When “Colorblindness” Invades Your TV

Tim Wise breaks down how the myth that we're post racial plays out in pop culture.

By Jamilah King Sep 14, 2010

Writer Andrea (AJ) Plaid talked to Tim Wise over at Racialicious about one of our favorite topics: the myth of "colorblindness." Wise–who will speak this month at the Facing Race conference hosted by our publisher, the Applied Research Center–explained how the myth stretches to pop culture:

Mad Men, from what I understand, is a fairly realistic portrayal of that time. The question is, Why do people love [the show] so much, why do they so enjoy a period piece like this one, which portrays a slice of life, and a period where people of color aren’t present? That’s interesting to me sociologically. But my question is not about Mad Men so much, as it is about other shows like Friends, which is in the contemporary period in New York, and yet there are no people of color around, or Grey’s Anatomy or the Cosby Show, where we can have representations of folks of color, and "race," but rarely if ever deal with racism per se. So, they can have the occasional, or even central characters of color in the case of Grey’s or Cosby, but it’s as if these people never deal with racism in their lives. It’s not that every episode needs to be about race, but when virtually NO episodes are, that’s unrealistic. I mean, even a show my kids watch, in re-runs, That’s So Raven (with former Cosby star Raven Symone) had an episode about racism: a really good one in fact. If they could do it, why can’t these shows for adults do it?

We’ve spoken to Tim Wise before at ColorLines. In an interview with Michelle Chen last year, he says his primary audience is white folks who’ve never been challenged to think before. Wise also defined what he terms "Racism 2.0" in the age of President Obama:

This ability of white folks to say, "Well, you know, I still have negative views about most people of color, but I like that guy. We can carve out an exception for these handful of people."…. It’s sort of the new some-of-my-best-friends-are-black, get-out-of-jail-free card.