Tuesday, June 17, 2008


I was interviewed by a student today for her Senior Thesis. I agreed to post a question for her here to hopefully generate some not necessarily scientific discussion. The question is:

What effect, if any, do you think the mass media -- including MTV or new media forms (such as blogging) -- has had on U.S. culture related to bi-racial dating and relationships involving African-Americans and European-Americans, in particular?


Kevin Andre Elliott said...

Wow. That's a huge question. I'm not sure I can answer it without writing my own thesis. Part of the problem, I think, is that most people have a narrow definition of inter-racial relationships, i.e. Black/White relationships. Asian/White, Black/Latino, Asian/Black or any other inter-racial relationship almost never enters the picture. So my first thought is that the media, by 98% of the time addressing inter-racial relationships as something that only occurs between White folks and Black folks, encourages this narrow definition. That, in turn, fosters the idea that Black/White relationships are somehow "unique," and leads to a weird sort of fetishizing.

I'd like to see the numbers on how inter-racial relationships are portrayed in the media, what pairings are portrayed and how they are portrayed.

Changeseeker said...

Hey, Kevin! Great to see you in these parts. Yes, it IS a big question. And I agree with you that media definitely helps fetishize (yes, I will absolutely co-sign a made-up word in a minute) the idea of Black/White relationships, raising some interesting issues right there before we even consider anything else.

As for the stats, I'd like to see those, as well. I sent the student over to Rachel's Tavern because I think there's been a good bit of discussion over there at one point or another about this topic. And Rachel sometimes includes stats and sources.

Another thing I suggested to the student was that she compare videos appearing in the 1980's (when Michael Jackson first scaled the MTV race wall) and those that appear now -- to see the differences in how European-Americans and African-Americans are presented in juxtaposition to each other in those videos.

If videos depicting a Black "pimp"-type guy smoking a big cigar between a couple of big-busted White women are supposed to be suggesting something cultural about bi-racial relationships (which, as you point out, are not even all about JUST Black/White relations), then what are they really trying to teach us about ourselves and each other?

Changeseeker said...

NOTE TO ALL: In view of Kevin's very astute comment about how Black/White relationships are fetishized, in particular, and that questions like the one posed herein include a whole range of possible bi-racial and bi-ethnic considerations, I'm going to change this question to rule out everything else and therefore simplify the process. Thanks again, Kevin. I'm sure the student will appreciate it.

Kevin Andre Elliott said...

Ahh Changeseeker, I'm always in these parts. I'm just bad at commenting is all. :) But I'm working on it.

Good call sending the student to Rachel. I'm the English major (thus my predisposition to neologisms!). She's the Sociologist.

I do think, though, that a lot can be learned from looking at inter-racial relationships in their entirety, rather than limiting the inquiry to just Black/White relationships. It's a much more difficult task to take on, to be sure, but I think it would be worth it. To get a good picture of the effect the media has on U.S. views of inter-racial dating, it seems like you should compare and contrast how different inter-racial dating patterns are presented in the media and interpreted by the consumers.

Then again, I'm looking at this from the vantage point of a PhD student, not someone writing a Senior Thesis, so I may be trying to push this further than your student friend is able to go right now.

Also, I should point out that I'm in one of those "fetishized" relationships, and so I have no doubt that this colors my thinking on the matter.

Changeseeker said...

You're absolutely right, of course, Kevin, about broadening the topic to flesh out the REAL issues (such as White Supremacy), but you're also correct that as an undergraduate trying to get through her first degree, keeping it simple is the name of the game at this point.

It's also germane to her project that her degree is in mass communication (which is how MTV and new media got into the mix).

Regardless, though, what are your thoughts on the question as presented after modification? Hmmmm?