TV, Interracial Dating, and Elena Tyler.

Sister Toldja goes in on the current wave of interracial casting in mainstream films:

I’m not sure how I feel about Hollywood’s new found (or perhaps revitalized***) comfort with paring Black women with White men, especially considering how infrequently we see quirky, cute, thoughtful films about Black women and Black men. I don’t necessarily see interracial couples on screen as some great sign of progression. As someone very smartly commented on Jez, we needed worry about normalizing interracial couples until we have normalized Black ones. Why? Because that’s the partnership that MOST Black people will find themselves in. In fact, with the exception of Japanese-American women, MOST Americans will marry a person of their own race.

Dropping one Black/mixed woman in a film doesn’t really do much for me in terms of seeing progress in Hollywood. I don’t feel that every film depicting a mixed couple has to involve a long, hackneyed discussion of the interracial dating “issue”, but it just seems rather unrealistic that these ladies wouldn’t have at least one Black parent, a sibling, a friend…someone else who looked like them who figured prominently in their lives. Or are these the film embodiment of the race-abandoning folks who choose to live in spaces with limited to no interaction with other Black people?

I think it’s safe to say that we at PB are for dating whomever makes you happy, race aside. With that said, I think Toldja raises some interesting questions about the preponderance of black characters who have no black friends or family, in predominately white films and television shows. I distinctly remember an episode of Boy Meets World where Angela, Sean’s gorgeous black girlfriend is sitting on a couch with the rest of the kids, who are having some mundane discussion, when she suddenly says “I really need to get some black friends.” Cue big laugh. The implication is not that we only see Angela when she’s hanging out with Cory and the gang, but that she doesn’t have friends who aren’t white. That, to me, is rather absurd. The show was set in Philly, for heaven’s sake.

While I don’t think people of color who don’t have friends of color are ‘race-abandoners,’ I do think that the number of black women on TV and film who lack their own histories is a function of two things: 1) often, characters of color are filling a quota, so just having them on the show is enough for the producers (forget about giving them a backstory) and 2) often, black/latino (and occasionally Asian) actors are filling roles that weren’t written with a person of color in mind.

I can easily name 15 black female/white male couples from television and film, just off the top of my head, while I struggle to think of just three black male/white female couples (Popular, DeGrassi, and Angel). In real life, statistically, black men are more than twice as likely to marry white women as white men are to marry black women. I suspect this disconnect is caused by one of two things. The majority of writers and showrunners are white males, and they either have hangups about black male/white female relationships, or, more likely, they’re writing stories from their own perspective. This ultimately means that the main characters are most often going to be white, and diversity has to be satisfied with sidekicks and girlfriends — neither of which are known for having three-dimensional roles.

Even when a character of color has a story of her own, it often turns out lamentably. I’ve been going through Felicity on DVD, and the character of Elena Tyler, played by the lovely Tangi Miller, is incredibly frustrating at times. Miller manages to to take a role that could easily be the bitchy, angry black best friend, and imbues it with sweetness, vulnerability, and sensitivity. And while Elena ends up with a black man — Donald Faison, who, incidentally, is half of a black/Latino interracial relationship on Scrubs, but has children with a white woman in real life — she dallies in a relationship with a white professor, and cheats on her intended with a white classmate. (Question for the room: can you imagine the precious Felicity stepping out on Ben or Noel with a black guy? Yeah, me neither.) Moreover, Elena’s storylines were often short-shrifted, including her death.

Sister Toldja says casting more movies with quirky black couples (at least one exists) would be more progressive than pairing Zoe Saldana or Thandie Newton (or Halle Berry or Rosario Dawson or Maya Rudolph or Rashida Jones) with white men, and I think she might be right. But who’s going to make those films?

I’ll probably go see Away We Go and I’ll probably like it, just like I like Felicity, and Boy Meets World, and Fringe, and every other show that has an appealing storyline and underdeveloped characters of color. But now that I’m looking back on 15 years of television watching — which started in the 90s when shows were actually more diverse than they are now — and I’m recounting how many times I’ve given a pass to and fallen for a show that marginalizes people of color, I’m incredibly disappointed. Tyler Perry productions don’t appeal to me at all, but Tyler Perry does employ black actors. I didn’t love The Game, but it was a comfort to know it was on. I don’t believe in black shows and black magazines and black movies just for the sake of having them, but I do find the consistent failure of the shows I love to represent women and people of color with any depth…taxing.

55 thoughts on “TV, Interracial Dating, and Elena Tyler.

  1. Kjen June 16, 2009 at 5:23 pm Reply

    I kind of thought of it as Hollywood’s own bastardized one drop rule. See they add just one ethnic character and not change the flavor. However, any more than that and the writers probably feel that it would probably transform their artsy flick into a Madea flick with a few more white people…whew, it’s just not the type of movie they were trying to make.

    What is kind of cool is the prominence of these interracial characters, and thus the black/ethnic female is getting a larger role. The pairing of white characters with black/ethnic characters (where there are starring roles) is also allowable because of something to do with the ‘halo’ effect. Because white is so normalized and associated with good characteristics, pairing an ethnic love interest with a white one transfers a little of that halo. So, that ethnic character is no longer as angry/emotional/irrationally religious/ and allowed more screen time, then if they had been ‘unattached’.

