Saturday, February 25, 2017

Core Post 1: TV and Race (Week 8)

I was most interested with the ideas of meritocracy, the color-blind society and post-racialism that both Esposito and Acham brought up in each of their articles, particularly with regards to South Africa.

Following the events of 1994, in which South Africa held its first democratic election and the institution of apartheid came to an end, post-apartheid South Africa has been romanticized as a post-racial utopia in which the transgressions of the past are forgiven and the entire country can start again. This emphasis on “forgiveness” and “moving on” was demonstrated with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in which perpetrators admitted to the gross human rights violations they committed under the apartheid regime, and were subsequently given amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution with the intention of clearing the air and moving on. Unsurprisingly, a study conducted four years after the TRC (that surveyed several hundred victims of human rights abuse) found that the TRC was unsuccessful in achieving reconciliation between black and white communities. A major reason cited for this failure is that “justice is a prerequisite rather than an alternative to it” (Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, 1998); after all, there can be no forgiveness without consequence.

The result of the nation’s hurried attempt to sweep the past under the carpet and swiftly move forward has encouraged a significant number of (white) South Africans to valorize the ideals of post-racialism and meritocracy. These ideals are propagated by South African media, for example, the soap opera Generations (1994 – present) which follows the lives of rich, affluent black business leaders that (presumably) have achieved their success through hard work and a refusal to be held back by their race, class and social status… This representation is, of course, impossible following the end of apartheid because there were literal social and economic limits imposed onto people of color.

The valorization of these aforementioned ideals coupled with an inflated representation of black success in the media has led to outrage over policies such as Affirmative Action and Black Economic Empowerment - besides the fact that 45% of black people in South Africa are unemployed as opposed to 5% of white people. I’m reminded of Bauer’s quote in Acham’s article that regards the ideals and goals that minorities learn from The Cosby Show and (Generations) as more important than equalizing policies.

To prove my point, below is an interaction I engaged in this very afternoon regarding the question “Why are black South Africans so angry?” When somebody suggested that is because of all that was promised and not delivered, here’s what ensued:


  1. Wow, even a good bit of offhand ageism on top of everything... Respect, Matt, for engaging in such frustrating public discussions, and putting a lot of intellectual and emotional labor into it.

  2. And you know a part of the reason they may believe this idea that "those who don't succeed just didn't try hard enough" probably came from some grand moral at the end of a television episode or heart-warming daytime news piece. I know my parents would also use the idea that if I work hard, I can do whatever I want to do, but I knew that was true because I was pretty aware of my advantages in life. I'm curious if there's a t.v. show that subverts this idea, where a POC is told this by their parents, they try extremely hard, and the result is that they don't make it because the show recognizes others have been given tools the main character has never given/ butted up against blatant racism.