you briefly mentioned families of mixed races, and their lack of representation on TV. I am an African American film student at USC focused on writing and directing. As a writer, I specifically focus my attention toward writing stories that center around families mixed races. I myself am not Jewish, but my best friend of twenty years is. His father was my father as well growing up as mine was not around. I guess it wasn’t a traditional mixed race family, but what’s a traditional family anyway? One of the first rules they tell you in film school as a writer, is to “write what you know.” I grew up in an alternative situation so it is very easy for me to write about families that contain diverse racial backgrounds.
The phrase “write what you know,” has always stuck with me. It’s great to think about while writing, because it’s an easy way to keep yourself grounded and develop a story in the simplest way possible, without becoming lost. However, writing what you know has an inherent problem. And it stems from who is actually writing and directing the films and television shows we are all watching. No surprise that white males overwhelmingly dominate directing episodic television at 77% vs white females at 11% black males at 11% and black females at 1%. (http://www.dga.org/News/PressR.....tices.aspx) The numbers in the WGA are generally the same as well. (http://www.wga.org/content/default.aspx?id=4603)
If you couple that information with the general population information you provided in the article, (only 8% of all marriages in the US are interracial) then Hollywood writers and directors reflect that data as well. Therefore, if all of the talented writers and directors are driven by “writing what they know,” then the system is designed to keep those types of stories and representations locked out. Perhaps because of racism to some degree or more likely because the writers that tell the stories can’t relate, and simply cannot write about something they’ve never experienced.
Of course we could easily say a “good writer” can tell stories about anything, given the time to practice the craft over a long period of time, but that goes against my point, so we won’t mention that. ☺
Thank you for a fantastic article! I completely agree with your assessment. As a biracial woman (with a black mother and a white father), I’ve always been particularly sensitive to portrayals of interracial couples on television and in movies. I have often noticed exactly what you point out here – that interracial relationships are usually highlighted as taking the white character (who is normally the main character of the show or film) beyond their comfort zone. The result, therefore, is what you describe – an othering of interracial relationships and consequently of people of non-white races.
The examples you chose – Grey’s Anatomy, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Nip/Tuck, etc – were very appropriate, and I would like to add the example of 30 Rock, specifically an episode entitled “The Source Awards.” In this episode, Tina Fey’s character, Liz Lemon, goes on a date with a black man, played by Wayne Brady. On the date, she has a terrible time – because he’s really boring – but is worried about seeming racist if she breaks up with him. Before the date even happens, however, of Liz’s white friends try to convince her that a relationship with him won’t work because of his race. In the end, Liz takes him to The Source Awards to try to show him that they are naturally incompatible, race aside. Though I appreciate that the writers at 30 Rock were trying to satirize the very topic we are discussing – the otherness of interracial relationships – I don’t think they quite made it. Wayne Brady’s character, named Steven Black, is the only black character in that episode that isn’t a rapper or actor, and he comes across as nearly villainous. Also, the whole time, we’re rooting for Liz to somehow get with Flower Guy, played by Jason Sudeikis, a white man. So as an audience we’re left feeling that somehow all of Liz’s white friends were right – she never should’ve dated Steven – and that she really needs to stick to her own race.
There is an interesting question here that I think commenter Brandon L briefly touched upon – the question of what affect a writer’s race has upon his or her ability to tell multiracial stories effectively and fairly. The episode of 30 Rock that I reference was written by two white people – a man and a woman. I can’t imagine what insights either of them has into the black experience, and therefore how they could find a way to write a dynamic, multifaceted black character. (The main black character on the show, Tracy Jordan, is about one “yessa massa” away from being a black minstrel.) Often, the way in which these writers try to turn racial stereotypes on their ear ends in questionably offensive material – just look at pretty much every scene involving Tracy Jordan and his entourage, two black men named Grizz and Dot Com. I can’t help but feel that until diversity in the writers’ room increases, there will constantly be an othering of not only interracial relationships but of non-white characters.
It seems to me that the prevalence of interracial couples on TV serves a particular function for TV writers and creators that may not reflect reality, as the interracial couples on TV come loaded with meaning of otherness or deviancy that makes it an storytelling trope on which writers can rely. As you mentioned in your article, writers can present the differences of an interracial couple that do not rely on race, but on different personality types, thereby erasing race on the surface but not in the subtext.