  2. Grump June 16, 2009 at 5:26 pm Reply

    I don’t believe in black shows and black magazines and black movies just for the sake of having them, but I do find the consistent failure of the shows I love to represent women and people of color with any depth…taxing.
    **************************************
    This right here I can definately agree with you on. Its tough to handle watching a show or movie that appeals to you in one manner but severely lacks for you in another. And then, trying to make up for whatever deficiencies that may occur. I read Esquire and GQ, but I had to get King just to supplement those 2 other magazines’ lack of “a cultural appeal” being a Black male.

  3. Winslowalrob June 16, 2009 at 5:52 pm Reply

    Shani, this is an interesting topic (ok, all your topics are interesting), but I know from Toldja’s tone (that is a clever-ass name right there) that what she really wants is nobody dating ‘her’ people. I dunno, maybe because I am mixed or maybe because I am in a ‘mixed-race’ marraige (to an Asian woman no less! Someone call Angry Asian Man!), I can usually pick up on people who might, as you say, raise interesting questions (which is a dubious accomplishment to me) versus people who want their men/women not to date outside the race (and even keep the bloodlines pure), and Toldja is most def in the latter category. Hell, I am a race-traitor/abandoner to boot! To people like her, I heartily give out a middle-finger.

    • shani-o June 16, 2009 at 6:33 pm Reply

      I think you might be jumping to conclusions; but I told Sister Toldja about this post, so maybe she’ll be able to respond.

    • Sister Toldja June 16, 2009 at 6:51 pm Reply

      Wow. Wow. Wow.

      Given how quick you were to assume that I am interested in “keeping the bloodlines pure” and express ire for me having never read my site or familiarized yourself with my work, you seem like the stereotypical Black man in mixed relationship who has some deep seated issues with Black women and gets unreasonably angry at anyone who dares challenge the allmighty Black man’s ability to boo and screw whomever he pleases. These are NOT the men who simply end up with a woman they love regardless of race, but rather those who are opposed to the idea of mating with a Black woman and will marry a soup can if there is a non-Black vagina on the inside.

      I assumed a lot, eh? So did you. All that to say…well, I give the middle finger right back to you, sir! And to answer your charge, I am in favor of Black folks making the concious decision to date and marry other Black folks, but I do respect those who don’t share my views, so long as they don’t diss their own kind or fetishize the other. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Y’all asses certainly identify as Black when the cops pull you over unfairly or when you are descriminated against or you feel that you have been violated in some such way. But then when it’s time to deal with women, it’s all “We are the world”.

      • Winslowalrob June 16, 2009 at 7:23 pm Reply

        haha, touche. Sorry, I get touchy and accusatory about this stuff, and you certainly deserved better because I TOTALLY overshot. It was your tone more than anything, but you are right, I have nothing really to base my attacks on. Thank you for taking the time to talk about it and put in me in my place, which is more than a hothead like me deserves. I dunno, when I hear the ‘we date first then we can mix’ thing, I get pissy, and while there is more to your argument than that, that is what I heard most loudly. And I should have been more diplomatic.

        PS I am not mixed-race black/white :(.

        • Sister Toldja June 17, 2009 at 10:27 am Reply

          Apology accepted. I didn’t, however, think you were Black/White yourself. It’s safe to assume that you are half-Black because of the African name you chose, but I know there are many races of women your father could have mated with other than White. How do I know your father was Black? I don’t, but I have a strrrrrong hunch, LOL.

  4. Jeremy June 16, 2009 at 5:53 pm Reply

    What I find really interesting about Sister Toldja’s original post was the discussion of Rashida Jones, who I had NO IDEA wasn’t white. So, in addition to characters like Angela on Boy Meets World, who kind of just exist in some whitewashed netherworld void of any critical identity exploration, it’s also interesting to see women of color “passing.” You know, here you have a woman of color getting pretty big roles, becoming a pretty recognizable face, and folks like me don’t even pick up on the “of color” part of her identity.

    I wonder if network politics/network decisions play some role in this. Tristan Wilds’ character on the new version of 90210 is a black kid adopted by a white Kansas family that moves to LA. There was one scene early on in the season in which his racial identity played a role, but you’d think the particularly odd circumstances of his character would call for a few more plot lines related to the fact that he’s an adopted black kid at a rich white school. He even dated a white girl, visited his (black) birth mother, and was tempted by a black cheerleader to cheat. Yet, nothing even came close to an interesting discussion of racial identity.

    (this should go without saying, but don’t ask me how I know so much about 90210.)

    • ladyfresh June 16, 2009 at 6:13 pm Reply

      Jeremy…how DO you know so much about 90210…lol

      • Jeremy June 16, 2009 at 6:30 pm Reply

        I, uh, am a big fan of the wire, so I, uh, just wanted to check out Tristan Wilds/Michael from The Wire’s new gig.

        • ladyfresh June 17, 2009 at 12:04 am Reply

          how’s he doing in the new gig btw? (i didn’t watch the wire *ducks tomatoes) but this type of transition seems interesting (no… not interesting enough to actually watch)

          • Jeremy June 17, 2009 at 9:19 am Reply

            Personally, I think he’s a great actor. The show will get canceled soon enough, but he’ll land on his feet. Which is better than a lot of the younger actors from that show; the actor that played Naymond Brice was an Tyra a few months back talking about how he can’t find a job anywhere.

            • ladyfresh June 17, 2009 at 10:11 am Reply

              julito!? aw damn someone give julito a job (i’m biased he’s afro-colombian)

    • shani-o June 16, 2009 at 6:39 pm Reply

      I suspect most white people don’t know that Rashida is black. She really doesn’t look it — she looks exactly like Peggy, but tanner, while her sister Kidada looks more “black” — but the name Rashida was a dead giveaway to me. I immediately looked her up, and surprise, surprise, Quincy Jones!

