Racism and stereotypes can be used to denigrate and destroy people in America, but they can also have a positive value to help Americans, who are consumed with issues of race and stereotypes, to better understand the targets of hatred. Television sitcoms can become a means of educating not hating
By Ray Hanania
For years I was always upset by television programs that used racial stereotypes of “new minorities” to sell advertising. That included TV serials and especially sitcoms which are driven by humor and comedy.
But after watching the racial stereotype driven new TV sitcom, “Fresh off the Boat,” which lampoons an immigrant Asian family, I realize I’ve been wrong. Racial identity is the “American Dream.”
The truth is difficult to accept. But the road to the American heartland is paved with thick bricks of racism and stereotypes, things Americans can easily recognize and identify with.
ABC TV sets up “Fresh off the Boat” with this description: “It’s the ’90s and 12 year old, hip-hop loving Eddie (Hudson Yang) just moved to suburban Orlando from DC’s Chinatown with his parents (Randall Park and Constance Wu). It’s culture shock for his immigrant family in this comedy about pursuing the American Dream. ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ is based on Chef Eddie Huang’s memoir ‘Fresh off the Boat’.”
“Fresh off the Boat” stars Randall Park as Louis, Constance Wu as Jessica, Hudson Yang as Eddie, Forrest Wheeler as Emery and Ian Chen as Evan.
Apparently, ABC’s race driven humor strategy is working. American audiences are watching the sitcoms and enjoying them. And maybe, the American public is learning the races being showcased.
ABC has pulled off the season’s TV “hat trick” offering two other sitcoms driven by race and stereotypes.
“The Goldbergs” doesn’t focus on the Jewishness of its characters, but rather uses Jewish identity to play off the humor. In other words, it’s not about being Jewish but “being Jewish” actually is a subplot embraced by the humor.
“The Goldbergs” stars Wendi McLendon-Covey (“Bridesmaids”) as Beverly Goldberg, Patton Oswalt (“Ratatouille”) as adult Adam Goldberg, Sean Giambrone as Adam Goldberg, Troy Gentile (“Good Luck Chuck”) as Barry Goldberg, Hayley Orrantia (“The X Factor”) as Erica Goldberg, with George Segal (“Just Shoot Me”) as Pops Solomon and Jeff Garlin (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) as Murray Goldberg.
And there is “Black-ish,” explained by this ABC promo: “Andre ‘Dre’ Johnson (Anthony Anderson) has a great job, a beautiful wife, Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross), four kids and a colonial home in the ‘burbs. But has success brought too much assimilation for this black family? With a little help from his dad (Laurence Fishburne), Dre sets out to establish a sense of cultural identity for his family that honors their past while embracing the future.”
“Black-ish” stars Anthony Anderson as Dre, Tracee Ellis Ross as Rainbow, Yara Shahidi as Zoey, Marcus Scribner as Andre Jr., Miles Brown as Jack, Marsai Martin as Diane and Laurence Fishburne as Pops.
For years, I was always taught that humor about race is racist, although I recall stereotypes and race driving many characters on TV programs while I was growing up. I understood that it is OK for individual racial and ethnic groups to lampoon their own stereotypes, but that it is inappropriate for others to lampoon those same stereotypes.
A Polish joke delivered by a Polish person may sound funny. But a Polish joke delivered by an Irish person sounds racist. It’s that way for every race and ethnic group in America.
Racism in America is a fundamental part of our cultural fabric as Americans. Our society is patched together with racial identity and ethnic pride. America is not a “melting pot” of different racial and ethnic groups. It’s more like a goulash with chunks of race and ethnicity that stand out in the larger broth of Americanism.
Many cities like the one where I grew up, Chicago, formed around racial and ethnic building blocks. Whole neighborhoods continue to be defined by their racial makeup. The South Side is Black. We have China Town and Greek Town. Race determines elections. And some state, county and city offices are actually informally assigned to specific racial groups.
When I look back at the histories of immigrant immigration to America, I realize most people came to America to find wealth, freedom, and opportunity. I don’t recall any claiming they left to get away from their cultures. They packed their cultures into their suitcases and opened them here.
Many American cities are built on racial cinder blocks of separation and segregation. Races prefer to live “among their own.”
I want a TV show called “Everyone Loves Abdullah,” the story of an Arab family. They’re Christian – the majority of American Arabs are Christian, by the way. But one of the sons is dating a Muslim daughter and the two religions come together, encircled by everyone else.
They can even throw in a Jewish wife, reflecting the reality of my own real-life marriage.
The Abdullahs deal with everyday American issues and their Arab identity surfs on the humor created by the conflicts and understanding that comes from those conflicts between Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Apparently, having a TV show project your ethnicity humorously is the road to the American Dream of success, acceptance and happiness. Assimilation only means being included. Diversity is the common denominator that builds this country.
Maybe, a show about an Arab family is the only way to shatter the growing ugly stereotypes that persist about Arabs, that somehow assert that we’re different from everyone else.
We’re not different. We’re exactly the same.
We want to be treated the same.
I wish ABC TV had the courage to do a sitcom based on an Arab family.
I realize that it is only through race and stereotypes that Americans can understand each other. Humor is the most effective educational tools. Americans need to be spoken to in the language they best understand, which apparently is race.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist managing editor of The Arab Daily News at www.TheArabDailyNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @RayHanania.
To find out more about Ray Hanania and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2014 CREATORS.COM