The new(ish) sitcom Happy Endings is a show that rejects social stereotype, but embraces and reconfigures it into a class based otherness. Jane and Brad (white woman, black man) are an interracial couple that serve as the model for an ideal relationship among their group of romantically disastrous friends. Race is not ignored, but lightly touched on in a joking manner, and the social prejudices that they might face as an interracial couple are never addressed. However, they are otherized within the show for their conspicuous consumption, an activity that I believe has become exotified on television post-recession (see: all the Real Housewives series). On the other hand, friend Max rejects stereotype as a gay man who doesn’t look, act, or talk like a traditional representation of a gay man (side character Derek fills the role of his foil). Max is slovenly, lazy, has problems with money and jobs, and it is in these ways that he falls out of traditional society. Within the show, the interracial couple and the gay man reject traditional stereotype, but are deemed deviant in class-based ways. I think that using “deviant” characters (interracial couple, gay) in these roles allows TV writers an easy way to designate otherness, while representing another kind of otherness. This is not to glorify or justify their efforts, but when you brought up that the representation of interracial couples on TV exceeds the instance in our national demographic, it makes one wonder about the motives of TV writers/producers and the functions that these characters serve.
It’s not always about class, necessarily, but I think that othered characters, and in this instance, othered relationships serve a storytelling function that throws the main focus of the story into stark relief. In The New Girl, Jess’ best friend Cece, as a woman of color and a model who is consistently objectified for her skin color and body, other-izes Jess, a white woman whom the show claims does not fit a traditional type of femininity/feminine behavior. Whether or not this is actually true in reality, the presence of Cece as a representation of stereotypical femininity and configuration as a sexual object (which finds exemplification in her interracial sexual relationship with Schmidt) serves as a contrast to Jess’ behavior and thus other-izes Jess, whose otherness (within an upper-middle class white woman’s body) is the focus of the show. It’s just another example of what function these characters might serve beyond just representing all kinds of people on TV.
Thanks for your article, it brought up some really great points and examples about race and representation on TV, and I think in many ways, this is an issue that continues to be increasingly relevant, as TV creators turn away from seeking equal representation in a post-PC world.
Thank you for this interesting and thoughtful article. I was so pleased to read this intelligent analysis, and I’m grateful this issue is being raised. I’m a Caucasian woman with an adopted sibling of a different race, and my family is always attuned to the depiction of multiracial families in the media. Problematic depictions of biracial and multiracial families are endlessly frustrating to me, and I agree with a vast majority of the examples in this article.
I would, however, like to express my disagreement with the author’s assessment of the Jasmine / Crosby relationship on Parenthood: upon closer examination, I’d argue that it doesn’t fall into the category of reproducing notions of “the deviant nature of interracial sex,” nor does it thrust this relationship to “the margins of society,” the way many of the other relationships cited fall short.
Childs argues that, while race isn’t mentioned on Parenthood, Jasmine and Crosby’s personality differences are so marked – Jasmine is “together,” if a little uptight, and Crosby is scattered and less mature – that racial differences are quietly being reinforced. Because they’re opposites in terms of personality, Childs argues, the racial division between them is being underscored. This reveals the quiet fetishization / otherization at work beneath an otherwise colorblind surface, Childs argues.
I’ve seen every episode of this series and analyzed it extensively in order to prepare to write a spec episode. I don’t agree with the assessment that Jasmine and Crosby are so utterly opposite that problematic racial notions are being implied. To the contrary, I think Jasmine and Crosby are both complicated characters that have a lot in common: they share a sarcastic sense of humor, tons of personality chemistry, a love of their son and a desire to have a stable, happy family. Both are hip and comfortable with their sexuality. Both are thoughtful and a little neurotic. Crosby is immature at the beginning of their relationship, yes, but that’s a character development choice: his arc for the series is a growth from hapless young man to confident adult. Jasmine is well adjusted and mature – after all, she’s been raising their son for five years – but she is not such an extreme foil for Crosby. Their differences feed conflict between them, which is necessary for good TV drama, but they’re no more opposite than, say, Julia and Joel, a white couple on the show.
I would also argue that Jasmine and Crosby’s relationship is not temporary or relegated to the margins of society. To the contrary, though they’re not always together, we root for them to work things out over multiple seasons: they’re romantic plotline is at the forefront of the show. In the tear-jerking season three finale, they get married.
It’s important to be cautious with this sort of criticism, because if we’re overly dismissive of shows that are making an effort to move towards a colorblind, realistic depiction of race, we miss the opportunity to see their successes and learn from them. I think Parenthood, overall, does an excellent job with a degree of colorblindness that doesn’t brush race out of the discussion, but, realistically so, keeps it out of the mouths of characters. Astute casting and frequent incorporation of multiracial families / couples on Parenthood go a long way. It’s worth noting that Haddie, the Caucasian daughter of Adam and Kristina, has a serious relationship with a wonderful character, played by Michael B. Jordan, who happens to be African American. Julia and Joel, both Caucasian, try to adopt a baby, without any of the obnoxious and offensive racially-charged conversation that validates white adoptees as generous, “good” people. Before they get back together, Jasmine and Crosby raise their son, Jabar, and only in one or two episodes are “different colors” in their family acknowledged. It’s a wonderfully etched depiction of a family that is both sensitive and realistic.
I’d argue that Parenthood is more normalizing than Childs considers it to be. But I’d love to know what others think about this couple specifically. Is Parenthood’s representation of Jasmine and Crosby’s interracial relationship closer to the ideal – “a colorblind multiracial utopia” – than Childs’ other examples? Are the stratified character differences between Jasmine and Crosby clearly tied to race? Is Parenthood a disappointing depiction?
Thanks so much for rousing this important conversation and for presenting such compelling points. This is a crucial dialogue for consumers of television and for responsible members of an ever-evolving society.
Thank you for this insightful article about interracial couples and their representation on TV. While you mentioned its history and the involvement of TV shows which took the step to implement interracial couples into their shows, I would like to briefly analyze the idea of representation. International representation in comparison to national representation is vastly different due to the demographic region within each country. While international TV often runs syndications of U.S. programming, much original content is differing from the idea of portraying interracial couples together on TV. Certainly in all instances, race needs to be taken into consideration when talking about interracial representation.
Introducing the concept of new socially accepted representation is definitely the right way to create a path for people and filmmakers yet to come. Even thou something like the first kiss from Star Trek which was caused through an excusable event that required to partake these actions, was the staff’s writers intend to plant the fruitful idea of introducing a concept to the TV audience in regards to multicultural interracial couples. It was that very pillar, that very first step to try something new during a time (1968) which was anything but easy in regards to race and socially accepted content on TV.
A very famous show called “Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten” is airing in Germany since over 20 years (first show in 1992) on the channel RTL (German unit of Radio Télévisioun Lëtzebuerg) and has successfully produced up to this point. Interesting is the introduction of interracial couples as I remember the beginning of the implementation into the storyline. At first it was a black guy who was scripted in such a way that he was a traveler who came to visit and stayed for a little while. He left after a few shows and was re-introduced into the show for good shortly after. They hooked him up with one of the main leads and he was in the show until I stopped watching back in 1998. While interracial couples within the U.S. are often between a black and a white person, the show in Germany was slowly introducing the idea of having an interracial Middle Eastern couple with one of the talent being from Turkey and the other being a local Caucasian talent. Tension between those two races were often eminent in Germany during the 90’s as the fault was often wrongfully thrown to the Turkish people who were blamed to snag away all employment opportunities from Germany citizens. Tension within the show was successfully incorporated, as two cultures were occasionally clashing against one another. This was also a good step from the staff writers to educate the German people on how other cultures can be equally rich and unique other than their own one, by simply introducing them into the show.
Personally, I am from a multicultural diverse background and I was in a relationship with a woman from Sudan over the last couple of years. Depending on where we would go, people would perceive us differently and each individual community would question our relationship based on the lack of knowledge and openness to a global civilization. All human beings are equal in the notion that we all share the same blood. Despite racial complications in modern society, it is important to continue to make an effort in featuring interracial couples on TV, and multicultural diverse people, in order to plant the idea that ethnicity and race should not matter when it comes to representation. Additionally, supporting to represent multicultural diverse people from all ethnicities, while featuring people in form of interracial couples or introducing a foreign culture to a country, supports the cause of educating people around the world that there is not only one group of people in existence.
Your article was an interesting and insightful one. Before, I get into I- if it matters- I guess I should state my race and gender: I am a Black man. If I get extra points I’ll tell you that I have biracial relatives and white sister-in-law. Thankfully, none of these things make me an expert. :)
Getting to the first clip from Star Trek in 1968, I think it was appalling that they had to write “mind control” into the plot in order for Jim and Uhura’s characters to kiss. Talk about a safe way to be controversial.. we barely see their lips! I wished their characters would’ve kissed because of attraction… you know the way normal people do it… and I get the feeling that the scene was testing the public… perhaps even marketing off of the civil rights movement in some perverse way. Also, through the plot device of “mind control” the network could cover its ass in case of backlash.
The first show I remember from my childhood that had an interracial couple was Blossom- her brother was married to a black girl. (Sidebar: I know Blossom wasn’t the first show. It probably was the 70s hit, the Jeffersons.) Generally, and not necessarily Blossom, when I see a interracial couples on TV I don’t find the Black character to be relatable. It’s like the individual has been whitewashed of any trace of their heritage other than his or her skin color and serves nothing more than hologram to say, “Oh look how post-race society is. A black woman and a white man can be married together on TV. It’s not like Star Trek where they couldn’t even kiss!” Unless it’s an “issue” episode, the program rarely addresses things like racism or classicism on a day-to-day level. And if the character isn’t whitewashed, then he or she is generally written as a cardboard caricature or exaggeration. Where’s the middle ground?