      • Winslowalrob June 16, 2009 at 6:45 pm Reply

        IF my wife and I decide to have/adopt/steal children, the third one will be named based on an Akan day name (I plan to have good Twi by then!)… I imagine our Kwame our Abena will look a little different than what people expect.

        And Quincy Jones = the Dude.

        • Sister Toldja June 16, 2009 at 6:55 pm Reply

          Abena is gonna have some issues for that arse.

          • Winslowalrob June 16, 2009 at 7:24 pm Reply

            You mean besides having me as a father?

      • blackink12 June 16, 2009 at 7:25 pm Reply

        Lol. That’s what I was gonna say … Rashida? Really? And to me, there was never any doubt about whether Rashida had some black bloodlines.

        Either way, she looks mah-vuh-lous. I just hate that they keep giving her the Lisa Turtle treatment on tee-vee.

        • Winslowalrob June 16, 2009 at 7:28 pm Reply

          Oh Lisa Turtle… you could have had any man you chose! And HOW did Slater captain every freaking sports team in the fall and spring? I understand football and basketball, maybe, but EVERY sport? You need a clone army to do that!

        • shani-o June 16, 2009 at 7:31 pm Reply

          She is stunning, right? I look at her (and Kidada, for that matter) and just…sigh, lol.

          And speaking of Lisa Turtle! I was trying to work this into my post, but it wasn’t fitting: do you remember the episode where Lisa has this fashion show, and she and Zack kiss while she’s fitting him for clothes, and then they decide to date and walk off hand in had and it’s never mentioned again??? That totally burns me up, also, unlike the rest of the cast, Lisa had no long-term relationships aside from Screech. Hmph.

          • blackink12 June 16, 2009 at 7:43 pm Reply

            I definitely remember that “SBTB” episode. And like you, I wondered if it was a lost episode, or a B side, or a leaked remix or something. It never, ever, ever came up again! Not one mention. I mean, there wasn’t even any awkwardness between Lisa and Zack in the aftermath.

            Which is absolutely unfathomable for high school kids.

            But really, I could never understand why they couldn’t or wouldn’t find a part-time boyfriend for Lisa. A dude from another high school. That high school sophomore she hollered at that one time. Or a college student because, let’s be honest, we know how you high school girls liked to do it.

            And winslow, I always, always, always wondered how Slater was able to handle that sort of athletic load. I was like, man, Bayside didn’t recruit a single brother to come in and take some handoffs or run on the track team? Get real.

            (I realize I know entirely too much about this show. Sorry.)

          • Winslowalrob June 16, 2009 at 7:51 pm Reply

            You totally should have put that in your original post. I mean its one thing to have them kiss, but the lack of follow up is just some ol’ bullcrap.

            And Blackink, I think its safe to assume that Lisa would ONLY have dated older men in the long term (they are sooo mature my ass). I mean, can you imagine having a 16 year old black girl dating a 21 year old x guy? That would have had the show cancelled instantly.

            • Sister Toldja June 17, 2009 at 10:18 am Reply

              Kelly dated (or sorta dated) her manager from the Max and he was in college. I felt like the Zach and Lisa kiss was a figmement of my imagination because it was NEVER DEALT WITH AGAIN!

              I know that Lisa was originally supposed to be a Jewish princess, but Lark Vorhees somehow had the chance to audition, completely nailed it and the rest is “Black friend sans family, sans relationships” TV history. I remember seeing her with a Black boy at a dance or something maybe once, but it is shameful that her only real love story line was Screech’s sad, unrequited crush.

              • ladyfresh June 17, 2009 at 2:18 pm Reply

                I remember that kid that lisa saw oh so briefly i wonder what happened to him (the actor).

                Meanwhile the real life parallel of lark dating mark(ok does that make for a cute dating couple rhyming name or what) just threw me for a loop.

                i had no idea.

        • Jeremy June 16, 2009 at 7:37 pm Reply

          Real talk: My dad wanted to name my Aninka if I was a girl. He’s an academic that does work on post-apartheid South Africa…and he’s as white as white comes. *sigh*

          So, you never know; “Rashida” could have been a product of some weird, confused academic parents.

  5. Leigh June 16, 2009 at 9:18 pm Reply

    Why ARE shows and movies so much less diverse now that 10-15 yrs ago? I watch A LOT of Law & Order, and have the first 4 or 5 seasons on DVD, and it’s SUCH a different show in terms of characters and story lines.

  6. Winslowalrob June 17, 2009 at 7:58 am Reply

    Ok, I am going to try and write a response to this issue that goes beyond my personal paranioa (is that even possible?). There are two things that stood out to me from your piece Shani that I really felt uncomfortable about:

    “The majority of writers and showrunners are white males, and they either have hangups about black male/white female relationships, or, more likely, they’re writing stories from their own perspective. This ultimately means that the main characters are most often going to be white, and diversity has to be satisfied with sidekicks and girlfriends — neither of which are known for having three-dimensional roles.”

    I find this line of thought troubling because it assumes a linear movement from identity to writing that I find quite pernicious. Yeah Good Times was not perfect (in terms of initial idea to the way they handled JJ and everything in between), but the writing was always solid for a sitcom. I mean, if writers can only write from their own perspective, then I suppose movies should only have white leads because whites cannot empathize with any other race. I know you are not implying the latter, but I see the same twisted logic in both arguments. Not that nowhite writers should NOT be writing, but I will not grant that whatever amount of black writers on any given show would make the black characters ‘better’, because then all that means is that black writers are only good at writing about black characters. This is a really tricky series of issues but I urge caution in terms of the solutions.

