This post is part of a year-long series. If my work is helpful for you, consider a contribution through Venmo to support this crucial work of unlearning racial bias.
Last week, I left you with several questions about how black people are represented in media that you consume. When I sat with the question about interracial couples and how often they are depicted as dynamic characters, without their differing cultures as a major plot point, I came up with almost nothing. Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series technically meets the requirement, as does The Mindy Project, but other than that, I’ve got nothing.
In all the many shows and movies I watch on a regular basis, interracial couples rarely appear, let alone as major characters primarily focused on something other than their differing cultures.
On the question of brand representation, I remember an odd conversation I had with a friend years ago, when Cheerios released a commercial featuring an interracial couple and their child. When I saw the commercial, all I saw was a commercial that was maybe a bit refreshing in its casting. But the friend whom I talked to about it mentioned backlash on her Facebook wall – and presumably, from some online publications – from people outraged by “political correctness” and a perceived attack on their own values.
I know, it seems preposterous. And it is. But in a country where this type of representation is so rare, we should almost expect such a reaction until a majority-white consumer base is accustomed to seeing ads that are not designed to appeal only to them – something marginalized Americans are accustomed to from their earliest experiences watching TV and reading books.
This week, we’ll shift our focus from representation to strange fruit.
During the past few weeks, several men across the country – predominantly black men – have been discovered hanging from trees, dead from apparent suicide. Our country’s history of inciting terror in black communities by lynching black men in the dead of night, by popularizing postcards that glorify these hateful murders, by carrying out riots in Arkansas and Oklahoma and Texas, should be enough to poke holes in any authority’s theory that no foul play is at hand in these men’s recent deaths. And yet, suicide is exactly what these authorities preliminarily suggested, pulling back in order to reevaluate only after having pressure exerted on them by public outcry.
I am recommending two podcast episodes this week:
Code Switch’s “Claude Neal: A Strange and Bitter Crop” time hops to tell the story of Neal’s tragic murder while following poet L. Lamar Wilson as he uncovers Neal’s story and runs the path along which his mutilated body was dragged before being hung in front of the courthouse.
My second episode recommendation is “Unfinished: Deep South.” This brand new podcast will unveil the story of Isadore Duncan, a financially successful WWI veteran who was brutally murdered, and whose family later fled their home with none of the financial wealth their patriarch had labored to earn because all pertinent records were destroyed when Duncan was murdered.
Here are some questions to sit with this week:
- In what ways have you pushed back against the idea of black autonomy and equality in your own life?
- Have you tried to silence or minimize the opinions of black people when they have disagreed with your own?
- Will you devote the time this week to researching your own city’s history of racial violence? What will you do with that information when you find it?
- What action have you taken to tear down the vestiges of racial terror in your own community?
- In what ways might you have unwittingly ignored or encouraged violence against black Americans asserting and exercising their own rights to protest, vote, and otherwise carry out their civil rights?
This isn’t quick or easy work that we are doing. But it is necessary to build a better country for ourselves and for future generations. Keep at it, and come back again next week so we can keep working toward peace, one piece at a time.