Michael Omi is an American sociologist who co-authored “Racial Formation in the United States” with Howard Winant. His work provided insight into racism and its perceived notions in American society. In his article “In Living Color: Race and American Culture”, he explored racism in Hollywood and observed some of the known celebrities blatantly use racist stereotypes as comic relief in their shows, movies, and performances. He references some shows as examples to further elaborate and support his argument. (Omi)
Omi states that many Hollywood shows use implicit racism for entertainment purposes. He claims these remarks by relying on racist stereotypes and assumptions about a person are made based on their race. For instance, every Indian, Asian and Mexican character is portrayed as having a strong accent, regardless of a person having an accent or not. Implicit racism depends on these stereotypes and is often utilization by unconscious biases but explicit racism is overt and intended. However, both are harmful and could hurt the sentiments. Omi states “Racism in popular culture is often conveyed in a variety of implicit and at times invisible, ways.”
In one example, Omi explains that it is ironic that Saturday Night Live show was nominated for a Platinum Pit Award by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organization, for a comedy skit called “Ching Chang”, which portrayed a Chinese family in a very stereotypical and derogatory manner. It is no secret that “Ching Chang” or “Ching Chong” is a racial slur used against the Chinese so using this slur as a skit’s name was in poor taste but it was more outrageous that it got nominated for an award for being a politically “progressive” show. Omi shows his disdain by saying “These examples highlight the overt manifestations of racism in popular culture — institutional forms of discrimination which keep racial minorities out of the production and organization of popular culture, and the crude racial caricatures by which these groups are portrayed.”
In another example, the Vice President of Los Angeles Dodgers said that he believed that black people required some of the expertise to be a general managers or field managers, thus, weakly justifying why Black people were not in a position of power. This also implicated that black people were lesser and lacked leadership skills as a result of being an “inferior” race. “Black exclusion from the front office, therefore, was justified based on biological difference.” explains Omi. This example puts one race down while putting the other on a pedestal.
The racism against people of color has not died down even in this day and age. People still stereotype others based on their race and get extremely uncomfortable if a person does not act according to the said stereotype. White people are considered superior for no apparent reason while other races are considered inferior and less capable. The portrayal of the races by the media does not help in this matter either. Omi’s statement, “all racial minorities were represented as less than human.” rings true in this regard. Dehumanizing other races as a “joke” or “all in good fun”, is becoming problematic and there is still an invisible line that separates all the races from others. For instance, black people are always considered to be hooligans, Asians as intelligent, work-oriented, and submissive, Latinos are sexualized and White people as individuals of high society or as racist rednecks. Omi’s examples further shed light on this troublesome issue as the use of implicit racism in Hollywood does not seem to be diminishing. All humans are more than a race and racist stereotype, and it is high time that media be held accountable for their role in racism.
Omi, Michael. “In Living Color: Race and American Culture.” Cultural politics in contemporary America (1989): 111-122.