    The other thing I question is the issue of three-dimensional roles and the writing. Should we aim for more nonwhite leads, or better-written girlfriends? Both? Should we aim for ‘rainbow’ casts or ‘realistic’ casts (where the black lead dates white women) or ‘x’ casts? I think a better way of framing this is the deteriorating quality of pop-culture over the past two decades, but I wonder what the ‘better’ solution would be? I would go for realistic myself, so if your show was set in DC, Chicago, LA, NY or there would be a large black and brown presence, but that is just me.

    As per Toldja’s overall point, I heartily disagree. People do not realize just how taboo interracial dating still is and has been, and for every I Love Lucy or The Jeffersons there are fifty shows that would NEVER concieve of ‘polluting the blood’. Now, if you want to point out that a bunch of light-skinned mulattas are essentially passing and cashing out on their ‘exoticism’, thats all well and good (and I disagree), but christ, a string of popularish films where black women (thank you one-drop rule) date white men and its no big deal? This is a VERY different media environment in United States history, and while I am not arrogant enough to ask Toldja to wait patiently for moderation, I find this to be much more progressive than the idea of whites-only blacks-only dating (with apologies to Biko, Fanon, Assatta, Malcolm, et al). When we find our common humanity is where we find progress.

    • shani-o June 17, 2009 at 10:06 am Reply

      Okay, I’m glad you came back with this. 🙂

      I will not grant that whatever amount of black writers on any given show would make the black characters ‘better’, because then all that means is that black writers are only good at writing about black characters.

      I’m not sure how this follows, exactly. Black shows often had and have white characters who are as well (or poorly) written as the rest of the cast. But you don’t often find this in the reverse. At least, I don’t. And obv, whites can step outside of themselves and write well about people of color, but I think the reason why we don’t see that is answered by this…

      the deteriorating quality of pop-culture over the past two decades

      TV and popular films are mostly crappy. I don’t have cable anymore, and I don’t often go to the movies for this reason. But the best shows and movies either don’t have people of color in them at all, or they cast actors of color in roles that I find pretty absurd.

      Now, as to the interracial dating aspect of the post, I’m not suggesting that there’s a glut of it now, or that it isn’t still taboo in many circles. Hell, I hung out with a white male friend this weekend and some of the looks we got were unnerving (I give major props to folks in interracial relationships for dealing with that all the time).

      However, there is less diversity overall in television now, than there was 10-20 years ago. So when 9/10 of interracial relationships are white male/black female — when that’s simply not the case in real life — I think it’s worth exploring why that is. I don’t think it’s enough to say ’40 years ago there weren’t any interracial relationships on TV.’ In 1975, we had Helen and Tom Willis on the Jeffersons…and today, we still see the same pairing most often. I just want to talk about why that is.

      As to solutions, I’m a big fan of reality based casting/writing. If a show is set in Chicago, D.C., Baltimore, Philly, New York or even L.A., there should be some characters of color in it who get equal treatment. If it’s in Utah, like Big Love…then maybe some Latinos passing through a frame from time to time would be good enough.

      And yes, there need to be better written girlfriends. My beef with this is really two-fold. One, that women’s roles are often terrible (one reason I stuck with Grey’s Anatomy as long as I did was that the women on the show were smart, flawed, and unapologetic). Two, black women’s roles are often stereotyped as sassy/loud/angry, and when they’re not, they’re women who have no history of their own, like the ladies discussed in the post. And as a black woman, that bothers me.

      • Jeremy June 17, 2009 at 12:05 pm Reply

        Per the discussion of white writers of POC characters and POC writers of white characters, Racialicious posted an interesting article on the subject: http://www.racialicious.com/2009/05/20/write-what-you-know-limiting-or-authentic/

        • Winslowalrob June 17, 2009 at 3:36 pm Reply

          Not the biggest racialicious fan. I read it (I rarely read their stuff) but… not my style, shall we say.

          And Shani, yeah, you are right about basically everything. Diversity has regressed. Black women in particular get shitty-ass roles. Girlfriends and women in general have terrible writing to back them up. There is considerable hangup about having a black man and a white woman while its acceptable the other way around, which rarely happens (although I question just how much we should look for reality in the world of television situation comedies 🙂 ). In short, a lot of the stuff sucks, and I think GD’s observation that this just means the acceptable white man’s dating pool has widened is probably the most accurate. And other people deserve to have their stories told too, that their dating pools should expand correspondingly.

  7. ladyfresh June 17, 2009 at 10:27 am Reply

    So THAT’S what happened to Trina/Angela thanks for the link!

    I’m not sure what to say here being a mixed woman. I’m torn between being happy at seeing black women with more options (i’m woefully tired of the cant find ‘a good black man’ there’s plenty imho and if not find SOMEONE, don’t restrict yourself), seeing black women on film in actual relationships (representation was mainly single for the longest or hoeish/sex kittenish)and yes as one of those black but not ‘fully’ black seeing women being chosen for some ‘other’ quality is conflicting. The same reason i ‘X’ people out of my life(can you handle the reality of my family?) i see being ‘X”d out in media they have no friends, no family only the SO apparently and it’s disturbing.

    It’s bitter/sweet feeling I guess. ‘Away We Go’ seems like something i’d like and will see.

