Anti-Blackness and the Fall 2017 TV Lineup
Anti-Blackness is a worldwide phenomenon. It is used as a tool to promote the dehumanization of Black people, both by encouraging harmful ideas about dark skin and by encouraging the poor treatment of Black people by those who are not Black. It also encourages a racial hierarchy, firmly placing whiteness at its apex and Blackness at its bottom. It spreads the message that Blackness renders one less human, less civilized, just less than anybody else. This messaging is a prominent part of Western mass media, a lesson of which I’m continually reminded when I decide to watch television.
This fall introduced several new television shows, many of which produced by fandoms I’ve followed for years – Marvel and Star Trek. I am not a huge television person, but these new series caught my attention and so began my journey into the anti-Blackness that is my Fall 2017 television line-up.
Let’s start with the worst of the lot. The only reason I’m watching Inhumans is because it’s a train wreck and I’m a secret sadist. This show is quite awful, but even more than that, it’s lazy. We have characters who don’t make sense and are woefully ignorant of the workings of the planet it orbits. Like, how you know what money is and that it can be accessed by ATM but assume you can tell it to give you money because you’re a queen on another planet? Yes, that happened. But the most egregious part to me was the casting of the royal family. The cast Eme Ikwuakor, a Black man, as Gorgon, the Inhuman who has hooves instead of feet, literally making him part beast. His character is loud, brash, impulsive, and not much of a thinker. He is aggressive and seeks physical confrontations where he is constantly outmatched. Basically, he’s the kinder, gentler, big Black brute, a common and overused trope.
His cousin, Karnak, is analytical and capable of predicting outcomes with 100% accuracy within seconds. He is emotionally cold and actively distances himself from other people. So, of course, he’s Asian because that trope hasn’t been done to death. The other POC in the royal family, Triton, was “killed” in the first episode. There are also no Black women on Attilan, or if there are, they are not part of the royal family. Basically, business as usual with Marvel.
Fox’s The Gifted – based on Marvel’s X-Men
I had no expectations of Fox’s The Gifted. I decided to check it out because people were tweeting good things about it. I’ll admit, that first episode was gripping, as was the second. And while the cast may not be 100% white, the ones who aren’t white are racially ambiguous, another way to be diverse without including Black people. But then came the Polaris prison storyline. The show introduced a dark-skin Black woman as the lead bully in prison. They wrote her as the big Black brute, had her knowingly attack a pregnant woman, and then show her violently attacked in self-defense. If you think the casting, or the action in this was coincidence, you’re being naïve. This was an intentional choice to have the one dark complexioned Black woman be aggressively violent to justify the use of violence against her…and it was cruel.
The Gifted also coddles whiteness. It’s no secret that mutants are a less racialized way to talk about racism and anti-Blackness. It’s always amazing to me that white people can sympathize with mutants being persecuted in the X-Men universe but still can’t see Black people as human. In the show, we have two white kids who are discovered to be mutants and are now on the run. The father prosecutes mutants and the mom just wants to protect her kids and never thought about the inhumane way mutants are treated. On more than one occasion, the mother has put the mutant underground in danger and every time she is forgiven cuz she’s just acting out of love. She doesn’t believe the mutants, the people who have been excised from society and are mercilessly hunted. She has seen that the Sentinels are willing to murder her entire family if they don’t go into custody. Despite this, she still believes she knows best and the system will help her…and repeatedly endangers everyone with her ignorance. It’s a hard show to watch because she is every white person who refuses to understand how racism works and how dangerous it is for Black people. Yet, when she fucks up, the characters forgive her and everything’s fine.
Star Trek Discovery
Full disclosure - I enjoy this show. It’s exciting and well written so far. I love that it’s set during a war, and that there are questionable decisions, blurred morality, and hard consequences. All that said, I’m still pissed as hell at the bait and switch the writers pulled on me.
When they released stills of the show, we saw a ship led by women of color (WOC) - an Asian Captain and a Black First Officer. I was so ready for that. By the end of episode two, the Captain was dead and the First Officer had been stripped of her rank and was now a criminal. Instead of a women-led crew, we have another ship captained by a white man. And Michael, our intelligent, compassionate, curious lead character is now an outcast, a crew member without rank, stuck in the position of having to prove to her crewmates that she is worthy, despite being the only mutineer in Star Fleet history. She no longer has a position of authority and is now only able to operate outside the margins at the whim of her white male captain, who somehow has the authority to make his own rules. Sounds about white.
And, yes, there was a WOC head of security. Please note the “was” cuz by the middle of episode four, she was dead, too. So, while I appreciate that no one is assumed to be safe, it also sucks that the cast went from something progressive to the token Black speaking character and a token Black woman on the bridge among a sea of pale-skinned people.
The more aware I become of the ways Blackness is attacked and erased in media and culture, the more frustrated I get with any kind of entertainment. It’s a rough road to walk, being aware and still wanting to participate in pop culture and mass media. A part of me wishes I could turn it off, but then I’d go back to absorbing self-hatred without realizing it. So, while it is a pain in the ass to question everything, it’s better for my emotional health. The reality is that American culture, popular culture is toxic for Black people and Non-Black People of Color. White supremacist thinking is full of nasty and dehumanizing messages that elevates itself at the expense of everyone else. The question is, how are you going to navigate it.
I highly encourage people to interrogate the media they consume. Accept that it’s going to be problematic. Understand that there will be messages in it that are intended to be hurtful and damaging for you. It may mean you watch less television and movies. It may also mean that you seek out creators who are crafting narratives that speak to you, instead of distorting your experience to fit a racist ideal. Take the time and find those creators making content that isn’t white-centered. Find them and share them. You are only as limited as you allow yourself to be and they benefit us all.
Also check out Time Out With TaLynn Kel on my YouTube channel. Twice a month I interview various Black creators. You might see something you like!