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The Future of Race

by Lorien Hunter

This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.

-W.E.B. Du Bois

The Souls of Black Folk, 1903

 

Scholars who study race frequently quote these famous words from W.E.B. Du Bois when discussing contemporary racial politics because the problem of the color-line continues to be one of the most visible social issues in both the United States and global society.  And yet we continue to look forward to a time when race is no longer a concern.  In his article "Getting the Reality You Deserve," Julian Bleecker examines depictions of futuristic societies in both games and cinema, and in doing so calls attention to the frequent de-racialization of urban spaces which occur in these fictitious future worlds (http://www.techkwondo.com/external/CTCS505/Week_11/GettingTheRealityYouDeserve.pdf).  This de-racialization, which is achieved through the erasure or exclusion of racial minorities in urban spaces and replaced by themes and/or events that merely suggest these groups, articulates social anxieties surrounding race and minorities, and suggests a desire to live in a society beyond the color-line.  But what would this society look like?  And how will our conceptualizations of race evolve as we continue to move forward into the 21st century?  While it is clear that the minority-free worlds examined by Bleecker are 

The Sci Fi Channel commercial shown here offers another opportunity to examine ideas about how race should be conceptualized in the future.  Here, unlike the worlds examined by Bleecker, minorities are clearly visible and appear to have not only a voice but also an agency in constructing their future identity.  Yet how has this been achieved?  Particularly relevant to this discussion is the sequence which illustrates the woman's desire to "pick which face to wear today" where several faces--all belonging to white men--are superimposed over the black actress's face.  How are we to interpret this desire?  Has race become less significant in the future because minorities have learned how to fully "assimilate" into white society?  Or does her apparent desire to don a white male face allude to the persistence of racial inequalities?  Also interesting to this discussion is the choice to cast a black female in this role.  How would the message have changed had it been delivered by a white male?  An Asian woman?  I would argue that both her race and gender were essential to establishing a futuristic aesthetic because both African Americans and women have noticeably less access to technology than do other groups.  

Racial Erasure as Utopian

by Dominic

The stakes of “race erasure”, in which the only way to affirm tolerance and equity among different groups of people in an idealized, often democratic and capitalistic society, can best be glimpsed in the examples of Michael Jackson’s video for “Black or White”, and the Sci-Fi commercial “Sci-Fi” me. In the music video, people of several races and both sexes morph into people of different races/sexes, while all moving to the same song, and notably continuing each other’s movements. The commercial, on the other hand, tells us what an African-American woman wants from her futuristic utopia, including wanting to “pick which face I want to wear today”. The faces she receives, however are those of an Asian woman, and assorted white men. Do these two examples of “obscured race” achieve or hope to achieve the same aim?

                The commercial seems particularly troubling, due to the woman only being able to find, in utopian society, a connection with white men, the strongest race-gender group in the country or world, with the exception of the Asian woman. However, given what we know about American sociology, the Asian minority is typically more wealthy and financially stable than its counterparts; such as the black or Latino communities.  The suggestion here seems to be that the woman, rather than having her own unique racial and cultural identities become a part of the total lexicon, is forced to appropriate, via masquerade, an attempted whiteness. Failing that, she should at least aim for being a more “model minority”.

                At its heart, obviously, the Jackson video’s project seems much more egalitarian in nature. By including much more diversity (to expect total diversity in every way may be somewhat unreasonable) in this depiction, he embraces difference, but not solely through this method. Whereas embracing new ethnicities is a process that must happen in a stopped, confined environment in the Sci-Fi commercial, this process continues in the video without interruption – an Asian man’s moves turn directly in to the same moves done by Tyra Banks, a red-haired white woman, black man, Indian woman, etc. The only image here that seems somewhat unsettling is that of the white man morphing into an Asian woman, first adopting her pony tail, and some features, before continuing the rest of the visage of the woman. Here we might ask if there is something to be said regarding the status of those in multiracial identity positions – obviously, these may be harder individuals to present with clarity, but the need for such markers to be so clearly different to create understanding should problematize the notion of inclusion, as though inclusion may only take place among those purely placed in a specific ethnic community – any specific community is less controversial than polar positions (a notion also found in heterosexual-homosexual” debates. We will want to avoid such an understanding of identity that posits too many truths, especially as these walls fall with increased contact between races, sexualities, religions, and other locations of socialized identity.

Sci-Fi me promo

by Steve Anderson

This short promo for the sci-fi channel lends itself to any number of critical interpretations. It is at once a shameless example of the 1990s-Wired-Magazine-style technophilia that dominated much of the cultural discourse around digital media in that era. Its use of an African-American woman as its spokesperson echoes the tendency to imagine "cyberculture" as a utopian, race-free zone. But if we look closely at what this promo is actually celebrating, it is a very conservative and conventional take on consumerist society.

Sci Fi Channel promo

This promo for the sci-fi channel originally aired in the late 1990s

from Sci-Fi Me (1999)
Creator: Sci-Fi Channel
Posted by Steve Anderson
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