Call me racist but…
I had settled down to watch How I Met Your Mother (*S17 E16 spoiler alert*) last night and halfway through the episode spontaneously announced that Kevin was not a keeper. My gamerboy found this rather amusing even though he is used to my random rants by now but I explained this was for two reasons: firstly Kevin has the most boring character ever for a TV sitcom- amicable nice guy without a lot to say. Secondly, he is not white. Main characters in soaps, especially romantic soaps about 30 somethings in New York, do not ever end up long term with an ethnic minority.
Take the most popular series of the 90s, Friends. Sure the makers of these shows react to complaints of racism and shoehorn some characters in (Charlie, the black paleontologist, Julie the Asian girl in series 2) but they were never serious contenders. Obviously one barrier was that they were not one of the six main characters but also, they weren’t white. Then there’s Sex and the City. These girls slept around, they did not discriminate against race when it came to the bedroom but when it came to long term partners, every one of them ended up with a white American guy (even the Russians couldn’t cut it). In the Big Bang Theory, Rajesh’s sister Priya dates Leonard for a series but no way is she long-term, she has to go back to New Delhi. In Glee the all-singing, all-dancing sexual-orientation and partner swapping cast includes everyone (gay, lesbian, bi, wheelchaired) except the black chick or the Asian couple. (I’ve not seen S3 but apparently Mercedes gets a big black boyfriend, sigh…)
What does this tell me apart from I watch too much TV? It tells me that ethnic minorities are usually comedy sidekicks, appear for the sake of tokenism and are either hideous stereotypes or for fear of being racist, perfect nice guys. The only shows in which they have real characters are black shows such as Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or the Cosby Show. Which makes me think, did the black sitcom die with the 90s or have they just not been exported as readily to the UK? Anyway, to return to my original point, why can’t an ethnic minority be a main character? Is it simply that there are fewer good ethnic minority actors out there to choose from? I would believe that perhaps for Asian (far and near east) actors but not for black actors in America surely. Or is it something more ingrained and deep-seated: the makers of the show are white, the producers of the show are white, the distributors of the show are white and all they want to see is people like themselves and their friends?
Being from Scotland, I’ve become accustomed to be one of the few ethnic minorities wherever I went: in school, at folk/ classical gigs, in jobs and in lectures. It didn’t and shouldn’t bother me simply because there are very few ethnic minorities in Scotland. I would go as far as to say I often faced positive discrimination and enjoyed it. However because I flitted around in summer jobs and then went off to Japan for three years, I have not noticed what other friends have since pointed out to me. Ethnic minorities do not make management positions. Not in business, in education, in politics or anywhere in the UK (I do not have enough data to speak about the US but I guess it’s very similar). This is not because ethnic minorities lack the abilities, but because they are simply not promoted on the same terms as their white counterparts.
Can it really be true in this day and age that people are still so narrow-minded that they pick, be it consciously or subconsciously, people who look and act similar to them? Surely the merits of their hardwork should be enough. However I cannot refute the evidence that both friends and my own personal experience has shown me. Chinese and Indian children do better in UK schools than most white children. The parenting ideals of Chinese and Indians is not something I want to go into today, but let me say from my own past, you are expected to succeed and you do. It would seem obviously therefore, that these Chinese and Indian children grow up to be successful leaders in their fields. Wrong. Certainly they can find jobs where they are comfortable and live happy lives but they don’t make it all the way to the top of the ladder.
Take this scenario. Candidate A is white, English and has lived his whole life in City X. He goes out drinking on a Friday night with the rest of his team and has had chats with the boss about supporting the same football team. Candidate B is a first-generation Indian who moved to City X to find a job. He doesn’t drink because of his religion and doesn’t eat pork at the work nights out either. He speaks with a slight accent. Who is more likely to be promoted? Even if candidate B does a better job than A, the fact is, his water-cooler banter is not the same as A’s. He doesn’t have the air of comfort and familiarity and therefore is seen as more of a risk. Perhaps he’ll emigrate back to India as his roots aren’t based locally. He doesn’t drink so he must be a bit boring. All of these incorrect assumptions will affect the judgement of the interviewer, whether or not they are truly relevant and pertinent.