By: Lizzy Buczak
In a world of diverse human beings, why do we only see one race dominating our T.V screens? What is the point of having a color T.V, if all you see is one color; white! Almost any show that’s on The CW has a predominately white cast, which really doesn’t depict the world we live in very accurately. America is one of the most diverse countries in the world, often referred to as amelting pot, with the most immigration and even a black president. But despite all of that, most of our primetime TV series feature white casts. Often times this goes unnoticed to viewers, who are used to seeing white people in heroic and leading roles, but when dramas are focused in major cities like New York or California its hard to believe that all we have are white people.
Gossip Girl and 90210 are good examples. Both shows focus on white rich kids living in major cities. Gossip Girl takes place in New York and my guess is that if you walk a block in New York, you will run into more minorities than you do white people. So why is there no diversity in the cast? Is it because African Americans, Mexicans, or any other nationality cannot be perceived as “rich?” Although I was born in the US, I am of Polish decent, which is why I was appalled to find that the only maid in the show was the stereo-typical Polish woman and that the doorman was a Russian that could barely speak English. Even though they’re not people of color, they are still ethnic. The same idea is repeated in 90210, which is set in California. The whole main cast is white with the exception of one African American male that was adopted into a white family and acts “white.” After being in California just a couple of days it’s become clear to me that most of the population consists of Hispanics, so when a show like 90210 or Gossip Girl only shows a white cast, the networks are skewing the perception of reality that viewers take from the show.
My all-time favorite show, The Vampire Diaries, follows the same idea, which is terrifying because the show is based in Atlanta, Georgia. Atlanta is known to have a huge population of African Americans. Well, the only African American on the show is a girl with caramel skin color. She is a witch on the show, which technically isn’t the stereotypical black character, but it is racially biased when every other African American that makes an appearance on the show is also a witch. Basically they’re all from the same bloodline, The Bennett line, which goes back to the Salem Witch Trials and delves into their beginnings in slavery. Yet in 2013 their all still witches and fans have begun to joke that every black character is obviously a witch. The new African American casted on the show is Bonnie’s father who becomes the mayor of the town. So cliché it’s actually expected. What do all of these shows have in common if not the idea that a minority cannot be a main character, but just background story for the white person.
I had an African American friend who loved Boy Meets World because Shaun’s girlfriend in the show was the only black girl and that gave her hope that one day, she too might be able to date a boy as cute as Shaun and be treated just like the white kids. With such a focus on whitening the world, our T.V shows lose any type of spice and variety. After all, variety packs are always better than sticking to the plain flavor right? But a bigger concern isn’t the lack of different ethnicities its how they are placed in the show. Throwing in a black guy as a criminal or gangbanger isn’t necessarily making the show diverse because not every black guy commits crimes. Making the Asian a super smart doctor isn’t accurate because not every Asian dreams of being in the medical field. Having a Mexican that’s a lawn-care worker is also not accurate because we know that isn’t always the case.
For this reason, many Disney Channel T.V shows have been successful because their lead characters are of different races and have rather unpredictable personalities. “That’s So Raven” was a show I grew up on which brought a black family to the screen without forcing along any stereotypes. Raven was psychic, had an awkwardly quirky white best friend and a guy friend that was a DJ. “Wizards of Waverly Place” also did a good job with blending together a white and Mexican couple that had multi-racial wizard children, which told the world that it was okay to date outside of your own race. Both shows went on to be huge successes. “The Suite Life of Zach and Cody” did have an all white cast, but instead of following the stereo-type that Asians are smart and white blondes are dumb, they reversed the roles leaving Maddie to be a smart blonde and London Tipton to be the dumb, but funny, Asian. The outcome was hilarious. These shows gave children characters that they could identify with and showed that everyone was equal. But unfortunately, these T.V shows are all on cable or satellite, which limits its reach and ultimately leaves prime time colorless.
Thankfully, television networks are realizing that it is 2012 and there were more shows featuring minorities 30 years ago than there are today. Although pure white shows still find success on the airwaves, shows that feature characters with diverse backgrounds appeal to a wider audience. Clear examples of this are The Mindy Project, Lost, Grey’s Anatomy, Prison Break, Scandal, Community, Elementary and so forth. Yet, while these shows feature characters of different races and ethnicities, most of the time they are part of an ensemble cast or a supporting role, which is enough for the producers to say that they are fair to everyone. Recently, Scandal is one of the first T.V shows in years to have a black female lead and The Mindy Project is the first show to have a woman from Southeast Asia as the lead. Although were still far away from where we should be, I think were definitely moving in the right direction, straying from the colorless to the colorful. All we need is one leader for everyone else to follow, but as we know from history, that might take years.