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The Colorblind Screen

The Colorblind Screen: Television in Post-Racial America

Sarah Nilsen
Sarah E. Turner
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 363
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  • Book Info
    The Colorblind Screen
    Book Description:

    The election of President Barack Obama signaled for many the realization of a post-racial America, a nation in which racism was no longer a defining social, cultural, and political issue. While many Americans espouse a colorblind racial ideology and publicly endorse the broad goals of integration and equal treatment without regard to race, in actuality this attitude serves to reify and legitimize racism and protects racial privileges by denying and minimizing the effects of systematic and institutionalized racism.InThe Colorblind Screen, the contributors examine television's role as the major discursive medium in the articulation and contestation of racialized identities in the United States. While the dominant mode of televisual racialization has shifted to a colorblind ideology that foregrounds racial differences in order to celebrate multicultural assimilation, the volume investigates how this practice denies the significant social, economic, and political realities and inequalities that continue to define race relations today. Focusing on such iconic figures as President Obama, LeBron James, and Oprah Winfrey, many chapters examine the ways in which race is read by television audiences and fans. Other essays focus on how visual constructions of race in dramas like24,Sleeper Cell, andThe Wantedcontinue to conflate Arab and Muslim identities in post-9/11 television. The volume offers an important intervention in the study of the televisual representation of race, engaging with multiple aspects of the mythologies developing around notions of a post-racial America and the duplicitous discursive rationale offered by the ideology of colorblindness.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-9333-1
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    During his keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, then senator Barack Obama made the claim that “there is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America: There’s the United States of America.” These often-cited lines encapsulate the hope of a politician and a people who aspired to move the country past the color line to a time of unity through diversity. Obama himself acknowledges in the opening moments of his speech that his “presence on...


    • 1 Shades of Colorblindness: Rethinking Racial Ideology in the United States
      (pp. 15-38)

      Colorblindness—the claim that race no longer “matters” in American society—serves as the dominant framework for making claims about the role of race in the United States. For many analysts (Carr; Bonilla-SilvaWhite Supremacy, Racism without Racists;Brown et al.; Doane “Rethinking Whiteness Studies”; Gallagher “Color-Blind Privilege”), it has becometheprimary framework for understanding race in the twenty-first century. At the core of colorblindness is the belief that because the civil rights movement was nearly a half century ago and white attitudes have demonstrably changed, racism is no longer embedded in the U.S. social structure and no longer...

    • 2 Rhyme and Reason: “Post-Race” and the Politics of Colorblind Racism
      (pp. 39-56)

      Over the months leading up to and following the 2008 elections, political discourse, news coverage, and popular cultural expressions indulged in a new refrain in American public discourse. Cohering around the term “post-race,” such talk took shape as the climax of an enduring national saga, signaling transformative shifts in U.S. racial relations, aspirations, and experiences. If discourses of colorblindness had set the scene, its plotlines pitting “self-made” heroes against “state-made” villains (Lubiano 1992, 354), its mythic narratives setting in motion new modalities of “racism without racists” (Bonilla-Silva 2010), then Barack Obama’s epochal significance took shape as the culmination of these...

    • 3 The End of Racism? Colorblind Racism and Popular Media
      (pp. 57-80)

      In the beginning, Obama created the heavens and the earth and America became a nation no longer divided by race.¹ A mythology that emerged in the post–civil rights era (from the 1970s onward) has become accepted dogma among whites with the election of Barack Obama: the idea that race is no longer a central factor determining the life chances of Americans. Journalists (Dowd 2009; Shapiro 2004), political advisers (Ifill 2009), some people of color (Reed and Louis 2009), and most whites (CBS 2009) have deemed the election of our first black president evidence that we have entered a “post-racial”...


    • 4 Oprah Winfrey: Cultural Icon of Mainstream (White) America
      (pp. 83-107)

      On May 4, 1992, as the rioting that swept through South Central Los Angeles after the Rodney King trial was winding down, Oprah Winfrey took her show to LA, where she taped a session with a diverse audience discussing the verdict, the riots, the judicial system, and race relations. Aired in two installments, “The Rodney King Verdict: The Aftermath and the Anger” was intended to “confront the controversial issues” and “give people who rarely get heard a chance to speak.” At one point in the sometimes heated conversation, a young white woman stated, “I don’t really see color…. I try...

    • 5 The Race Denial Card: The NBA Lockout, LeBron James, and the Politics of New Racism
      (pp. 108-139)

      In what has become a clichéd and commonplace facet of post–civil rights America, contemporary racial discourse follows a distinct path: accusations of individualized racism, denials that usually focus on intent, all followed by counteraccusations centering on claims about the race card. In a 2011 episode ofReal Time with Bill Maher,Touré, an African American commentator, and white political comedian Bill Maher identified the shift in racial rhetoric that has resulted in the denial of racism becoming the new form of racism.¹ In their estimation, the race denial card is the most powerful and widely circulated in the deck,...

