I’m going to admit something I’m neither proud of nor think it is worth hiding. I enjoy binge-watching TV shows, especially those with strong female leads. I didn’t realize this bias until Netflix labeled a suggestion list for me with this title – the creepiness of AI (artificial intelligence) in naming my unconscious biases. Here are some things I learned from binge-watching TV shows.
Law & Order SVU
This was my main winter break binge-watching show. Netflix is slated to remove it in January 2018, so I had to cram in four seasons in two weeks. I did it! If I didn’t reply to an email during this time it was because I was too busy following the cases of Olivia Benson and crew. What I learned as it relates to race and equity: When people say they have gone through something hard we should show compassion towards them. I also enjoyed watching how the SVU team trusted each other and had to constantly rebuild and test their trust within each other. Some episodes deal explicitly with race, sexism, gender-identity, and police-power dynamics, sometimes they get it right sometimes they flub and go with stereotypes.
If you don’t like Greenleaf don’t say anything – don’t you dare ruin the show for me. My good friend Amy told me about the show, and once it hit Netflix and I watched it I was hooked. I downloaded four episodes for a coast to coast plane ride and when I finished those four I was so mad at myself for not downloading the full season. The show is about an African American family and their mega-church. From watching Greenleaf, I appreciated the storytelling and wrestling of family, trauma, and power. It is a great show for watching and thinking about how power is yielded, wielded, and what happens when different characters try to rebalance power. It is all, or nearly all, African American cast.
This is another great show recommended by Amy. The show follows African American siblings who inherit the family’s sugar plantation. Again, the show is majority African American actors and in watching the bonus features on DVD I learned the show was directed by women, many of them were women of color – hooray. From Queen Sugar we can think about how history and histories of racism shape where we are today, including the resiliency we have as communities and families of color.
Watching the West Wing brings back memories of political days that inspired people to enter public service. It was originally on air before you could watch TV on-demand and flip-phones were cool. President Bartlett didn’t delve deeply into racialized politics; had the show been on today I wonder how they would have dealt with topics like police shootings, immigration, and would they maybe have recast some of the parts to have a more diverse cast. The show also gives us a window back before we had a real-life president who spews racist and sexist content.
This is my new version of the West Wing. A show about politics without the craziness of Trump-land politics. This show is very white, oh so white. They have a diverse cast but still white.
Homeland and Spy-Shows
I haven’t watched Homeland or House of Cards in a while. I also have a thing for spy shows, including past shows of Chuck and Covert Affairs, both very unlikely to be real life but that is what TV is for. These are shows deal with spy stuff and secrecy. What you should learn is spy stuff is fine for TV, but horrible to practice in real life racial equity work. That is obvious, but sometimes we should state the obvious. TV shows are entertainment, in real life race and racialized interactions are complex. TV shows can influence and shape our biases towards handling real-life situations, so remember real life isn’t scripted and TV is for entertainment – spying and political maneuvering for personal gain is bad, transparency and community interest is good.
Honorable Mentions of Bingy TV Shows
Heidi and I watched episodes of Dear White People while flying to a conference and while working out in the hotel gym. Dear White People (Netflix) is entertaining and worthy of a mention.
House of Cards binge-worthy but very little redeeming qualities for racial equity work. If I watch too many episodes in a row I begin to think everyone is evil. Same for Black Mirror, I’ve only watched two episodes and freaked out. After those shows, I feel like I need to go eat pho with friends and have them tell me stories about pandas, World Dance Party and other community events, and school board meetings to bring me back to happier times. Did I just say school boards and happier times?
Reality TV – the ultimate reality TV
If you want some good reality TV watch your local government channels. Turn on your school board meetings, city council, and state government channels. They are fascinating and worthy of your binge-watching time. You can watch for how race is talked about, how formal and informal power dynamics are displayed, how information and data is used/wielded/weaponized, who is believed and trusted as messengers, why is public testimony structured the way that it is – is this how we get to racial equity, and if you’re really lucky you may tune in when someone sings their public testimony (this happened at a city council meeting I attended). So much to unpack and realize how systemic racism plays out. Becoming and staying civically engaged is important in creating systems change. Ahh, now I want to go watch a school board meeting before bed.
What are you watching and how does it relate to race, diversity, and equity?
By Erin Okuno
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