  8. G.D. June 17, 2009 at 12:33 pm Reply

    There are a couple assumptions in this post (and Toldja’s) that I’m not sure make a lot of sense. The first is that there’s this new surfeit of white man/black woman relationships in TV/cinema, and that there’s a corresponding dearth of representation of black male/black female relationships. But aren’t the overwhelming majority of black characters on TV who are paired up with significant others linked to other black folks? And haven’t white male characters long been allowed couplings with East Asian women and South Asian women and Latinas as well? (J.Lo is a bigger name than any of her male leads, and has always been cast opposite white men; Lucy Liu is usually the only person of East Asian extraction in anything she’s involved in.) It seems like this “phenomenon” — to the extent that Rudolph and Jones portray characters that are even “raced” to begin with — is just a widening of the scope of who white guys are allowed to link up with onscreen. And yet all of that has gotten left out in the two posts.

    (Also, in the original post, Shani linked to my earlier PB entry about Medicine for Melancholy as an example of “quirky black onscreen couples.” But that’s a bizarre inclusion. One of the film’s central tensions is that the two leads are participating in a social milieu in which there were not many other black people, which meant that dating the people who liked the shit that they liked and into their scene necessarily meant dating people who weren’t black. The question they’re wrestling with in the film iswhether their blackness was a compelling reason for them to consider dating; invoking that movie actually complicates this conversation, because it was so ambivalent about the answer.)

    (Also, also: I recall Lisa Turtle having a romantic subplot and some Negro spontaneously materializing at Bayside for her to link up with.)

    And then there’s this weird, little digression by Toldja against Winslow:

    “you seem like the stereotypical Black man in mixed relationship who has some deep seated issues with Black women and gets unreasonably angry at anyone who dares challenge the allmighty Black man’s ability to boo and screw whomever he pleases. These are NOT the men who simply end up with a woman they love regardless of race, but rather those who are opposed to the idea of mating with a Black woman and will marry a soup can if there is a non-Black vagina on the inside.”

    This alleged phenomenenon — an army of self-hating Negroes who just love them some white women — comes up with hilarious frequency in conversations about interracial dating. “Oh, it’s okay if the people involved in the IR are actually together for the “right” reasons, but we shouldn’t countenance those creepy fetishists!” To the extent that interracial dating is a “problem,” talking about some obnoxious outliers who hate black women in EVERY CONVERSATION about interracial couples is sorta like talking about those fat babies covered in olive oil on Maury Povich in conversations about America’s obesity epidemic. How much of the larger phenomenon do they actually represent? (And, more importantly, why would anyone on the outside of that dyad be arrogant enough to name themselves the arbiter of whether it’s the “good” kind of IR and when it’s the “bad” kind?)

    “Y’all asses certainly identify as Black when the cops pull you over unfairly or when you are descriminated against or you feel that you have been violated in some such way. But then when it’s time to deal with women, it’s all “We are the world”.

    Huh? This weirdly suggests that people are incapable of holding two ideas in their heads at the same time, that they can’t critically think about race and be in interracial relationships. This is where Winslow, I think, is right: the tone of all these things together smacks of racial policing more than “raising interesting ideas.”

    • shani-o June 17, 2009 at 1:29 pm Reply

      The majority of your comment doesn’t actually relate to the post I wrote, so I’ll leave that part alone. I don’t agree with everything Sister Toldja wrote in her post, but the section I highlighted inspired me to think about the way IR are presented in popular media, so that’s why I quoted it.

      As for this:

      There are a couple assumptions in this post (and Toldja’s) that I’m not sure make a lot of sense. The first is that there’s this new surfeit of white man/black woman relationships in TV/cinema, and that there’s a corresponding dearth of representation of black male/black female relationships. But aren’t the overwhelming majority of black characters on TV who are paired up with significant others linked to other black folks? And haven’t white male characters long been allowed couplings with East Asian women and South Asian women and Latinas as well? (J.Lo is a bigger name than any of her male leads, and has always been cast opposite white men; Lucy Liu is usually the only person of East Asian extraction in anything she’s involved in.) It seems like this “phenomenon” — to the extent that Rudolph and Jones portray characters that are even “raced” to begin with — is just a widening of the scope of who white guys are allowed to link up with onscreen. And yet all of that has gotten left out in the two posts.

      I think you bring up an interesting point at the end of this, but it’s kind of buried. The phenomenon, as you call it, may very well be simply a widening of the scope of women white guys can hook up with. And that’s great for white men (and, I suppose, the actresses in those roles).

      Mixed-race relationships in pop culture are scarcer than hen’s teeth in general, and I think that’s unfortunate. But I don’t buy that pairing women of color (be they Latina or Asian, or multi-racial or black) with white men, and putting them in poorly written or underdeveloped roles is a sign of real progress. And frankly, I’m still hung up on the fact that as a black woman, it’s much less likely for me to end up in a marriage with a white man, than it is for you to end up with a white woman, but one would never know that if TV was the thing to go by.

      I’m sorry if you think that sounds like racial policing, because it isn’t meant to be. As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to other people’s relationships: if they like it, I love it.

      • G.D. June 17, 2009 at 2:03 pm Reply

        uh, “buried” where? it’s the very first point I made in the above comment. And obviously, the other stuff was addressing Toldja’s initial post and her subsequent comments in this thread.

        But I don’t buy that pairing women of color (be they Latina or Asian, or multi-racial or black) with white men, and putting them in poorly written or underdeveloped roles is a sign of real progress.

        did anyone, anywhere, assert it was a sign of progress besides Toldja, who used the “alleged progress” angle as a strawman to tear apart?

