Sunday, May 27, 2007

An afternoon of escapism

I've been spending a lot of time lately reading blogs. The blogs I like tend to deal with racism, sexism, homophobia, issues of class, and the always lovely intersection of those in various combinations. And you know what? Sometimes this stuff upsets me. Gives me a headache, even.

So, today, I gave myself a little break, and watched some old TV. To be perfectly honest, most of the television I watch is old TV. But today, I watched with an agenda. My plan was to put politics, race hatred, misogyny and the like out of my mind, and what better way to do so than with The Jeffersons, ST:TOS and the Sunday afternoon block of "family" programs on MeTV?

As it turns out, this was not only a diverting but an educational afternoon. First off, I learned a lot about how things are for biracial Americans by watching an episode of The Jeffersons that featured Jenny and Allan, the children of Tom and Helen Willis. According to Allan, the "white" child--yes, I've seen the character referred to in this way in several places--all black folk wonder what it would be like to be white, or at least what it would be like to enjoy white skin privilege. Okay, I'll admit that it has occurred to me to wonder what it's like to not be viewed as other by the majority of folks the minute one walks into, well, just about anywhere. Apparently, though, when a darker-skinned sibling has a lighter skinned one, it's also natural for that person to think "Why me? Why am I not the one who's perceived as white?" Imagine, all these years being an American of mixed race (and one who had a sister who was fairer complected, and often assumed to be Caucasian by strangers), and I never realized that's what I was supposed to think. Of course, Allan Willis' answer to all the stress of Americans' need to put everyone they meet in a racial box was to leave the country and pass for white, and that's completely understandable, or so the folks on The Jeffersons seemed to think. The most important lesson I learned from this show is one I wish I'd know years ago, because it sure would have come in handy on many occasions--if you encounter folks who think you're not authentically black enough, as George Jefferson thought of Allan, you can always win them over by demonstrating your proficiency in playing the dozens. Now they tell me! It'll even win over any darker-skinned (and naturally, jealous of you) sibling you may have hanging around. That's right--Jenny sighed, awestruck, "I didn't know he could do that!"

And to further help me with my deepening understanding of racial issues, there was the very heavy Facts of Life episode called "Who am I?" in which Tootie discovers that she is--gasp--a Negro. This fact is revealed to her by her new friend, the black and very race-conscious Fred. Her association with this young man leads her to question the fact that she's in a small minority at her fancy-pants boarding school. She seeks out the camaraderie of her African-American sisters in the student body and--guess what?--she turns out to have just about nothing in common with any of the girls! Then Tootie decides that new pal Fred would be a more appropriate partner for the annual dance contest than Carl, the white kid with whom she won last year. She changes her mind, however, when she realizes that she has a better chance of winning with Carl. Luckily, she reassures Fred (and all of us in the audience) that although she'll be dancing with Carl, she'll be celebrating with him. Whew, that's a relief! I was afraid Eastland Academy was offering a degree in miscegenation.

You may have noticed I didn't say anything about the Star Trek episode I saw today. It was "Patterns of Force". What the heck can one say about that ep?