So I am addicted to the new tv series Glee. I talk about it with friends and never miss an episode. Last night’s episode was…interesting in terms of racial identity.
Warning Spoilers Ahead
What you need to know –
Will Schuster is the Glee teacher and his arch-nemisis overly competitive Sue Sylvester the head of the nationally renowned cheerleading team The Cheerios has just been assigned as his co-chair. Sue attempting to bring it down from the inside finds out that many of the minority students feel they aren’t being heard in terms of what music is selected, who sings lead and their personal skills. She splits the Glee Club in two taking all the People of Color, Queer and Differently-Abled folks as her team.
Now she makes several racially insensitive comments while doing so referring to Mercedes as Aretha, Mike and Tina as Asian and other Asian, Kurt as Gay Kid, etc. She also claims Comanche heritage pulling on the pretendian stereotype and drawing it out for criticism. And in the midst of this she picks a song they all like, allows them to show off their talents and inspires them to have confidence. Sue’s goal is to win, this trumps everything else in her life. When it comes down to it that’s all she cares about and no matter the student’s identity if they show her they are a winner she’ll support them.
None of Sue’s actions bothered me because it was quite obviously more a critique of aversive racism and the lack of self-knowledge that many people in the world just like Sue exhibit using stereotypes and offensive language to expose them.
What did offend me in this episode was Will’s Rainbow Coalition speech at the end of the episode. What a way to ruin a great racial critique! Sue steps down of her own volition and Will says that she was right to address the needs of the minority students BUT he then goes on to say that they are all minority students because they are in Glee Club so their individual identities don’t matter. EXCUSE ME?!? Will has just effectively attempted to erase their identities. By ignoring the confluence of factors that makes these children what they are he attempts to assuage his own guilt in ignoring them. Marginalized people do not have the luxury of forgetting our position in society as illustrated earlier in the episode by Sue’s calling them. To ignore our identifications is to erase a vital part of someone’s identity.
I am of mixed African and African-American ancestry and that is what people see when I walk down the street. It effects how I am treated in the world, what I write, how I interact with society as a whole telling me that I don’t have a race is more of insult than you think – I may have other identities but I am also a Person of Color and that will never change.
Will falls into the trap of pseudo-liberalism or the “Kumbaya” version of identity politics whereby we pretend that racism/sexism/queerism/ableism is over and that if we just act like everyone’s the same everything will be okay. It’s a very colonized viewpoint and one that serves those in power more that marginalized people because the effect of saying that is silencing if a person needs to discuss identity politics, that conversation has effectively been shutdown and so the privileged person has now positioned themselves as above the discussion and they never have to deal with the uncomfortable conversation again while the marginalized now has no outlet within the relationship for discussing things that effect who they are.
For me I’ll take someone like Sue who may call me an inappropriate names but will never forget the confluence of identities that make me who I am and who I could at least attempt to have a conversation with over someone like Will who will try to erase who I am and preemptively shut down even the possibility of such a talk.