        • shani-o June 17, 2009 at 2:06 pm Reply

          Nope, you’re right.

        • quadmoniker June 17, 2009 at 2:07 pm Reply

          That’s what I’ve been wondering. Where did anyone posit this as progress? I wouldn’t turn to mainstream RomComs to find it.

          • shani-o June 17, 2009 at 2:09 pm Reply

            Yeah, no. Forget I said that.

    • shani-o June 18, 2009 at 6:13 am Reply

      By the way, I don’t think including the link to Medicine for Melancholy is “bizarre” because the couple is discussing whether their blackness is a reason to date. I think that’s a realistic depiction of a relationship between two black people (unlike, say, Two Can Play That Game), and I’m not seeking ‘authenticity,’ whatever that is…I’m seeking realism.

    • sistertoldja June 18, 2009 at 11:37 am Reply

      I don’t particularly enjoy conversations about interracial dating, but since I have been baited in to one…you are entitled to your opinions, and I, mine. I personally do not think (when it comes to Black folks) that interracial dating is the way to go. I think we should heal ourselves first and learn to love one another before we should turn our attentions elsewhere. We are stronger as a collective than we are apart and giving how turbulent and wrought with pain the relationship between Black men and women can be, I just dont see much healing coming if the people with whom we choose to connect on the most initmate level do not come from within our own ranks.

      I realize this is a strong opinion and requires lifestyle choices that some of us are unwillin to make. I make my opinion known and that is that. I am not campaigning or arguing or belittling people who do not see things as I do. HOWEVER, YES I do berate those who choose to ONLY date outside of their own race, those who malign their own people and who fetishize members of other races. Typically, I have seen those behaviors exibited amongst Black men more than Black women (I am only concerned with IR dating as it relates to us, so I wont comment on any other group beyond saying Angry Asian Man- I feel you, son!) Not amongst Black men en masse, but more often than I would have liked.

      To me, it is troubling that someone could be so “pro-Black” in every other aspect of their lives but their romantic side. Of course I am not implying that one is not capable of thinking critically about race and marrying out. Look at Alice Walker, Franz Fanon, Julian Bond and a lot of other folks who have fought for Black rights and dignities on some level, while sharing their bed with “the other”. However, I think it is somewhat hypocritical and ineffective. And when it comes to a lot of “pro-Black” brothers, I think that Blackness is a male concept in their minds and a lot of what they are fightin for is equal acess to White women and the right to live and rule just as the White man does. They have the interests of Black men held in greater esteem than any others. And I think a lot of y’all can intellectualize your way around that but at the end of the day, you are my living, breathing case-in-points.

      • shani-o June 18, 2009 at 6:44 pm Reply

        Sister Toldja, to be fair (and not to speak for anyone else here, but…) we’re not really “pro-Black” here, in the traditional sense, at least. I just want to clarify, because I think you’re making some assumptions.

        We’re for thinking critically about race, class, gender, and sexuality…and recognizing everyone’s humanity. And here that doesn’t always square with being “pro-Black.”

      • t.o.a n. June 18, 2009 at 10:53 pm Reply

        When you write of black folks healing themselves first and learning to love one another are you referring to black Americans or black people around the world?

      • G.D. June 19, 2009 at 4:13 am Reply

        I don’t particularly enjoy conversations about interracial dating, but since I have been baited in to one…

        baited? did I miss something?

        I personally do not think (when it comes to Black folks) that interracial dating is the way to go. I think we should heal ourselves first and learn to love one another before we should turn our attentions elsewhere. We are stronger as a collective than we are apart and giving how turbulent and wrought with pain the relationship between Black men and women can be, I just dont see much healing coming if the people with whom we choose to connect on the most initmate level do not come from within our own ranks.

        That’s all mighty fuzzy. What would “healing” look like? How will we know when the “healing” is done? (Do you even think it can be done?) Who gets to decide when that is? What are the larger social consequences of blacks marrying nonblacks? How would we measure them?

        And who are “our own ranks”? If I married a light-skinned Afro-Latina, would she count? What about the daughter of a union between a biracial black woman/man and a white man/woman? They’d be more white than black, right? So are we using the one-drop rule here? Would it be okay if she looked like india.arie but despised black people?

        It’s all terribly confusing, and I eagerly await your elucidation of our acceptable dating parameters.

        HOWEVER, YES I do berate those who choose to ONLY date outside of their own race, those who malign their own people and who fetishize members of other races. Typically, I have seen those behaviors
        exibited amongst Black men more than Black women (I am only concerned with IR dating as it relates to us, so I wont comment on any other group beyond saying Angry Asian Man- I feel you, son!) Not amongst Black men en masse, but more often than I would have liked.

        More often then you’d like? Some perspective on this dangerous surfeit of miscegenation: there were only 363,000 black/white marriages in the United States in 2000. (http://www.jointcenter.org/DB/factsheet/marital.htm)

        Indeed, black/white marriages comprised less than a quarter of all interracial unions in
        2000 (http://social.jrank.org/pages/889/Family-Interracial-Marriages-Are-Becoming-More-Common.html).

        And as of 2007, blacks married to whites made up a paltry 4.7 percent of all married blacks. (http://www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/fryer/files/interracial_marriage.pdf).

        Apparently, “more often than [you] would have liked” is any number greater than zero.

