By Adan Falcon, Special to Xpress
Today’s most critically acclaimed shows have ignited controversy in their depiction of people of color as minor characters, part of the background, or as help. A tweet claimed Mad Men as the “‘Roots‘ for white people,” and HBO’s “Girls” is accused of misrepresenting NYC’s multicultural landscape. Critics who laud these shows with praise and adornment have ignored a central question: where is the agency for POC?
POC have seen a rise of representation through alternative outlets with millions of viewers crowding around to watch Youtube clips such as Sh*t White Girls Say, or, my favorite web series, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. The characters curse, awkwardly say racist comments, and act on morally questionable acts, without relying on TV norms for answers such as: 1) turning to a licensed (white) therapist, 2) turning to the best (white) friend, 3) turning to the (white) authorities.
The POC character against those norms is portrayed as the ethnic minority in poverty, solely due to a cultural/attitudinal fault. In The George Lopez Show, the characters who adhere to a normative way of life by their “white” employers or classmates are given mobility, while those who stick to their cultural roots or an alternative route face a future as a minor, stereotyped, or obscured role, such as George’s mother Bennie and his son Max.
When criticism like this appears though, the perception of the language used is “too general,” they are “empty terminologies,” and only exist to create controversy. If this gaslighting continues, POC criticism is devalued unless it is supported by the mainstream media.
It also addresses the bigger issue: class. It’s not only a “white” person thing, but it is a “first world” thing. As a working class POC in the world of academia, I face a low number of representation of people in my class position, and am statistically more likely to drop out or perform poorly from a lack of support or representation.
When you hear someone use “whiteness” as a form of criticism of the lack of representation of POC in the media, ask yourself how many of these voices are actually heard, addressed, and taken seriously, and how many are actually given credibility without having to follow a “white,” normative behavior.