Above, you mentioned a few shows that highlight interracial relationships. Though they showcase interracial relationships, often the dynamic is “a white man dates a black woman.” (This is evening beginning in ABC’s new show ‘Scandal’). Where’s the reverse? It seems to imply a double standard that’s reminiscent of the days of anti-miscegination laws. If Thomas Jefferson can have a Sally Hemings then why can’t Frederick Douglas have a wife or mistress too figuratively speaking?
There was one show (Mr. Sunshine on ABC in 2011) that featured an interracial couple in which a Black man dated a white woman. Unfortunately, it was cancelled within its first season due to low ratings. Other than that, the only show I can think of that has a Black man/White woman interracial couple is ‘The Game’ on BET where actor Coby Bell plays a black quarterback with a white wife who’s a former cheerleader. However, the couple has split since the the show’s first season, but I think one could attribute that to a plot line more than a disdain for interracial relationships. That, or maybe it’s just not meant to be on TV. I wonder if niche networks like BET are more apt to airing program with interracial relationships compared to network TV which has to appeal to a wider audience.
Sidebar: I just remembered the first “interracial couple” on TV, and it wasn’t the Jeffersons… it was Kermit the Frog and Ms. Piggy. I don’t think anyone objected to that one. ONE: because they’re Muppets. TWO: Because if you thought about it you’d realize that it was so ludicrous. Wait a minute… now I’m wondering what they’re message was… tolerance to children, or how preposterous interracial couples are? Hmmmm.
To start, I want to focus on the piece of this article quoted below:
“While racial and cultural issues are never discussed, portraying the couple as complete opposites reinforces the idea of racial differences. The racialized message is still received yet in a color-blind package like contemporary racism and promotes an assimilationist perspective that encourages the view that race does not matter.”
I was particularly interested in dissecting how this may relate to the mission of shows like The Game on BET. It’s interesting to see if this argument can apply and how others may feel about it in relation to shows they frequently watch.
To provide context: Starting from the CW premiere in 2006, The Game was noted for having an openly displayed interracial relationship on TV. Jason Pitts (San Diego Sabers Captain) was a black male married to Kelly Pits, a white woman, for three seasons. While the show was centered on Melaine Barrnett and her boyfriend, Derwin Davis, Kelly Pitts’ character was the shinning token on the African American based show. She was President of the Sunbeams, a proud mother of a bi-racial daughter and contributed greatly to the comedic relief within the sitcom. Furthermore, fans raised such uproar about her absence from season five that BET Networks revived her role in the 2012 upfront.
This Article: Childs argues against the forward display of interracial relationships on TV. Within the first two paragraphs she explains how media is merely amplifying the idea that “the numbers of interracial couples, both on-screen and off, are skyrocketing and push the idea that these unions are so common that interracial relationships barely raise an eyebrow”. Childs leans on Census data to show that only 8% of marriages are actually interracial which proves that they are indeed still low. Therefore the effort to remain race-less on TV often takes other approaches that still make the couplings apparent. “These depictions of interracial couples overwhelmingly reproduce our long-standing notions about the deviant nature of interracial sex, and the location of these relationships in the margins of society.”
Childs challenges media’s reasoning of displaying positive representations of interracial couples as an effort to lessen the fear or taboo. Instead she argues that the display is not “normalizing interracial relationships or lessening the novelty”.
My Thoughts: At the same time, the entire argument becomes a refusal to agree that media is attempting to do anything to benefit society at all. Rather she states, “I argue that by showing interracial relationships yet parodying or fetishizing them at the same time, the shows can maximize their audience without alienating others”. Revisiting the relationship of Jason and Kelly Pitts in The Game would cause Childs to raise the same questions about the intent of incorporating an interracial relationship into the show. For starters, this is the only couple of this kind to be introduced to the viewers. In addition, the same contrasting factors that Childs speaks of early on in the article when referencing Parenthood and Modern Family is done in The Game. Jason is the cheap, overbearing husband who wants a home cooked meal and Kelly likes to spend money, is relenting to Jason’s wishes, cannot cook and cannot do her own daughter’s hair. Childs would argue that TV is creating its comedy through the blatant portrayal of the individuals with differing characteristics.