        I am not campaigning or arguing or belittling people who do not see things as I do. To me, it is troubling that someone could be so “pro-Black” in every other aspect of their lives but their romantic side. Of course I am not implying that one is not capable of thinking critically about race and marrying out. Look at Alice Walker, Franz Fanon, Julian Bond and a lot of other folks who have fought for Black rights and dignities on some level, while sharing their bed with “the other”. However, I think it is somewhat hypocritical and ineffective.

        Gotcha. You’re not belittling the personal choices of Walker or Fanon or Bond, you’re just calling them ineffective hypocrites for making those choices. (Oddly, you don’t specify— surprise! —what they’re hypocritical about or which endeavors their marriages render ineffective, but one wonders whether their marriages actually contradict anything they’ve personally espoused or just some ideas you’ve imposed upon them.)

        And I think a lot of y’all can intellectualize your way around that but at the end of the day, you are my living, breathing case-in-points.

        Say what now?

        Okay, so let’s assume that a particular black man hates blacks women. He never dates black women, and chooses to date nonblack women out of contempt. (“Those goddamn black women!” he randomly howls at no one in particular, banging his fist on the table for emphasis, before tonguing down his Nonblack Goddess.) He’s necessarily a misogynist, and his shit should be called out. But then what? Do you Drop Squad him until he worships at a personal shrine to Ida B. Wells and becomes a Carol’s Daughter franchisee? Will you only be satisfied when he only loves and fucks and courts black women? Why does who Hypothetical Self-Loather dates concern you so much?

        I’d like to go a step further here. Deciding that you get to be the arbiter in which relationships are good and which are bad — relationships in which you are not a participant and to whose inner workings you are not privy — is breathtakingly arrogant. But looking at a couple and imposing some specious narrative of dysfunctionality onto their couplehood solely because of the respective ethnic backgrounds of the two people in it? Well: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3376/3641013094_23a2d67fc9_o.gif

  9. meeshtastic June 17, 2009 at 1:08 pm Reply

    I’ve been lurking on this site for some time and I love it. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that it’s rough to comment on this issue without coming off as defensive since I am in an interracial relationship with the dreaded white man. We’re about to be married and have a little one-so these issues are top of mind for us both.

    In general, I’m not a fan of the “you have to wait your turn” meme. It reminds me of our recently past presidential election where there was some notion that it was white women’s “turn” in the White House seat. So for me the idea that we “As someone very smartly commented on Jez, we needed worry about normalizing interracial couples until we have normalized Black ones. Why? Because that’s the partnership that MOST Black people will find themselves in,” is a bit problematic.

    Widespread or not this is sort of paring is the norm for many people as is the existence of other sorts of “nontraditional” couplings including homosexual ones. Also, we shouldn’t forget that the ability for folks to marry/partner with who they choose has been greatly affected by a myriad of racist legal and social systems in this country. Because these systems are so ingrained, we’ve normalized these ideas of “sticking with ones own kind,” etc.

    Overall Hollywood is awfully mediocre on all fronts when it comes to representations of nonwhite people and that does need to change.

    Anyway, that’s just my two cents.

    • shani-o June 17, 2009 at 1:13 pm Reply

      Congrats on your marriage, and thanks for commenting. I think you’re right, and I think it’s unfortunate I didn’t make it clearer in the post that this isn’t about judging interracial relationships. I mean, I thought I did…but I guess not.

      It was really about how nonwhites and women are represented.

      • meeshtastic June 17, 2009 at 3:29 pm Reply

        I totally hear your point-and I agree that nonwhites and women are practically invisible in Hollywood-big and little screen. In an arena where we all have some desire to see ourselves reflected in popular media, I think there’s room for everyone and that should be the point.

        I was excited to see a representation of a couple like my future hubby-to-be and I in Away We Go and I love Bernard and Rose on Lost. It’s corny and probably a little problematic to look for validation in movies and TV, but heck we all do it. I’d love for popular movies and TV to reflect the broadness of the human experience in all of its minutia. One person’s cloud is another person’s silver lining when it comes to issues like this. Maybe I’m a little pie in the sky, but I think that the best way to the react to the hegemony of whiteness in Hollywood is make sure that various social/political realities can seize the stage.

        • glory June 17, 2009 at 8:44 pm Reply

          Meeshtastic (love that name) said: “It’s corny and probably a little problematic to look for validation in movies and TV, but heck we all do it.”

          I think in some way this is a big part of the conversation. People want to see themselves represented. And if you’re looking to see Black women represented on screen, and you see what seems to be a pattern of black women on screen, except they’re almost not black, both in their appearance and in the generally accepted stereotypical ways black women are culturally identifiable… (she dates a white guy, she has white friends, she exists without other black acquaintances – hell, if you didn’t know based on her parentage that she was black…) Well, there’s something frustrating about that if representation is what you are expecting out of Hollywood. It’s not even all about IR dating.

          It may be a little harder for those of us who grew up in the 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s. Compared to then, both the big and small screens have waaaaaaay less representation of anything resembling a black family unit, a black community, a black couple in love, black people with black friends…

          Growing up I could watch sitcoms about black families, a black church, black roommates, a black college… You can’t really do that much anymore. It’s not about having something black on tv for the sake of having it. But it sure was nice to have the option of seeing some representation of facets of black life in America that didn’t hinge upon us being at our jobs as the (what are we now, less than) 12% of the workforce, or when we’re with our white friends or lovers, which is pretty much how you have to catch us on screen now. (With the exception of Tyler Perry’s productions, which is are 1) a whole ‘nother ball of wax so far as discussions go and 2) pretty much all that’s left regarding this type of representation.)

