Discourse & Identity III (Discussion)

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Television on the study of race and ethnicity

  • Group 4: Sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant reject the idea of racial essentialism and propose an approach based instead on a racial formation. Explain these concepts and compare them to the "gender identity" approach we discussed last week. Is there anything in the Girlfriends, Fresh Off the Boat, or black-ish episodes we watched that helps explain these concepts?
  • Herman Gray identifies three African-American discourses in TV.
    1. Groups 5 & 1: Explain what he means by the assimilationist category and why he puts Designing Women into it. Should the Fresh Off the Boat and black-ish episodes we watched be put in this category? Why or why not?
    2. Groups 6 & 2: Explain what he means by the pluralist category and why he puts Girlfriends into it. Should the Fresh Off the Boat and black-ish episodes we watched be put in this category? Why or why not?
    3. Group 3: Explain what he means by the multiculturalist. Should the Fresh Off the Boat and black-ish episodes we watched be put in this category? Why or why not?

Beretta Smith-Shomade

Beretta Smith-Shomade (pronounced "show-ma-day") examines "four intertwined elements in [1990s] television comedy that define and give meaning to Black women's representation there: work roles, characterization, class, and identity" (48). Each group should consider one key aspect of these elements and discuss how the 21st-century sitcoms we viewed—Girlfriends (2000-2008), Fresh Off the Boat (2015-), and black-ish (2014-)—illustrate that aspect (or don't).

  • Group 4: work and class
  • Groups 5 & 1: identity: language
  • Groups 6 & 2: identity: skin shade
  • Group 3: identity: hair
  • All groups: characterization (i.e., conventional roles and stereotypes). Do Girlfriends and black-ish rely on African-American stereotypes? E.g., "mammy," "sapphire," "tragic mulatto," etc. Does Fresh Off the Boat rely on Asian (specifically, Chinese) stereotypes?



Fresh Off the Boat

  • Eddie Huang (Hudson Yang)
  • Louis Huang (Randall Park)
  • Jessica Huang (Constance Wu)
  • Emery Huang (Forrest Wheeler)
  • Evan Huang (Ian Chen)
  • Grandma Jenny Huang (Lucille Soong)


  • Andre "Dre" Johnson Sr. (Anthony Anderson)
  • Dr. Rainbow "Bow" Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross)
  • Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi)
  • Andre ("Junior") Johnson Jr. (Marcus Scribner)
  • Jack Johnson (Miles Brown)
  • Diane Johnson (Marsai Martin)
  • Ruby Johnson (Jenifer Lewis)
  • Earl "Pops" Johnson (Laurence Fishburne)
  • Josh Oppenhol (Jeff Meacham)
  • Leslie Stevens (Peter Mackenzie)

All groups

  • We've looked at identity (gender and race/ethnicity) through the lenses of:
    1. Stereotyping of women, races, and ethnicities ("Images of women" and "Images of race/ethnicity")
    2. Gendered viewing and raced viewing
    3. Gender identity and the closely related concept of racial formation
    4. Third-wave feminism
  • Which of these approaches did you find the most useful way to analyze identity? Why? Which was the least useful? Why?
    • Email your answers to jbutler@ua.edu.
    • All responses received by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, 12/11, will earn one extra credit point on the exam.
    • The two most thoughtful responses will earn two extra credit points on the exam and will be posted here.
      1. Will Barham: I believe the best way of understanding race and discourses through the scope of television is through the third bullet point: Gender Identity and the closely related Racial Formation. Racial Formation in particular is a term I had not heard before this class, but after understanding its meaning and applying it to these varying shows I am able to see how it affects the real world around me and television as a whole. We aren't specifically attempting to understand just race as it relates to television, but Identity as it relates to it. How do these racial differences and tensions that exist in our own world make their way onto the various media platforms we use? These ideas and analysis's are one way to start breaking that down. We can explore through the Gender Identities and Racial formations that exist outside the tv realm, how television has broken the mold of the world we lived in or played straight into it. In most cases it is a nice mix of the two. Clearly with earlier tv these discourses were more prevalent. Television was basically marketed to different groups based upon the race of the actors and creators. As this has begun to change, due to the progression of our "free thinking" society, these discourses have begun to change as well. We see less of this separation (Pluralist) form of tv shows and more of a assimilation style format. We can still use the varying techniques to analyze these shows though. Because sometimes these Racial Formation's may still exist. Even in the newer shows like Black-ish or Fresh off the Boat we still see these elements. The question becomes will this ever change? We can continue to analyze it and study the differences between race in television, but will we ever reach peak diversity? That would come when these questions did not even need to be asked.
      2. Grant White:I think looking at the identity of gender and race/ethnicity through the lens of Stereotyping is the most useful approach for analysis. For many instances, stereotypes are the statements that the show or medium is trying to fight. Fresh Off the Boat undercuts the stereotype of the wise Asian elder by making the elder figure of the comedy a criminally-minded kleptomaniac; this both adds a comedic layer to the show and provides evidence against the common stereotype, perhaps helping to break it down. Girlfriends’ use of a black character (Maya) with a “ghetto” personality (one that is stereotypically assigned to all black people) shows that it is aware of the presence of such a stereotype, yet it also undermines it by having 3 other black main characters who have varying and offsetting personalities; Joan’s role in the show as having a high-standard job typically associated with “whiteness” is the most obvious undercut to the stereotype. When we analyze by looking at stereotypes, we can more easily find the roots of the arguments that racially-centered shows are trying to establish.
        • I think the least useful way to analyze identity is through the lens of a third-wave feminist. It is useful to see differences between second-wave and third-wave feminist ideals, which would be clear to see when using those two lenses on Madonna’s Justify My Love music video. But aside from differing it from previous iterations of feminism, I do not see how that analytical lens could be more beneficial than the other approaches.


  1. Jeremy G. Butler, Television: Visual Storytelling and Screen Culture (NY: Routledge, 2018).
  2. Beretta E. Smith-Shomade, “Laughing Out Loud: Negras Negotiating Situation Comedy,” Shaded Lives: African-American Women and Television (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 24-68.

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