Television is the most prominent cultural vestige of white supremacy in the US. Take a look:
This is a picture of Shohreh Aghdashloo. She won an Emmy Award tonight for “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie” for her work in House of Saddam. Besides being a talented actress, she’ll go down in the history books as one of only three people of color to win a 2009 Emmy Award.
Actually, people of color are so poorly regarded in the television industry it’ll probably be sometime before she’s even in their proverbial “history books.” I mean, the other nonwhite winners included writer/producer Matthew Hubbard, one of the 12 winners for 30 Rock (“Outstanding Comedy Series”); and an African American male who was part of the team of 14 who won for The Amazing Race (“Outstanding Reality-Competition Program”)—whose name I don’t even know!
Not counting dancers, members of the band, and the stage crew, there were only even three other people of color on stage tonight: Tracy Morgan, Chandra Wilson, and LL Cool J!
There was an assortment of nonwhite actors who were nominated for awards tonight and didn’t win (Morgan and Wilson among them). But this doesn’t mitigate the problem, just like a few more folks of color winning awards would not have. The more fundamental problem is the way the experiences of communities of color aren’t a priority on or in television, whether its network or cable. There aren’t a lot of roles, because there aren’t a lot of writers, because there aren’t a lot of producers and executives, and so on.
Throughout television’s history, the “white American” experience has been normalized as “our” collective experience. The single great exception to this has been the integration of Jewish voices and experiences, rooted to their presence in the pre-television-entertainment industry. Even that is minor compared to the vast majority of television programming.
The situation on TV isn’t likely to change very soon, and TV will remain the worse for it. As their ratings decline, putting into question whether the medium is even going to exist in the same form a decade from now, one way they might improve is by trying to represent a fuller slice of what life is like for people in this country.
At least they can put up some more nonwhite faces. It would be a start!