America’s New Mainstream

CB025258It is inevitable to reflect on America in light of  its changing demographics and President-Elect Barack Obama’s impending transition to power. Recent demographic data suggests that by 2042 minorities will be a racial majority in America. This is the topic of Hua Hsu’s article in The Atlantic, “The End of White America?”  It is longish but worth a read.

While he raises some scintillating questions, I don’t agree with the notion that America is culturally post-racial even with a black president and a minority majority citizenry on the horizon. The term “post-racial” is quite opaque but is bandied about a lot these days. For the sake of this post, it will signify something that is “beyond race,”  “transcending race,” or “indifferent to race.”  To add further nuance to the term or the way I am using it here, I argue that if something, say mainstream American culture, is post racial then it will be more inclusive or at least not be dominated by one race. My assumptions may reach too far, but bear with me.

America’s corporate and political power brokers are still white, but Hsu is primarily focusing on culture. American mainstream culture, I would argue, is still primarily white. In fact, “American mainstream”, is a code phrase for white people. Yes, I would agree that the mainstream is opening up but America does not yet have a post-racial American culture.

This was crystal clear last night when I watched the 66th annual Golden Globes where there were so few black, brown, or red faces. If a movie cast includes more than one main, non-white actor, it is usually relegated to an “other”  or niche status and not expected to command blockbuster revenue. In the absence of scripts with minority characters, there are so few roles for minority actors.

Television provides more of the same. TV shows with one minority character much less an entire cast are slim to none on all the major networks. I grew up in the days of The Cosby Show, A Different World, and In Living Color, to name a few majority black shows. Now series like these aren’t seen anymore and if they are, they are soon canceled.  A grand exception is the Tyler Perry enterprise.

Advertising is dominated by whites who decide how to market to the “mainstream” and “marginalstream.” Take a look at the AMC  drama, Mad Men that details advertising in 1960s New York. I like the show but the blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, and every other “-ism” is hard to stomach at times.  I am no insider to advertising but I have a suspicion that there hasn’t been a whole of progress there.                                                                                                                                                                                                I could continue this argument by examining other cultural markers like the arts (though music and dance may be more diverse), religion, and sports, as well as looking at certain beliefs, behaviors and patters that are commonly held by most to reveal that America is far from post-racial. American communities and churches (even within the same denomination) are still segregated.

One burning problem that contributes to the lack of minority voices, faces, perspectives, etc in most of these realms is an absence of minorities in decision-making roles. Who is making the decision not to hire more minorities on SNL? Who decides what TV shows will be aired, what scripts will turn into movies? Who writes the scripts? Who are the power brokers at advertising agencies? I could go on asking, “who?” and the answer would be whites. There are exceptions, but they, by definition, are not the rule.

I’ll offer an anecdote from a conversation I had with the associate pastor at my former church.  She asked me for suggestions on ways the church (majority white congregation) could be more welcoming to minorities who visited or joined. I told her that the most powerful step the church could take would be to hire a minority on the clerical staff.  She gave the canned answer that no qualified, minority applicants applied.

One cogent question to ponder is what is our aim in the march toward post-racialdom in culture? Does a majority as the minority mainstream culture mean that whites should be relegated to the margins? Will the power just change hands? I hope not. It would be interesting to see what a truly egalitarian culture or community looks like. Hopefully no one will call me a socialist or communist for asking this question.

Please send me your comments! There is a lot ot ponder here.

3 thoughts on “America’s New Mainstream

  1. Myesha,

    This is such a great entry. I have a strong reaction to the term “post-racial.” Since our nation has elected a black man as president, does that mean our work is done? Absolutely not! Our nation desperately needs to acknowledge that racial stereotypes and racism still exists. Though electing Barack Obama into office has been an amazing step forward, we still see racism being practiced all across the world.

    One example is Prince Harry calling one of his friends a “Paki.” Though this is the most recent form of racism in the news. It most certainly isn’t the first or last.

    Additionally, Hollywood has been predominately white. It wasn’t until 2002 that Halle Berry won an Academy Award for best actress.

    While it’s true that America is statistically becoming less and less white and that affirmative action is being reversed, as a person of a minority I worry. Though Caucasians worry about becoming a marginalized group, statistically speaking, the torch of privilege has yet to be passed on, no, shared with other minorities in our nation.

    Just a few thoughts.

  2. “One would like to say in the aftermath of the 2008 election that everyone lived happily ever after. But the American drama, especially when it involves race, is always more complicated than that.” Frank Rich’s Sunday column in the NY Times

    I agree, Myesha, that ‘post-racial’ (whatever it means) does not describe America right now. Barack Obama’s presidency is an amazing symbol and a great step forward, but by no means is it an end point. It’s not time to pat ourselves on the back and settle in for a continuation of the status quo where race is concerned.

    More than the cultural examples you cite, I think the profound links between race and class that have yet to be broken show just how far we have to go. It’s important to see black faces reflected in film and television, in the most visible of America’s visible mainstream, but more important, I think, is to have a strong pipeline of minority talent (entertainment, professional, etc) bubbling up from across the country. To extend access to education and opportunity so that minorities do not continue to be so overrepresented among the poor (graph.

    We certainly haven’t gotten there yet and I think it’s hubris (especially for White America) to declare that we’ve entered a ‘post-racial’ era.

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