The Bell Curve, Survivor Style

By Guest Columnist Sep 29, 2006

What to write, what to write – this is my first post as a Colorlines blogger. Running an organization is such a full-time job, it’s taken me a second to get going. But I am having a completely self-righteous and morbidly curious reaction to this latest season of Survivor. The ‘tribes’ are segregated. Literally. There’s an Asian team, a Latino team, a Black team and a White team. No "red team", according to official Survivor bloggers on their site. So here’s the train of thoughts, me talking to myself as per usual: – I hope the "African American" team wins! – What?? How could you think that? This is a racist, backwards ploy. – It’s a great gimmick though, for a show that is otherwise pretty repetitive and uninteresting… – This is just like all of those old science fiction books you love, where game shows for survival take over the minds of the population and real lives are on the line. – Sort of. – Except it’s not. It’s kind of worse than that. Cause it’s the racial bell curve of island living. It’s a step backwards, even though it’s just on a pop show. Enough of that format. So here’s the thing…I am as repulsed as I am curious. The truth is, our culture has reverted to segregation in many realms – where many of us choose to live, who we get educated with, who we spend our time with, who we love. Diversity is something that happens at work and on t.v. There are bubbles of cross cultural experiences, but I am amazed at the number of people I meet who live in a truly one race world. Oppression is so much easier in a clearly segregated world. The resource wars in which we are currently engaged (over oil, water, human labor)…they are all based on the idea of haves and have-nots, and racializing that concept has been the historic way to easily make the necessary call on who gets lucky and who gets got. And in the real of those fighting oppression, I gotta say: I travel, I come to towns where my whole audience will be of one race, or from one racial experience (see more on this distinction below in a soon-coming post!), trying to mobilize a multi-cultural city. It would be comical, except for the reality that everyone is hurting when these well-meaning homogenous groups don’t succeed. It’s not for lack of want…people seem to long to have these interactions, to cross these lines. Sometimes because they need something from each other…I interact with privileged organizers who really don’t feel legitimized if they aren’t organizing poor people, disenfranchised people, people of specific colors like black. They often roll with deep guilt into the work. I work with non-privileged organizers who are willing to exploit that guilt towards their own ends. Both sides of that particular dynamic believe they are the ones who know best how change will happen. Which, if you really think about it, is how we will survive. So while my knee jerk reaction to Segregated Survivor is to say you can’t do that, that is IGNANT; I can’t help but feel like we’ve been playing this game already ourselves at much higher stakes. The capitalists and the anti-capitalists, we’re all regressing on this topic, and Survivor is more a snapshot than an offense. And it’s still not cool…but, this time pop culture might be keeping it too real for comfort.