    • 6 Representations of Arabs and Muslims in Post-9/11 Television Dramas
      (pp. 140-166)

      In 2004, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) accused the television drama24of perpetuating stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims (“Fox TV Accused of Stereotyping American Muslims”). CAIR objected to the persistent portrayal of Arabs and Muslims within the context of terrorism, stating that the “repeated association of acts of terrorism with Islam will only serve to increase anti-Muslim prejudice” (“24under Fire from Muslim Groups”). CAIR’s critics have retorted that programs like24are cutting-edge, reflecting one of the most pressing social and political issues of the moment: the War on Terror. Some critics further contend that CAIR is...

    • 7 Maybe Brown People Aren’t So Scary If They’re Funny: Audience Readings of Arabs and Muslims on Cable Television Comedies
      (pp. 167-188)

      This chapter contrasts the perceptions and reactions of non-Arab and non-Muslim audiences to those of Arab and Muslim audiences regarding the portrayal of Arabs and Muslims in a variety of contemporary cable television programming. The results of two focus groups are compared and analyzed for emerging themes. Examples of Arab and Muslim characters were provided to the groups in the form of episodes and segments from contemporary shows, and questions guided the discussions about how images and characters are interpreted by these disparate audiences. The study was conducted in San Francisco. The Northern California Bay Area is known for its...


    • 8 “Some People Just Hide in Plain Sight”: Historicizing Racism in Mad Men
      (pp. 191-218)

      Mad Men,the critically acclaimed AMC television series, created and produced by Matthew Weiner, has since its premiere on July 19, 2007, received widespread praise for its historical verisimilitude and “truth” about America in the 1960s. The show’s creators utilize a fictional Madison Avenue advertising agency, Sterling Cooper, as the prism through which to appraise and evaluate retrospectively the United States at the cusp of a period of radical social and political transformations that would ultimately have lasting impact on American society today.Mad Menhas garnered fifteen Emmys and four Golden Globes and is the first cable series to...

    • 9 Watching TV with White Supremacists: A More Complex View of the Colorblind Screen
      (pp. 219-236)

      Few of us knowingly watch television with individuals who advocate white power. We do, however, have increasing opportunities to view storylines featuring prominent characters who express overtly racist and white supremacist attitudes, including the Aryan Brotherhood prison gang onOz,the Klan onBoardwalk Empire,neo-Nazis onSons of Anarchy,and more recently the racist brothers ofThe Walking Dead. They have emerged as something of a meme, a preferred trope for putting drama in motion and establishing a moral arc for the televisual narrative. Even in these more complex and celebrated cable shows, which pride themselves on character development...

    • 10 BBFFs: Interracial Friendships in a Post-Racial World
      (pp. 237-258)

      America is embroiled in a complex cultural moment in terms of race, and one seminal locus where that complexity is being explored is television.¹ Jim Crow laws, white-only signs, and the civil rights movement are safely in the past, historical moments now, not day-to-day markers of racial struggle. The country has elected its first biracial president, and one-third of African Americans have entered the middle class. And yet, race still matters. When news of black Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain’s infidelity surfaced in the fall of 2011, he responded by accusing the media of a “high tech lynching.”² When then...


    • 11 Matchmakers and Cultural Compatibility: Arranged Marriage, South Asians, and Racial Narratives on American Television
      (pp. 261-284)

      South Asian Americans and the racial space they occupy in the United States in popular culture have often vacillated between the material definition of where South Asians fit in the racial and ethnic hierarchy in the United States and the highly commercialized “model minority” immigrant. South Asians are racial anomalies in the black-white racial paradigms of the United States. Unlike other ethnic and racial minority groups, South Asian Americans do not have a history inflected with war or colonialism in relation to the United States but instead are linked to the United States economically and politically by the ties of...

    • 12 Mainstreaming Latina Identity: Culture-Blind and Colorblind Themes in Viewer Interpretations of Ugly Betty
      (pp. 285-319)

      Depictions of Latina/os in the U.S. media have veered in many directions. Leo Chavez has observed that from the seventies onward there has been a steady pattern of news media coverage depicting Latina/os as a cultural and demographic threat (21–43). But during this same period, an unprecedented number of Latina/o pop stars and celebrities have crossed over into mainstream media culture (Beltrán 1–3; Valdivia 1–30, 131–61). This Latina/o celebrity phenomenon has countered some of the anti-Latino messages advanced by the new nativism, by making Latina/o culture “fun” for a largely white, non-Latino audience. Arlene Davila has...

    • 13 Race in Progress, No Passing Zone: Battlestar Galactica, Colorblindness, and the Maintenance of Racial Order
      (pp. 320-344)

      She is your friend and confidante. She is your lover. She fights battles with you. She showers next to you. She beats you at poker. She eats her meals with you. She shares stories of childhood, romantic intrigue, and flight maneuvers. She is like a daughter to you until one day, without any forewarning, she stares squarely into your eyes and shoots you with the intent to kill. She is not who you thought she was. As a matter of fact, she is not even human but a “skin-job” or human replicant. She is a Cylon who has been living...

    (pp. 345-348)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 349-357)