I have this practice where I don’t watch shows or movies where black people, or other people of color (POC), don’t exist. And I’m talking about ‘exist’ as whole characters, not just as background or non-speaking entities. This means I’ve never watched more than half an episode of shows like Game of Thrones. I’ve stopped watching reruns of all- or mostly-white shows I used to watch. And it’s why most years I barely know the Oscar and Emmy contenders. Now, I don’t need black folks/POC to be magical, “good” people—I am usually fine with complex, flawed characters unless it’s a clearly false and disparaging stereotype—but I need us to be there as real people, to be fully represented. For me representation matters immensely.
Imagine my discomfort then, when in a recent sociology class, my professor, a self-described scholar on race, gender and sexuality, decided to show an entire episode of an all-white, Ireland-based TV show called Red Rock.
Some background: my introductory sociology class is being given at the local community college. A main reason why folks seek to continue their education at the community college is for its cost-effectiveness; most students don’t have the financial wherewithal to as yet (maybe in the future) take classes at a 4-year institution, myself included. The class is probably 96% black/POC. There is one white guy. The only other white person is the professor. Red Rock is a show based in Ireland, and follows two warring families, one more economically and socially advantaged than the other. In the episode we watched, a young man from the less-advantaged family is assaulted by a young man from the more affluent family. The police get involved. The assaulted man later dies from his injuries. The episode had zero POC, not even as background characters.
The professor showed Red Rock in class for us “to see how income and class differences can be more of the problem than race.” Yes, this (white) scholar on race said that to a class full of POC, who without a doubt, have spent an entire lifetime surviving under the crushing effects of racism (and white supremacy), over that of classism. Don’t get me wrong, classism is a thing; folks do hold prejudices and discriminate against each other based on class and social standing. And, the reality also is that racism, especially anti-blackness, trumps classism virtually every time.
But to get back to my original point of why I don’t watch all-white shows. My belief is that watching all-white shows is psychically demoralizing and traumatizing; it is erasure of black people through non-representation. Every time black people/POC watch shows where we don’t exist, we are consuming the subconscious narrative that we shouldn’t exist. So, I refuse to consume that.
Except for this “class” incident.
I need to pass the course, and my intention is to get an ‘A’ and to move onto a bigger college in a year. Challenging the professor isn’t really a realistic option, or at the least, is not one of those battles I choose to fight. (To be black in America means my ‘don’t fight that battle’ list is long AF.) Instead, I am choosing to write about it.
So what do you think? Do you watch all-white shows or movies? If so, why? Have you ever noticed what you’re watching was all-white? How did it make you feel?