          So yes, it would be nice to see Rashida Jones in a movie with a brother as her love interest. It would be nice to see Will Smith gross just as much at the box office with a black love interest as he has with an “other” love interest. Just as nice as I figure it will be to see Maya Rudolph starring with John Krascinski, even though it would have been nice, in the Away We Go trailer, to know that Maya’s character had some parents too. Or maybe some sorors, or a play cousin or SOMEBODY black putting them up for the night during a part of their wanderings. And when will writers finally get comfortable with putting a big strapping black man like Idris Elba on screen with some lily white darling like say, Calista Flockhart? Maybe if they just go ahead and do it, everyone can get all the last of their racial anxieties about tv off of their chests, they’ll get used to it and get the hell over it, and we’ll get to a point where fiction can just be fiction and not be so thought provoking when it comes to who is paired with who.

          That might be fun.

          One more thing – “I’m Through With White Girls” is a cute example of two quirky black people in love. H/T to Sister Toldja for getting me to put that on my Netflix. But because of its title and the race of its leading actors, a movie like that probably wouldn’t even be considered seriously as a box office contender ’cause the people who plan this stuff probably wouldn’t consider marketing it as if white folks and others might also find it entertaining.

    • Jeremy June 17, 2009 at 2:34 pm Reply

      “The dreaded white man”…Love it.

      This comment thread is getting intense!

  10. Spaceman's Hairdo June 18, 2009 at 11:57 am Reply

    Well, right now Hollywood is hurting. They spend way too much money on these movies and the end result is disposable entertainment at best and since people are holing onto their wallets a little tighter they no longer as willing to take risks.

    We are living in what is essentially a “1960s-lite” and much like that era the ground is fertile for a filmmaking renaissance. Right now there is nothing out there (in the mainstream, where it matters most) that speaks to the pressing issues at hand. It’s just guys with hangovers, giant robots and spaceships. Now there is nothing wrong with that. But there was a time (60s, 70s) when Hollywood put out biting topical pieces (then Jaws happened).

    One would assume that as a result of the less than stellar box office returns we may see a film with “a big strapping black man like Idris Elba on screen with some lily white darling like say, Calista Flockhart” just for the sheer hysteria-inducing titillation factor of it. Although I think it would be more provocative if Idris was paired with Reese Witherspoon. I can already see it. A rural farm girl runs away to the big city where she hooks up with a tough-as-nails, but erudite former boxer, falls in love, gets married and returns home for the holidays with her new hubby, parents object. The film’s climatic moment happens when Reese reveals to her parents that she is pregnant. Family is ready to disown her but then Idris steps in and whoops Reese’s sister’s abusive alcoholic boyfriend during Thanksgiving dinner. I know, it’s cheesy, but that’s Hollywood. They won’t give you everything you want.

    • shani-o June 19, 2009 at 6:18 am Reply

      Heh.

    • quadmoniker June 19, 2009 at 9:57 am Reply

      What “less than stellar box office returns?” Last year was a banner year for movies, and everyone wrote articles about how recession-resistant Hollywood is because movies are a relatively cheap way to spend your time.

      Lest you think that’s old news, here’s an update.

      Also, Idris Elba did a really fantastic turn on “The Office” last season, and every woman in the office had a crush on him in what I thought was a completely non-racialized way. I’d like to hear other people’s take on it, though.

      • glory June 19, 2009 at 11:19 pm Reply

        I agree with your take on what happened with Elba on The Office. I didn’t find the women’s ogling to be racially charged, and I thought it was a nice role for him. I still think office crushes are a little different than a high media profile interracial relationship where the guy is black and the girlfriend/wife is not.

    • G.D. June 19, 2009 at 12:27 pm Reply

      I wanted to take issue with this response, but then I realize that I actually don’t understand what, if anything, you’re saying.

      • Spaceman's Hairdo June 19, 2009 at 4:30 pm Reply

        Quad, actually, Hollywood is beginning to feel the sting of the recession. Recent returns have been lower than the conservative estimates of many box office forecasters. I was not familiar with that episode of The Office, but TV has always been ahead of movies when it comes to these issues.

        GD, what is it that you don’t understand? I was just trying to have a little fun.

  11. s. lux June 19, 2009 at 10:50 am Reply

    i went to film school. where i was the only woman and person of color in most of my classes. In most of the projects and jobs i have had. i was the only black person. lack of representation behind the screen will most definitely lead to lack of representation on the screen. i can tell u the powers that be DO NOT want to see us. They especially do not want to view us as well rounded humans. i often have to CORRECT thoughts and behaviors as it relates to US. Black Actresses have a lack of roles period, let alone quality roles. I don’t necessarily view Maya Rudolph and Rashida Jones as representing women of color. Their roles are easily interchangeable and their phantom family and friends prove just that. this is DEFINITELY NOT PROGRESS. Someone mentioned Chicago, and LA. I can tell you from living in both places that they are very segregated. So how a show would realistically represent those cities would be interesting. they way we will be represented adequately is thru indie cinema. now distribution is a whole other animal.

  12. Angel June 25, 2009 at 4:27 pm Reply

    The episode you’re thinking of is when Angela and the gang are playing a game called ‘What’s Your Soap Opera Name?’ where you’re supposed to take your middle name and combine it with where you live. So she says her name was ‘Shaynaynay Martin Luther King Blvd’. None of them get the joke, and she laughs and says ‘Boy I really need to get some more black friends’.

    Its Shawn, by the way, not Sean. And yes she was absolutely gorgeous ❤

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