The other night I was watching a video clip from ABC’s What Would You Do?, a show that constructs socially awkward, and often controversial, situations in hopes of provoking a response from bystanders. Essentially, the show is attempting to showcase the “bystander effect” that too often occurs in high-risk situations.
Recently, the crew did an episode placing an interracial couple (Black man/White woman) into a Harlem barbershop where a Black female hairdresser was making rude comments directed toward the customer’s White girlfriend.
Now, from my understanding, the purpose of the video was to highlight the racism that is still prevalent in our society. But pitting a Black woman, who is purposely conducting herself in a stereotypical manner, against a seemingly victimized, sad, and distraught White woman (again, stereotypical) is NOT how you go about that…AT ALL.
Thus, why I’m just not here for this mess.
There were several major issues I had with this video. So let’s just touch on 4 of them, shall we?
1. Painting Black people as racist
The video begins by referencing that the crew was “back at Denny Moe’s” barbershop where, previously, a “White barber was discriminated against simply because of the color of his skin.”
The host says this as if it is unbelievable that someone could be discriminated against because of what they look like, which is strange to me considering that he (the host) is of Hispanic descent.
However, the primary issue with this scenario is that a Black man is the perpetrator of the actions and comments being deemed as racist. This depiction that Blacks are harboring racist feelings toward White folk carries over into the interracial dating scenario.
Rachael (the hairdresser) is referenced to as being “racist” and making “discriminatory” comments several times throughout the video. This issue here lies in the fact that Black people, along with other people of color, cannot — I repeat CANNOT — be racist or perpetuate racism and racist ideals.
Racism, while existing on the individual (micro) level, is a large-scale method of oppression that is employed by systems, institutions, and other macro-level power structures. This is why you see less Black faces in medicine, tech, engineering, etc. It is because Blacks (as a group) have been historically disenfranchised and blocked from achieving the social, political, and economic power it takes to be able to disseminate and inflict racism in America.
To simplify, we don’t have that privilege and reverse racism is just White people crying wolf when that monster doesn’t afflict them. The reverse of racism is equality. A feat that has not yet been achieved in America, so Blacks and other people of color cannot be racist. It’s impossible, which leads me into my next issue with the video.
2. Hints that we reside in a post-racial society, that race doesn’t matter, etc.
Really? It baffles me that we are STILL addressing the fact that America is nowhere close to being post-racial.
Kristin (the girlfriend) makes the comment, “We have a Black president. Shouldn’t that show you how far we’ve come?”
Statements such as these are bothersome because they suggest that our society is post-racial. This is the same sentiment that calls for the implementation of colorblind policies and practices, which only tell people of color that the history and lived experiences associated with their racial background doesn’t matter. That in itself is racist.
And also, President Obama held a press conference after the Zimmerman trial verdict where he stated that America isn’t post-racial. So sorry everyone. Your poster boy for post-racism publicly debunked that myth months ago.
3. The Black woman is portrayed in a very stereotypical manner
This is the one that really gets to me on a personal level because I am a Black woman.
Rachael comes off as bitter, angry, and just completely salty throughout the entire scenario. When she finds out the Black man (Gabriel) for whom she has expressed interest has a White girlfriend, she immediately catches an attitude — an attitude that is expected of her.
So you know what that means … here comes the neck and eye rolls accompanied with teeth sucking, lip smacking, and the most belligerent comments she could make on network television.
And the show’s producers really played up these stereotypes.
Multiple times in the video, Rachael is described in a very negative manner in juxtaposition to Kristin. Rachael is called “insecure,” “ignorant,” “a hater,” angry,” and a “bigot.” There was also Rachael’s repeated use of the term “strong Black woman.”
Kristin, on the other hand, is painted as the victim in all of this. Kristin is constantly reassured that she isn’t in the wrong and that her presence doesn’t bother anyone. She serves as an antithesis to Rachael.
Another issue is that no one — up until the last encounter she has with Marsha (a Black female customer) — asks Rachael why she feels this way against Kristin. No one wants to inquire why she may be upset or hurt by the fact that she sees a Black man with a White woman. No one. She’s just painted as being angry and mean.
Black women are often characterized as angry and opposing of interracial relationships, especially in terms of Black men dating White women. Black women are depicted as being the adversary of the White woman in this quest for the love of a Black man.
Thus, Rachael is displayed as a typical bitter, displeased, and discontent Black woman. She’s “a hater” because she can’t get a man. She’s “insecure” because of her relationship status (single). The list of assumptions being asserted here go on and on.
However, Rachael’s discontent is NOT due to some sort of engrained jealousy and anger toward White women. Instead it is “based on White racism, Black internalization of racism, and what interracial relationships represent to Black women and signify about Black women’s worth” (Childs).
The desire for Black women is greatly diminished by European beauty standards, which can lead to there being a shortage of Black men to date.
Let me dig deeper here.
For centuries, afro-textured hair — as well as other hair types that are not straight — have been viewed as less beautiful than long, straight, European-esque locks. Black women who are considered to be beautiful have been depicted as White in terms of their hair. This means the women donned long hair that flowed down their backs as well as their facial features being more aligned with those of European decent (Okazawa-Rey, Robinson, and Ward 89).
These are the images of Black women are consistently perpetuated in mainstream media. These images can also lead Black women into believing that we must straighten our coils in order to be perceived as beautiful as well as being accepted by White America.
And these perceptions, expectations, and other aspects of White racism have been internalized by Black men (and women). Thus, kinkier hair and darker skin are viewed as less desirable. Also, relaxers and weaves can be dismissed as well since they aren’t “natural” or may not be long enough or the woman may have a darker complexion.
It is these perceptions and expectations of beauty are what make Black women “angry”…for lack of a better word.
4. The strategic use of a White woman’s tears
And, of course, the victim in all of this is Kristin who is painted as a meek and timid (equally stereotypical) White woman being bullied by a big and bad angry Black woman.
At least twice in the video, Kristin runs out of the shop in tears because she is being “bullied” by Rachael. Kristin felt as though she was under attack, so she began to cry and defend her relationship. But she more so defends her privilege to be in the barbershop.
Kristin makes comments such as “I don’t know why you’re so upset. What did I do to you?” and “We have a Black president. Shouldn’t that show you how far we’ve come?” and “He’s my boyfriend.”
Because Kristin’s “emotional reaction aligned with the ‘standard of humanity’ which is rooted in White norms, she received consolation” (Accapadi 213). And these White norms have perforated Black minds because these are the norms that structure the society we live in.
Kristin’s response caused a rift within the barbershop as people began to comfort and console her while Rachael is immediately demonized and seen as out of line. Rachael is just supposed to “know better.” Rachael was reprimanded heavily for her actions and wasn’t asked why she felt this way until the very end.
An “assumption-observation” obscured the scenario: a Black woman was observed as “attacking” a White woman and it was assumed that the Black woman was ignorant and angry while the White woman is simply meek and sensitive.
Don’t believe me? Then why was Kristin instructed by the show’s host to walk over to Rachael and Marsha (the woman in the chair) in a non-aggressive manner? Why was Kristin told to intentionally not be angry? Just ponder that.
Margo Okazawa-Rey , Tracy Robinson & Janie Victoria Ward (1987). Black Women and the Politics of Skin Color and Hair, Women & Therapy, 6:1-2, 89-102