However, I would argue that The Game does not create a color-blind package that is associated with shows like Greys Anatomy. Tasha Mack refers to Kelly Pitts as “white girl Kelly” throughout the first four seasons of the show and the cast constantly jokes about the relationship dynamic (as it pertains to race). I think that The Game has incorporated an interracial couple as a direct attempt to have comedy stem from it instead of to challenge the census statics about interracial marriages. It is clear that Kelly Pitts becomes the hip white girl associating with the black people off the football field. In the same breath, Kelly is not an outsider on the field. As she holds her presidential role on the Sun Beams she is amongst other white women and those of multiracial backgrounds. Ultimately, this ties back to the historic notion of Race and Sports that begin in the 1960s. The purpose is to create a seemingly race-less environment promoted to widen the audience and increase focus on she Game. This allows for the sport to become a shared experience but does not free the participants from confronting the display of stereotypes and the use gender roles.
-Just some thoughts on the topic
Have you noticed? Almost all promo and advertising pictures of inter racial couples place the darker person on the left of the lighter one. I found this to be odd in the respect that in dark occult practices the darker persons (items) are set to the left of the lighter. This is an indication of the ‘left hand of God’ indicates the darker or more evil side is to the left. The lighter side, or more intelligent (Enlightened) group is always to the front and on the right side of the darker group.
When envisioning the most common, prototypical, and relevant interracial couples that come to my mind, the shows highlighted here (Grey’s Anatomy and Modern Family) are definitely the more mainstream and current examples. There are many more that were left out: Sayid Jarrah (Iraqi) and Shannon Rutherford (white) on Lost, Ally McBeal (white) and Greg Butters (African American), and more from the past. Ultimately, it does appear like the interracial couple is means of appealing to a greater target audience. It is in this way that television has pushed passed the boundaries of reality, because by merely looking at the statistics presented in this discourse about only 8% of interracial marriages, it is blatant that interracial couples are more accepted in televisual fantasy.
In my opinion, racial representation is one of the most difficult dilemmas to deal with in television. It’s truly a double-edged sword in that if a show tries too hard to deal with race, it turns off viewers who are seeking out much lighter fare. But if race is underrepresented, stereotyped, or too assimilationist on your show, you get bashed for being too white-washed.
Ultimately, the only way we can all come to terms with racial representation is by understanding that the television industry is a business first and foremost. The shows we watch on the tube might seem like art and entertainment to us viewers, but in the end, we are all merely a demographic that big networks sell to high-profile advertisers.
Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised when sitcoms like ‘Modern Family’ or ‘Parenthood’ portray stereotypical and color-blind racial relations, for in the end, these are the ideologies that make viewers most comfortable. It’s the sad truth, but it’s also good business.
Therefore, I don’t think its such a bad idea to give broadcast television a passive viewing experience. We should leave the social commentary to “quality” television and premium offerings.
I believe that interracial couples are becoming more and more popular today since races, specifically African Americans, are becoming a very integral part of society. Whether it is the artists taking over the radio stations, the athletes people are going to watch, the couples we are seen in the media tabloids, or the President of the United States, the Black man specifically is not seen in the same light as he used to be. Slavery was obviously a huge issue in history and yes, racism does still exist today but not nearly as bad. Couples such as Khloe and Lamar, Kanye and Kim, Kendra and Hank Baskett, Ice and Coco, etc. are making headlines daily if not hourly as well as have their own television shows. Someone can sign onto twitter, facebook, or even Yahoo’s top searches and somehow interracial couples are what people nowadays are interested in hearing about!!!
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i’m in an interracial relationship too.my husband is white and i’m black,we have been married for 13 years now and have 4 beautiful children (age 4 to 11)
Salut à tous ! Je contaste que votre site est bien placé sur Google mais pourrait etre un peu plus optimisé. Avez vous démarché une agence référencement naturel ? Sinon, contactez-moi :D
Blacks are a completely different species and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see it for yourself. They look and are completely different.
If you’re ok with interracial relationships you have the same mind of someone who like would fuck an animal. Because that’s exactly what you are doing and deep down inside you know it’s true. It more human than you know to be racial and denying it is a mental disorder you sheep fuckers.
Un grand bravo pour la conception de votre blog. j’ajoute votre blog à mes favoris. bonne continuation.
It’s funny. As the number of interracial relationships in America have risen, our standards have lowered. Now, you have massive amounts of white guilt which suddenly make excuses for so many black people being on welfare or arrested for violent or drug crimes. These “useful idiot” white people will even try to gloss over the incredibly high numbers of black men who run out on their wife and kids, accepting that 78% of all black people in America are raised in single parent households. Our country is going down the toilet thanks in part to fools who enable this degenerate behavior.
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