Monday, December 10, 2018

Ralina Joseph's "Postracial Resistance"

Ralina L. Joseph is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington. She is the author of Transcending Blackness: From the New Millennium Mulatta to the Exceptional Multiracial.

Meshell Sturgis is a Ph.D. Student in the Department of Communication at The University of Washington.

Sturgis applied the “Page 99 Test” to Joseph's new book, Postracial Resistance: Black Women, Media, and The Uses of Strategic Ambiguity, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Postracial Resistance plunges readers into Shondaland, a fictive place crafted by Shonda Rhimes, a Black female show runner, across a mediascape of shows including Gray’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder. While Postracial Resistance tracks the shift in language used by Rhimes from colorblind to Black-conscious, the book critiques how “in Shondaland, the showcasing of diversity of African Americans is really about the showcasing of respectable, upper-class Black folks” (p. 99). While the book focuses on upper-class Blacks including Michelle Obama and Oprah, it also focuses on the ways in which undergraduate women of color participate in meaning making as audience members, and how less privileged professionals in the television business navigate underrepresentation alongside the politics of respectability.

Methodologically, the narrative of the book arcs from textual analysis to audience ethnography. Page 99 falls in the middle of this arc where Shonda Rhimes presents both textual evidence in her shows, and the performative aspect of postracial resistance in her own use of strategic ambiguity as a leader in the television industry. “Strategic ambiguity, whether showcasing elements of colorblindness or race-consciousness, is on Rhimes’ television shows a performance especially suited to women of color.” Although the Black characters on Rhimes’ shows are limited to stereotypical positions of respectability, the instances where Rhimes’ herself identifies as Black, bringing race to the forefront of her work, reveal the writer’s navigation of postracial times where denying the role of race, and merely winking at the Black audience, contribute to the building of a televisual empire.

While her TV shows ultimately bring some representation to TV, Rhimes’ inconsistent code-switching between colorblind rhetoric and that which acknowledges the importance of race, limit the ability for her work to bring about social justice. While Obama is noted as succeeding with her use of strategic ambiguity, Oprah is a demonstration of the failure of such tactic. Rhimes sits in the middle of these two, having some success, but in the hands of particular audiences, her work falls short of making the change that even Rhimes acknowledges is necessary.
Learn more about Postracial Resistance at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue